The “runners high” it’s that chemical reaction in the brain that tells you that you love running. Of course you don’t love running, it’s the endorphin’s acting as painkillers that make you feel exhilarated and euphoric. Once you have experienced the rush, that feeling of floating on air, then there’s a good chance you will keep on pushing yourself to get another fix.
Recently Rod Dixon who won the New York marathon 33 years ago was inducted into the hall of fame, and he said “It’s not the race, it’s not the finish line, it’s the journey and how it changes lives,” And he is right, we start running for all kinds of reasons, but it is what can be gained along the way that keeps you going. Do you run to prove a point such as in the 2007 Simon Peg movie “Run fat boy run” where his mates told him that he wouldn’t or even couldn’t do it – damn cheek! Or like when the surgeons told me that I wouldn’t run again after a severe ankle injury? A certain stubbornness can make us step up and take the challenge. Maybe it’s to gain a sense of belonging and meet new people? to see new places? to lose a few pounds? or just to de-stress?, running has many rewards including that chemical driven elation gained from just getting out there and doing it.
The idea of running to compete or challenge yourself seems like an obvious reason to run, and sure all those long lonely hours pounding the pavement need to have a reason or a goal, Can you improve your time? Beat your mates in the local half marathon? Or win your age group? Some just run to finish, collect the t-shirt or medal and get the kudos for having “knocked the bastard off”, and even when the high wears off you can bask in the knowledge that you have done what so many others have not – achieved a state of joy from just being in the race (bragging rights at dinner parties are also nice). Now some of us love the excitement of the start line, the cheering crowds along the way and even more so the finish line some 20 or 40 (or even 100) kilometres away, but as Rod said it’s not really about the running at all.
Camaraderie also known as a spirit of good friendship is contradictorily part of the lonely long distance runner’s mix. While many run for fun (a mildly sadistic, self flagellating fun) and others run to compete most want to enjoy their high with other people. Some join clubs to participate in events and meet new people and to gain a sense of belonging with like minded souls. We build relationships through our shared experiences and stories of the different runs we have conquered, encouraging us to keep going and improve. Any achievement is so much more special when shared with others and to be part another’s struggle or triumph can really boost your own feel good chemical cocktail. While the road to long distance running can be lonely, regular events and travel to special destinations with a group can keep your focused and motivated. There are many tour companies specialising in taking groups to international events like the New York or Great wall marathons where shared memories of that experience of a lifetime are made, or you can just enjoy being with friends as you try the different local runs.
Now another good reason to pull on the running shoes is your own health – mental, physical and spiritual. Health studies show that outdoor exercise can improve moods and reduce levels of anxiety. The feel good chemicals released into the body can help fight depression, while increased fitness and metabolism help to produce a better body self image. Well done!, you lost a few pounds, you’re sleeping better and you are de-stressing, but wait there’s more! What about spiritual health? Yes, there is something amazing about communing with nature as you run alongside the river or lake on a spring training run with the water sparkling and the shady willows whispering, and urging you on – “just bit further – you can do it!”, or over a majestic mountain pass like in the Motatapu challenge from Wanaka to Arrowtown, as you go cross country over the alpine ridge and gain a sense of nirvana as your body goes into shock from the cold and intense exertion. Time spent with your own thoughts gives you opportunities to solve problems and contemplate your world, it’s as if being without the deafening noise of modern communication gives your brain a time out to think and recharge .This time to meditate and be as one with the road or trail could your real quality “Me” time.
We may not all want to become ultra marathoners like our own Lisa Tamati on the 200+ kilometre Badwater race through Death valley. Some of us may just want to keep on running until we are like the octogenarian couple who recently finished an Irish marathon – holding hands no less! Or be like 85 year old Ed Whitlock who in October, ran the Toronto Marathon in 3:56:38. It’s amazing to see that the quest for the runners high knows no age limit.
It’s not about the finish line or even the running itself, we all could get addicted to the runner’s high and learn to revel in the supporters chants of “run Forrest run”. There are many reasons people start to run; Health, companionship, challenge or just to gain a sense of achievement but it’s an escape from the mundane and a thirst for more that really keeps people going.