The Chemistry of Running


Human beings have been running from the beginning of time. It has evolved from a means of survival for our ancestors to a modern sport and hobby. It seems like an easy process but in order to run for a long period of time humans need to condition their bodies by mixing speed and endurance. Running is part of life all over the world and is a renowned universal sport. I chose to do my project on running because I am an avid runner and enjoy it more than most, it’s like free therapy! I am also very intrigued in what keeps a human being healthy so understanding the process of running and what is happening inside the body is very interesting to me. My life is affected by it because I run at least five times a week and when I do not get a run in I am tired, irritated, and don’t feel good. Running is the easiest way to get in shape and start getting healthy.

Composition of ...

    • Oxygen
    • Glucose
    • Carbohydrates
    • Fats
    • Carbon
    • Hydrogen
    • Oxygen
    • ATP
    • Sodium
    • Potassium
    • Calcium
    • Hydrogen Carbonate
    • Phosphate
    • Magnesium
  • Chloride

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

    • The two main components are Oxygen and Glucose
    • Oxygen is a diatomic molecule (O2) which we get from breathing in. It is breathed in through our lungs and gets transferred to our cells to help them carry out their basic processes
  • Glucose is a compound with the formula C6H12O6. It is found in carbohydrates and complex sugars which our body ingests to help form ATP (or energy) for our cells to use.

Chemistry's Role

To run you obviously move your arms and legs back and forth in a repetitive motion, but it becomes much more complicated when you look under the skin. Runners use the aerobic respiration system for energy. This system occurs by increased oxygen entering your muscles. Your body has several ways of increasing O2-rich blood flow to the muscles.

1- Increased depth and rate of breathing

2- Increased cardiac output

3- Increased blood flow to the working muscles

4- Diversion of blood flow from the nonessential organs in your body

5- Increased unloading of O2 from hemoglobin in the working muscle

During running (or any aerobic exercise), blood vessels in your muscles dilate so oxygen-rich blood flow can increase. When ATP is used up in the working muscle, several byproducts are produced such as hydrogen ions and carbon dioxide. They leave the muscle cells and cause the capillaries to dilate, more blood flow means more oxygen to the muscles. When you workout your body heats up and the chemical reaction in your body produces not only water (sweat) and carbon dioxide, but also heat. Heat production happens when the chemical energy used during your workout isn’t easily turned into reusable energy. The excess comes off as heat.

Glucose + Oxygen -----> Carbon dioxide + Water + Energy


C6H12O6 + 6O2 -----> 6CO2 + 6H2O +2900 kj

Background Research

For the first 13 olympic games running was the only sport people competed in, this was around 700 B.C. The ape-like Australopithecus was an early ancestor to humans and the first creature to walk upright on two legs and have the ability to run. Around ten thousand years ago Tarahumara indians in Mexico had to run 15-17 miles a day to hunt and gather food. Humans evolved to have many sweat glands, an achilles tendon and large knee joints to aid in endurance running they had to do. It has come a long way but running is still a large part of human life. Whether you’re running for sport or just a hobby, it’s a natural and great way for humans to stay healthy.


“Carbohydrates”. 21, March 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2013.

(information on carbohydrates and their role)

“Fats and Oils”. Chemical of the Week. Prof. Shakhashiri. Janurary 30, 2008. Retrieved March 13, 2013.

(information on fats and their role)

“History of Running”. 2010. Retrieved May 12, 2013. http://

(information on the history of running)

“How Exercise Works”. Discovery Fit & Health. Freudenrich, Craig, Ph.D. Discovery Communications, LLC. 2013. Retrieved May 12, 2013.

(information on the role of chemistry during exercise)

“The Running Chemistry”.Healthy Lifestyle. Word Press. 2008. Retrieved November 14, 2012.

(information on the main components)

About the Author

Kayla Wanner is a senior at Billings Senior High school and is very excited about attending Boise State University in the fall of 2013. She will be majoring in Biology and pursuing a career in Orthodontics one day. She loves camping, hunting, fishing, hiking and anything to do with the outdoors. She also has an identical twin sister.