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The power of a second wind

This guy goes out for a run and he reaches a point where he's getting fatigued and short of breath, but he's far short of his planned destination, so he keeps on trucking. Then as he goes along, at some point he realizes he's not puffing anymore and he has more energy than he did earlier in the run. This happens. It has happened to me. What has happened is that the runner has got a "second wind."

Science has been studying the second wind phenomenon for over 100 years, and has three theories on why it happens. The first is that the body pushes past the point of pain, gets warmed up, adjusts and begins to use oxygen at its fullest potential. For this reason, Olympic runners rarely experience a second wind because they have trained their bodies to perform efficiently from the very beginning of the race.

The second theory is that endorphins, the "feel good" natural pain killing hormones produced by the brain during stress and exercise, are released early so that the second wind is very closely related to the "runner's high" that usually arises at the end of the run rather than during it.

The third theory is that the second wind is purely the psychological by-product of confidence and pride of one who has exceeded his expectations. I am doubtful about that theory, because the second wind always came to me when I was feeling nearly whipped and not the least bit confident or proud. I believe the second wind is just the body adjusting and using oxygen more efficiently -- and slipping into overdrive.

But you don't have to be running a road race to get a second wind. Go back a few years in U.S. history, to 1960. Richard Nixon ran for President that year and lost in a very close race to John F. Kennedy. Two years later, he ran for Governor of California and lost to Pat Brown. He was bitter, didn't feel he had been treated fairly by the press and that he was finished. He said, "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more." But he kept active, kept going forward, kept going to Republican meetings everywhere they were held and kept giving speeches. By 1968 he had earned his way to the top of his party, got the nomination, was elected President and then reelected in 1972. Regardless of how it all turned out for Nixon and regardless of what you may have thought of him, you have to give Richard Nixon credit -- he got a second wind because he never stopped running.

Do you recognize the name Robert Downey, Jr.? Downey is a young actor in his early 40's. In 1992, he played Charley Chaplin in the movie "Chaplin" and he played it so brilliantly he won an Academy Award as best actor. But between 1996 and 2001 he was frequently arrested on drug-related charges and went through one drug treatment program after another. He spent time in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison. He was fired from later roles after two more arrests. He was very close to spending many years in prison. But he finally achieved sobriety, and his career has been taking off ever since. Watch him go now -- he's had a second wind, and he will eventually be recognized as one of the greatest actors of his generation.

Baby boomers are retiring by the thousands every day. Some of them think they're out of gas, and are moving slowly toward their rocking chairs. But others have plans for what they're going to do next and can hardly wait. They're probably going to catch a second wind with their hobbies or as volunteers and keep feeling their oats.

The concept of a second wind goes on and on. Can you imagine a more perfect application of the idea than the Second Wind Lung Transplant Association? There really is one. There is also a tire repair business called Second Wind Tire Repair. There are second wind spas where folks go to unwind and relax from the hectic pace of their lives. There are second wind camps for troubled kids and for ex-criminal offenders. If I ever decide (during my own second wind period) to sell used clarinets, I'll call my company Second Wind Musical Instruments.

The list goes on. There are second wind timber companies that make floors, timbers and trusses from salvaged old growth timber. Then, in our cupboard, I find a tin of bread crumbs. That's right, we bought and paid for bread crumbs. The can has a recipe for sautéed prawns and scallops. We've never had sautéed prawns and scallops at our house, but they're probably great for other crusty surfaces. No matter what they're used for, what could be more of a second wind than bread crumbs? If there is an answer to that question, it's probably leftovers.

So whatever it is that you're doing that's wearing you out, there's probably a second wind for you -- unless you stop running. Even if you feel like a bread crumb or a leftover.