I just finished up with a 6 mile run in the early summer heat, and I was happy. Not because my leg is acting better, my ankle is allowing me to do slightly longer runs, and because the semester is done...or the fact that I got to spend the morning with myself, sipping coffee and reading MFK Fisher at my in-laws' peaceful house--no, it was the running itself.
L can kind of understand why I love running so much, though he detests it. While I can get him to run about twice a year or so, he will only go short distances and gets really crabby at the very end. I, on the other hand, will go long distances and be very, very happy at the end. When I don't run, I sink into a bit of a mild funk, like cheese that's not quite right anymore. My mood is subdued, my energy low, my patience easily tested. A few days of running, and I'm back to my old self.
It turns out that it's because I'm getting high on running. NPR's Christopher Joyce reported on a new study out that argues we humans might be "wired to run"--the chemicals that make me all happy with life when I run regularly helped humans evolve into distance runners. One runner (and doctor) Joyce interviewed commented about the runner's high:
But when I ask her about "runner's high," she lights up. "Oh, it's really like an empowerment. And zen at the same time. You feel strong and light, and you feel relaxed."
Morganti injured herself running two years ago and had to stop running. "And everything else fell apart," she admits. "My ability to cope with the stresses of life, my organizational skills juggling your job and motherhood, everything like that, wasn't as acute as it was when I was able to run and be fit.
"I'm actually a little bit tired," she says. "I have a hamstring injury; I'm starting to feel that a little bit now. But I'm feeling like, 'What a beautiful day. How nice to be out here,' and I don't care about that."
That's actually a problem — her not caring. Morganti treats runners for injuries, and she says they're the worst patients. "The treatment is to stop running," she says. "They won't. They don't want to. A lot of the behavior is not unlike the patients we have who are seeking drugs. It's really similar. It's an addiction."It's really pretty amazing. I don't always notice it right after running, but I do notice a huge difference between when I'm running regularly and when I'm not. L does too, and occasionally will gently nudge me to go for a run, though with all my running buddies, I don't seem to need it too often anymore.
Why doesn't someone like L enjoy running, then? My theory is that he associates running with negative things from a younger age, where running for me was PURE JOY when I was a child and young adult. I loved feeling like I was flying as I dashed around excitedly, and even the horrible PE tests where they made you run (I wasn't really in good shape back them) a mile didn't stick with me. I was thrilled one year when I managed to do a sub-10 minute mile. I should have known then that running was my thing, though it took me another 5 years to really own it.
Of course, I don't think everyone should run or anything--do what you like, if it's active. Swimming, sports, walking, biking, yoga: all great activities to do. But if you find yourself getting curious about why we runners do nutty things like get up at 4:45 on a random Wednesday morning to run 5 miles (or 6am on a Saturday to run 12 miles), remember that it's the brain chemicals and my desire to have mental stability at all times.