The Fight or Flight Response and Running

One of the most primitive emotions in the human body is also one of the most important factors in running performance – but only if managed properly. This emotion is known as the “fight or flight” response. The fight or flight response developed early in the evolutionary history of human beings as a way for the humans to flee from or fight predators.

In the fight or flight response, the body produces hormones, such as adrenaline, in response to threatening stimuli. These hormones cause the body to become hyper aroused. Physical changes include: increase in heart and lung activity, increase in blood supply to muscles, and dilation of pupils.

These physical changes can have a positive effect on runners; many runners, for example, feel the surge of adrenaline at the start of a race. The fight or flight response can create a surge of energy for runners that can power them past competitors. It can make the difference between passing runners and being passed at the end of a race.

However, the fight or flight response can also have a negative affect on runners. The surge of adrenaline can be overwhelming for some people and cause them to “choke” in a race. The ability to effectively manage the fight or flight response and channel that energy in a positive manner is essential in order to be a successful runner.

Therefore, instead of reacting negatively to that “butterfly” feeling in your stomach and the feeling of panic during the race, understand that these emotions are side effects of an overall bodily reaction that will help you run fast. When you feel these emotions, take deep breaths and focus on controlling the panic that you might feel. Put the fight or flight response to work for you rather than letting it sabotage your running.


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