In one of the episodes of the television series “The Flash,” the titular character gets a bomb strapped to his wrist and told to run. In a spoof of the movie “Speed,” he is told that he must run very fast or the bomb goes off. As he is running at full speed around Central City, he radios in for help from his friends. His mentor, Dr. Wells, talks into the microphone and coaches The Flash on how to feel the “speed force” flow right through him:
I went for a 4-mile run* today in San Francisco. I ran from the hotel to the baseball park, then up a trail by the bay, then back to the hotel. It was really a nice run that gave me a lot to think about. One of those thoughts was that video above, and how things go in the body in reality.
First, I inhale air, which is about 20% oxygen, give or take depending on altitude, air pressure, etc. The oxygen molecules (and some of the other molecules) in the air go down to my lungs, where they make their way to the alveoli. The alveoli are these little sacs where the blood comes very, very close to the surface. Once there, the oxygen goes through the alveoli and attaches itself to the hemoglobin on my red blood cells almost at the same rate that the carbon dioxide on the red blood cells (RBCs) detaches and exits when I exhale.
The RBCs then make their way through miles of blood vessels all over my body, and I do mean all over. They reach even the places most distant from my lungs. There, they release the oxygen into the cells and pick up carbon dioxide to take back to the lungs. It is at the cellular level that the “magic” happens.
At the cellular level, different enzymes grab sugar molecules and rip them apart, releasing the energy within so that I can live. Oxygen serves in that process as an “electron acceptor.” It’s much too complicated to cover in one blog post. Rest assured, without oxygen in that function, you’d get a lot less energy from sugars, and you’d eventually die if the oxygen is not restored.
That’s what I think about when I’m deep into my running. That sound of energy going through me (in my head) is the energy being released by those enzymes. I feel as if I can hear the energy bonds being broken and all energy being released so that my muscles can contract and expand and drive me along at a faster-than-walking pace. The heart pumps blood to take all that oxygen and nutrients to places where they need to go. The brain calculates and coordinates my balance and breathing so I can keep moving.
When I run, I sometimes close my eyes and feel all that, and it feels glorious.
I can’t wait to do it again.
*More like a slow run… Or a jog, if that’s what you want to call it.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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