I'm a casual runner who tends to come in mid-pack on a 5K race.

If I really push myself on a 4-mile run, as I get toward the end my heart rate approaches 190 BPM and my fingertips and lips feel tingly. Is that from lack of oxygen? Am I getting fit or am I being stupid?


Yes, you are experiencing a lack of blood flow, and thus oxygen deprivation, to those parts of your body. Most of your blood will be pumping through your legs (actually, your legs are helping to push blood through your heart) and less will be flowing to other areas of the body, specifically areas level with or above the heart will take the largest deficit of blood flow and oxygen. If you are experiencing a tingling sensation like that, then you need to slow down and let your body regain some oxygen.

If you are running with your arms out, or your elbows bent at greater than a 90 degree angle, you are more likely to experience the tingling in your fingers. Your hands will likely be raised higher than your heart, and an increased bend in your elbow will also create a tighter area for the blood to pump through. You can't really lower your head below your heart when you're running though, and your brain is in your head, so if you are experiencing a lack of oxygen to your fingers and lips, you are also experiencing a lack of oxygen to your brain, and this can cause damage or in extreme cases even be fatal.

When I run, my heart rate used to get up to around 185 and I didn't experience any of those symptoms, so I would think that it is likely not just your BPM but also the amount of oxygen you are consuming and burning. You may need to control your breathing a little better by taking longer, deeper breaths. If you are overdoing it, breathing like this will slow you down on it's own, since you will start hyperventilating if you are running too hard.

You aren't really doing yourself any favors by running that hard. The amount of energy, in calories, that is expended during a hard run is barely higher than the amount expended in a slower run (on the magnitude of around 20 calories per mile). According to this chart, the amount of calories expended (and work done) per mile is exactly the same at 5 miles per hour and 10 miles per hour, you just get more miles in the same amount of time.

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  • I wasn't running fast to burn more calories, but rather to get faster. However, I'll just have to improve more gradually. Thanks. – Jeremy Stein May 24 '11 at 17:08
  • When you say "Bent at greater than a 90 degree angle", do you mean that they're too straight (angle between forearm and humerus > 90) or that they're too bent (angle between forearm and rest > 90)? – Kevin Vermeer Jun 23 '11 at 18:09
  • I mean that they are bent too far (at less than a 90 degree angle), which will raise your hands above your heart. – Nathan Wheeler Jun 24 '11 at 14:22
  • I have experienced this, but only in a high heat, say 30 degrees Celsius, to which I am not accustomed. However, I would not expect these runs to be the most exerting I have done, such as hill-running in the Scottish winter, from which I did not experience similar symptoms. I am not convinced a lack of blood flow is the cause. – silasdavis Sep 12 '11 at 12:04
  • Regarding "my heart rate used to get up to around 185 and I didn't experience any of those symptoms" - your resting heart rate does matter. If it is 50, then 185 is very high. If it is 96, then 185 is not that bad. – A-K Dec 26 '13 at 18:45

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