Peaking Your Running: Tips From 1968 Olympian, C. Kunalan

Canagasabai Kunalan is no stranger to the local running scene.

Lauded as the most successful local track & field athlete of all time by the Singapore Sports Council in 2002, Kunalan once held the Singapore Record for the 100m, 200m and 400m distances and represented Singapore in the 1968 Olympic Games.

Kunalan gave a talk for RUN350 runners. [Photo from RUN350]

Kunalan (front row, 3rd from left, sitting) gave a talk for RUN350 runners.
[Photo from RUN350]

To prepare runners for the upcoming RUN350 race, which takes place on 10 April, Kunalan recently gave a talk to runners – about the new “theories” of running and how to plan training for psychological adaptations.

The talk was also followed by a short 5.5km run around the Marina Bay area.

Here are a few of the highlights that he had shared with runners at the clinic.

Do productive training

According to Kunalan, productive training will get you far, as compared to clocking junk miles.

And the runner says that training intensity is divided into three zones – Zone 1, 2 and 3.

Training intensity for runners is divided into 3 zones. [Photo from]

Training intensity for runners is divided into 3 zones.
[Photo from]

Zone 1 training is what you should be doing most of your training in. This is done at an easy heart rate effort, or conversational pace. When you are training in this zone, you will feel as though you can keep on going on forever.

Zone 2 training is considered as moderately hard, and you should be able to say words and phrases during running, but the intensity should not allow you to conduct a full conversation. This is the level that you should be doing threshold training and pace tempo runs in.

Zone 3 training is considered as hard training, and is done at race pace. This is not a pace that you should be able to sustain for very long and you should not be able to talk at all when you are running this hard.

Do Fitness Testing

Kunalan recommends that runners do fitness testing, regardless of whether you are a seasoned athlete or a beginner, to help you to reach your maximum running potential.

Some of the fitness tests that he recommends are as follows.

VO2 Max Test

A Runner undergoing a VO2 max test. [Photo from]

A Runner undergoing a VO2 max test.
[Photo from]

VO2 max testing is about finding out the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete can utilise during intense exercise.

Said Kunalan, “Knowing your engine capacity and VO2 max will enable you to fine-tune your training. This is something that even beginners must think about, in terms of running.”

Lactate test

Said Kunalan, “The lactate test determines the lactate threshold of the person. It enables someone to find the speed or intensity that he can sustain in a long distance event without the onset of physiologically debilitating effects.”

This test helps to establish training intensities which can help in the planning of a training programme for athletes. While training programmes are easily found online through Google, Kunalan points out that these programmes are not specifically tailored towards all athletes.

If you are a seasoned runner who wants to systematically improve your performance, then this is the right test for you, according to Kunalan.

Do Running economy & video gait analysis tests

Video gait analysis tests are to improve your running efficiency. [Photo from]

Video gait analysis tests are to improve your running efficiency.
[Photo from]

Also targeted at seasoned runners, this type of test analyses your running efficiency and running gait and corrects any inefficiencies through video recording and image editing software. This is because an inefficient running gait does not only waste energy but it also causes overuse injuries.

All of the tests that have been mentioned earlier, can be done at the Changi Sports Medical Centre, according to Kunalan.

Body Needs Enough Adenosine triphosphate (ATP)

Known as ATP for short, Adenosine triphosphate is the source of energy that our cells and muscles need, to keep on moving when engaging in sporting activities.

Said Kunalan, “Every living cell in our body needs ATP for energy including our muscle cells. Without ATP, the muscles will not be able to move.”

With Shennon from Young NTUC (left) and C. Kunalan (right).

With Shennon from Young NTUC (left) and C. Kunalan (right).

Runners need adequate Glycogen

Glycogen is fuel for ATP, so a runner needs to eat food, which can produce glycogen.

Glycogen, which is converted from the glucose in carbohydrates such as rice and bread, is the main source of fuel for the muscles. Said Kunalan, “The body combines together a few glucose molecules and converts this to glycogen for the muscles. You need to use glycogen when you are running.”

While the liver is the main storage source for glycogen, it cannot store glycogen forever. That is why the average person needs to eat three meals a day, so that he or she can continuously refresh his energy stores in the body.

Rice is good fuel for runners according to Kunalan. [Photo from]

Rice is good fuel for runners according to Kunalan.
[Photo from]

During the process of fermentation in our bodies, the breaking down of the glucose yields ATP molecules and pyruvate, which is essential in cellular synthesis and respiration.

Without sufficient glucose, this process cannot take place in our bodies, and as such we will not have enough energy to run.

This is why marathoners and other endurance runners have to take in glucose when they are running. If they do not, the body will undergo the process of hypoglycemia, which takes place when the glucose levels are low.

To many athletes, this process is known as “hitting the wall.” In extreme cases, dizziness and loss of consciousness may occur if glucose is not ingested quickly enough.

Prevent Lactic acid accumulation

It's not fun when too much lactic acid accumulates in your muscles. [Photo from]

It’s not fun when too much lactic acid accumulates in your muscles.
[Photo from]

Besides losing glucose, lactic acid is also built up inside the muscles during endurance sports such as marathon running. Too much lactic acid can cause the muscles to tighten and seize up and as such they will not be able to function as per normal. This commonly causes cramps in athletes.

To prevent cramps from occurring, Kunalan advises runners to eat carbohydrates but then again we should not overdo it, as any excess carbohydrates will be converted to, and subsequently stored by the body as fats which will accumulate and slow down your running in the long term – according to Kunalan.

And to prevent lactic acid from building up in the muscles, Kunalan added that you should keep on moving – so that the blood will keep moving too, to stop the accumulation from taking place.

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