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Dr Floor Hettinga: ‘4-Mile runners should not get off to a too slow start.’

06 October 2009
Many participants in the Groningen 4-Mile Run can be expected to get off to too slow a start. They will never make up the ground that they lose as a result. Whoever wants to perform as well as possible, will do well to get off to a relatively quick start in the running event on 11 October, according to human movement scientist Dr Floor Hettinga of the UMCG. An important part of preparation is getting enough rest.
The human body has two systems for delivering energy, the aerobic and the anaerobic system. The anaerobic system does not use oxygen, while the aerobic system does. Sprinters mainly use the anaerobic system when running. This system can get off to a rapid start but is so ‘used up’ after two minutes that it can hardly contribute to performance any longer. The aerobic system is particularly important for long distances. It takes longer to get started, but as long as oxygen remains in supply, it can give energy.

A quick start

Floor Hettinga: ‘Many runners use a conservative start for the middle distances. However, that is not always wise to do. My research has shown that the anaerobic system helps get the aerobic system going. If you get off to a quick start – and in doing so get your anaerobic system going – this also helps to get your aerobic system going.’ So runners can profit from a quick start not only when sprinting, but also when running middle distances. However, a too quick start also has its dangers, Hettinga warns. ‘For the longer distances, such as the marathon, it becomes more important to use energy evenly. Inexperienced runners in particular are prone to tiring too much and too soon.’ The problem with the 4-Mile Run is that the distance lies between the middle distances and the marathon, she adds.

Dare to experiment

When runners get off to a cautious start on the middle distances, they are doing themselves no favour. They are not activating their aerobic system quickly enough and in doing so lose so much ground that they will not be able to make it up. The right speed to start differs per distance and per runner. Hettinga: ‘How best to divide up your energy is soon learnt by experimenting a few times. You quickly develop a feeling for how fast you can go, how quickly you tire due to lactic acid build-up and how much of this you can take, etc. Runners who don’t know exactly what their limits are should experiment with how they divide up their energy. However, this is also important for top-class runners, for whom winning or losing can hinge on slight differences. Hettinga: ‘It perhaps won’t help you in the first race you do after doing so, but in the long run you will certainly profit.’

Training helps…

In order to perform well in the 4-Mile Run, the aerobic system is of prime importance. Although this system can be improved, it is genetically determined. Some people cannot improve through training, while others are capable of improving on average by 25 percent, according to Hettinga.

… and is dangerous

Yet getting enough rest is also important, Hettinga emphasizes. Training damages muscles, the researcher explains. This is no problem, as long as the muscles get a chance to recover. After they have recovered, the athlete can continue training, now at a higher level. Every training session will then lead to a slight improvement. But if the recovery period isn’t long enough, the athlete will damage his muscles with each additional training session, and the danger of overtraining looms. Hettinga: ‘If you’re training once or twice a week, you’re in no danger. But high-level athletes do tend to be prone to overtraining. They see no improvement despite their training sessions, and as a consequence train even harder. Even though they could improve their performance my resting more.’

Curriculum Vitae

Floor Hettinga studied Human Movement Sciences at VU University Amsterdam. She gained her PhD in 2008, researching improving competition strategies. Her research was part of a collaboration between VU University Amsterdam, TNO and NOC*NSF. Since 1 April Hettinga has worked for the UMCG as university lecturer doing research into biomechanical aspects and aspects of exertion physiology related to Sport and Revalidation.

Last modified:04 January 2018 3.43 p.m.
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