You may have heard of it the “runners high”, the chemical reaction in the brain that tells you that you love running. Of course you don’t, it’s the endorphin’s acting as painkillers that make us feel exhilarated and euphoric. If you are lucky enough to experience this you will want to get that hit again.
Now recently Rod Dixon who won the NY marathon 33 years ago was inducted into the hall of fame, and 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, people 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” and your mates told you that you wouldn’t or even couldn’t – damn cheek! Or like when the surgeons told me I wouldn’t run again after a severe ankle injury? A certain stubbornness makes 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 training 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 of having “knocked the b*****d off”, when the high wears off it’s still good to bask in the smug glory of knowing that you have done what so many have not (and for so good reason do not want to). Of course some 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, to gain a sense of belonging with like minded souls. Having stories and experiences to share while building relationships encourages you to keep going and improving, “Any achievement is so much more special when shared with others”. While the road to long distance running can be lonely, regular events and travel to special destinations with a group can really add to the anticipation of that high. 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.
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 better body self images. Great you’ve 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 Kaiapoi river on a spring training run with water sparkling and the shady willows whispering urging you on – just another few k’s 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, the time spent with your own thoughts gives opportunity to solve problems and contemplate your world as if being without the deafening noise of modern communication gives your brain a time out to think and recharge . Time to meditate and be as one with the road or trail can be great for problem solving or come to up with new ideas. Think about running even in a group, or alone as real quality “Me” time.
While we may not all want to become ultra marathoners like our own Lisa Tamati on the 200+ Kilometres Badwater race through death valley, some of us just may want to keep running until we are like the octogenarian couple who recently finished an Irish marathon – holding hands no less! Or 85 year old Ed Whitlock who in October, ran the Toronto Marathon in 3:56:38. It is 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 a sense of achievement but it’s the thirst for more that keeps people going.