Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What th Hell's a Runner's High?

I've obviously heard the term "runner's high" half a zillion times over the years, but being that I get both words separately I've never spent too much time thinking about them together.

Runner's High - n. A state of euphoria achieved through running

I was really locked into my run today and even afterward I was still buzzing from my runner's high.

Yeah, I get that, but I've never actually used the term to describe - well, anything. I've never even really thought about it. It seems like a Mickey Mouse packaging of something that you don't really talk about and can't explain. But over the last two days I've been asked about it twice. The first time I actually thought the question was semi-moronic mostly because it was followed by a brief explanation of the drugs the person uses and how they get high. So all in all that was just bizarre. But yesterday it was asked again - and though I looked at the person with the same confused "huh?" it dawned on me that as difficult as it is for a runner to define or describe what a runner's high is, to the non-runner the concept is completely inconceivable.

But it got me thinking: what the fuck is a runner's high?

I've always equated running with competition - either against other people or myself. So for me the most euphoric running experiences have been winning races, setting PRs, or the times when I've felt like crap but gutted out a race despite the fact that ever ember of my being was totally ready to throw in the chips. The first district championship I won in high school I was about three hundred yards behind the leader with a mile to go, and all I was thinking about was holding off the guy behind me so I could get second. But I came around a corner at mile two and one of the coaches for another team spotted me and said, "If you're going to do it you've got to do it now." For whatever reason that made it click, and I just started reeling the leader in. Coming down the last 400 meter straightaway into the finish the leader was still like 100 meters off, but I was totally locked in at this point and when I passed him with maybe 20 feet to go I remember everything seeming silent and in slow motion. It might have been the severe oxygen debt and complete exhaustion, but I was completely zoned in.

For me that's what a runner's high has always been about - that crushing of self doubt as you push yourself past physical limits towards victory. But that's such a short sighted view of the concept. 99% of runners will never get the feeling of winning a race - hell, I'll probably never get the feeling of winning anything but maybe a beer mile ever again.

I think the runner's high is more than that. Over the last couple months I've had a few runs where I've felt great, where I've been locked in, and where running fast has just felt effortless. Times where I've looked at my splits and realized I was effortlessly turning sub six miles and finding it harder to hold back then keep up. It's almost like going downhill on roller skates - you're just getting pulled forward by this magical running force. I guess this is really the true meaning of the runner's high and I guess what keeps people coming back. The chance to lock into that magical land of light legs and fast feet.

With just a few days before BK that's all I'm hoping for on Saturday. I just want to feel like I'm running downhill the whole time. Like there's a tractor beam at the finish pulling me home. I lock into that and the biggest question won't be whether or not I break 1:23 but by how much.

1 comment:

MBARRY said...

funny. clearly we look at running a bit differently but runner's high is one huge reason i run. i literally remember my first time (that sounds weird...). seriously. i was 14 or 15 running by my high school and for the first time, my body moved itself, not the other way around. i felt like i could run forever. that moment hooked me. here i am 15 years later :) sorry last saturday wasn't that day for you. but i hope you have more runs that AREN'T races, where you come close or actually get the high. those are the best days...