December 4, 2011

The runner's high

"People talk about the runner's high. The only runner's high that I've really felt is when I stop running."
~ Jerry Meyers in "Spirit of the Marathon"
The elusive runner's high. I am not sure I have experienced as other's have. It is generally described as a rush of endorphins that occurs when you have pushed your body to the limit. The body reacts, and the release of endorphins not only help negate the pain you are feeling, but can also give you a sense of happiness and well being.

I have pushed my body to the limit on more than one occasion. I have crossed finish lines in physical disarray where I was unsure I would be able to walk upright for much longer. But the runner's high has not shown up in these moments. And boy could I have used it a few months ago.

I have had experiences that feel like a runner's high, and it is often when I am out running, but it is almost exclusively triggered by my mind and not my body. There are times when I am plugging away and I imagine rounding a corner to see the finish line or a loved one, and a wave of happiness and well-being passes through me. I can feel it spread across my skin in a tingling sensation like sunlight on a cold day.

Though it is certainly more likely to happen when I am exercising, it is the thought, the vision, the imagined scene that seems to set it off rather than the effort. Most often the thought is triggered by music.

Yesterday I was out on a long run in preparation for my next marathon. I generally listen to podcasts, but lately I have been mixing in music. My pace always seems to pick up slightly when people stop talking and they start singing.

I don't spend a lot of time setting up playlists for each run, and have just been going through my song library alphabetically (backwards) plugging in four or five songs as musical breaks. Near mile 16 of my 17 mile run, "Closer to Fine" by the Indigo Girls came on. This is a longtime favorite and it picked me up. It was immediately followed by "City of Blinding Lights" by U2. And the high kicked in.

I have watched the coverage of the Ironman Championships for the last few years. You can not help but be inspired by watching these people go beyond what they thought was possible. There is a time limit to the race, and it is said that the last hour is when you see the most courageous people. Many of the pros who finished hours before, come back to watch the last competitors cross the line.

On NBC's 2006 Ironman presentation, "City of Blinding Lights" was played over a montage of weary finishers exaltedly completing the challenge, spent and forever changed. When I hear the song, I can not help but think of the joy and elation these people felt. And when I heard the song yesterday, a sense of joy passed through me in a wave of warmth and goosebumps, inspiring me to push onto the finish.

An additional connection that I did not make until now was that I was at mile 16 of 17, and those finishers are between the 16th and 17th hour to beat the cutoff. Hard to imagine.

But I found last week that I don't need to be pushed to the red to have that music triggered feeling happen. I was between mile one and two of the Turkey Trot when I passed by some speakers blasting the theme from Rocky. And damned if it didn't get to me, as cheesy as that sounds.

I have heard running compared to hitting yourself with a hammer - the only time if feels good is when you stop. Not true. Of course it feels great to finish, and it is much more difficult in the moment, but there are times when you can feel elation during the struggle. It is all in the power of the mind.


matt said...

i had to take this song off my running playlist:

When it comes on, I run so hard and happy that I injure myself . . .

Holly Linden said...

The Rocky theme made me super happy too ( I admit it! ), but that little girl playing her violin on the balcony for all the runners was the BEST. Killed me... "literally!"