So what's with all the running?...

October 13, 2007

OK so earlier this week I discussed that many people do not "get" running. Particularly long distance running. They see it as a slow form of torture which is unhealthy and completely irrational and in many ways they are right. Sometimes running is a bit (lot) torturous, and continuing to run while your body is not so quietly shutting down organ by organ is not at all rational. I will concede these things.
However! We get back out there, we continue to do it and what is more we love it! Passionately! We can think of few things worse then being told not to run. Actually being told not to run can bring on feelings of quiet desperation.  And not so quiet irritability.
Again, I'm not going to try to argue that a passion for long distance running is a rational thing(particularly when you have legs as short as I do-I contend that over any given distance I run 3x further then a person with normal length legs). But I can tell you why I do it.
1.I find it's like childbirth. I forget. Almost instantaneously. I forget how dreadful those first few steps can feel, I forget how dreadful every step after that can feel on some runs. I forget. I may remember cognitively-I even make a point to tell someone when I have had a bad run so that verbalizing it  may help me remember, but it never does, emotionally, you never deep down re-live how bad it felt and you are sure that it wasn'tthat bad and you are absolutely confident that it wouldn't be that bad again anyway.
2.Ever get high? It's awesome. Now nobody panic, I'm still a good Word of Wisdom abiding Mormon girl, but I get high fairly regularly. That "runners high" that people talk about? It's not just figurative, it is literallya high. Whoosh! Ever wished you could fly? Like that. For me anyway, when those endorphines really kick in, I feel like I am flying but even BETTER then that (well better then I imagine flying to be, can't actually claim to be an authority on the subject.) It's what I imagine flying wrapped in chocolate to be like. That.
And to be fair, the endorphines-they do not kick in on every run or at least they don't always kick in that powerfully, but when you have a good rush well, it explains why people refer to a running addiction. That's not figurative either. From my limited (2nd hand) knowledge of drugs-they can intensify experiences and endorphines do the same. Listening to a powerful piece of music while under the influence of endorphines is a religious experience. Also: the endorphines have an analgesic effect. Once they are pumping you are feeling no pain. And they stay in your system for some time after. Which makes life much better for everyone. My family will definitely attest.
3.I got the power! Doing something physically hard, enduring when your body is screaming at you to stop, (again my non running rational friends would say that this is not actually a good thing ) achieving something tangible like that gives me the knowledge that I can do other hard things. It gives me confidence and energy both physically and emotionally.  When I have gone on a run, I feel so much better equipped to take on the world. One laundry basket at a time.
4. It is totally unpredictable. I find almost without fail that the days that I am feeling sluggish and the couch is calling louder then the trail, are the days that I have my best runs. I am not sure if its because I have such low expectations so I don't place any kind of performance pressure on myself, or if it's because I have such low expectations so that anything better then horrible is a pleasant surprise, but you just can never tell when you are going to have your best run. The promise of it is always out there.  Many of my PB's so far have been achieved under adverse conditions-lack of sleep, poor nutrition, cramps, heat. What have you.  I am not advocating these things and I know they would not work out well for me as a long term training plan, but the point is you just never know. Not once but twice recently, I set out for an easy run. I specifically planned to take it very easy. In fact I was running mainly to get data on my heart for my Dr. who would thus know exactly how easy I had been taking it.  Throughout the run I congratulated myself on my restraint and told myself that see, running nice and moderately was actually very pleasant. Pushing was overrated, I could get used to this. Blah blah blah. Both times upon arriving home I was informed by the pleasant voice on my iPod, "congratulations you just reached your personal best for..." I think I am the only person on the planet who ever said "Ah....DAMMIT" to that news.
Conversely, the days that I am feeling pumped and fantasizing about breaking all sorts of records, visualizing running a seven minute mile with a smile on my face (rather then a grimace followed by the need for hospitalization), these are the days that inevitably turn out to be horrible. Beginning to end. My legs are lead, every step is brutal. The sensation is more that of waddling. In short, it's just no fun.  So  really, performance and enjoyment appear to be closely connected to expectations, and that is perhaps the most addictive part of it all. No matter how bad I feel I can make myself get out there because I can honestly tell myself that it may turn out to be my best run ever.
So maybe it's the thrill of the unknown, but I think it is more about finally learning something about managing my expectations. I have spent a good portion of my life trying to control things  that I have very little or no control over. Running has taught me on a small but very personal scale that this can be quite futile, even when you are dealing with your OWN body and your OWN mind. So what is the point in trying to control someone elses?  It has done a lot to lighten me up. And speaking of lightening up...
4. When you run enough, you have a lot of freedom in the food department. Guilt free eating and lots of it. Who could ask for anything more?
5.Running is meditation for the ADD inclined. Your body is busy so your mind can think. When you run hard enough you are forced to focus just on breathing and moving which is very meditative. When you run easy you get to think and work through problems without distraction, again lots of deep breathing to keep you calm and focused. If I were Oprah I would say it is a wonderful way to connect with yourself.
So there it is, I actually feel quite exposed putting all my insanity out there in the cold light of the internet but now you know.
Posted at 11:15 PM | Permalink

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Samantha O.
I noticed that you didn't say exactly how much you run! Our dad used to run the Comrades Marathon (it's 89 km/56 miles for the non-South African blog readers) so don't worry what Genevieve and I will think. Anyway, your essay has made me all the more excited to get back into running (though I don't think I have ever run as far or as fast as I infer you do) so thank you!
Posted by: Samantha O. | October 14, 2007 at 11:49 AM

Well I can assure you that I run neither particularly fast nor far. On a very goood day I can run 7:50-something per mile although... if you divide that time by 3 for the legs...;)
And I have never run a marathon but I hope to within the next year. (If my body cooperates,it has been a tad schizo of late). I have run a few half marathons (maybe 3?) but have only quite recently gotten back into long distance. A couple of months ago I decided one day to run 16 miles in prep for a 15 mile trail race I thought was a couple of weeks later(turned out to be 6 weeks later) I thought that I did not have enough time to train slowly, so wisely I figured hey..I just ran 8 this week and that was easy enough-why not!! :I And it was one of those no sleep no proper eating days too. (As you can tell, numbers aren't my strength and I seriously did not absorb that it would be twice as long):/ Also, I still sort of picture everything in kilometers so 15 miles does not sound nearly as bad as 24 kilometers. Needless to say that was a *rather* unpleasant leap in mileage AND I did it all on a TREADMILL due to the weather. I nearly lost my mind along with a few toenails and 10lbs in sweat. GOOD TIMES!! Can't wait to do that again. (Sadly, I'm not even entirely kidding)
My dad and I have big plans for the Comrades in a couple of years. Let's all do it! Let's! Let's!!!
Posted by: Kirsty | October 14, 2007 at 01:24 PM

I love reading about your running. I always feel like you have captured how all runners feel and all non runners can just think we are all crazy. I know I am not a true runner like you but I consider myself in the runners class because I too love to do it when I can. Lately it is daily with Elise.
Posted by: Carolyn | October 14, 2007 at 05:55 PM

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