Running up, over and through the cogs

Trading the High for Zen and a General Sense of Awesome

I don’t get the runner’s high anymore.  I haven’t for about a year and a half now.  When I first started running, catching the “high” was a frequent occurrence, especially during hard efforts like long runs or speed work.  But nowadays it’s something I’ve learned to do without.  The only runner’s high I get now is after the run, when my knees are iced, my feet are up and I’m able to reflect on the satisfaction of having done work.

Of course, beer helps.

Oh how far I’ve come!

During my early running days, when I didn’t really know what I was getting into, breaking down on a desolate country road, overcome with emotion was rather common.  I’d often feel like I made some poignant realization about myself.  I’d get that warm, cozy feeling I used to get during my MDMA partying days.  I used to think: if only EVERYONE were a runner, to know this special feeling!

Then, as soon as it came, it was gone.  Forever.

I don’t know why.  But I’m over it.

I’ve traded the high for zen, the emotion for being present.  Of course, for me, catching the zen isn’t as easy as simply going for a long run or running intervals.  It takes a combination of speed and distance for me to tap into it.  It demands a pace fast enough to be uncomfortable, and a distance far enough to make maintaining that pace hard as hell.  It requires supreme focus.  Splits, muscle aches and what I’m going to have for dinner that night cannot jut into my consciousness.  Everything must go, everything except the present.



And even then, reaching zen mode is not a given.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.  I’ve found that when I think about it or try to force my way into having one of those experiences, it just doesn’t work.

The good news is, every run — no matter how present or how off in space — brings me happiness.  Even after those really awful runs, the ones where I felt slow, felt heavy, felt off, felt crampy, even those make me smile.

Just moving, doing work, going forward in time… that’s awesome.

6 responses

  1. Chico

    Reblogged this on Red Rock Crossing.

    March 4, 2012 at 07:19

  2. Huh. Interesting. I almost always get the runner’s high. But I also rarely run anything more than 7-8 miles, and I’ve never ran farther than 13.1. But this post also makes a lot of sense. Have you ever read Mastery by George Leonard? If not, you should. You’ll love it. It’s about achieving mastery in anything. And largely about how you can only reach happiness by learning to love the basic fundamentals, the practice, the repetition of the basic work that makes up what you do. He calls it the plateau. And he says that no matter how good you are, or how successful you are, if you pursue anything you’ll spend most of your life on the plateau, so you better love it. Great book.

    March 4, 2012 at 16:33

  3. Sounds like a good read. I’ll have to check it out. Maybe we only have a limited amount of the high inside us and I’ve used mine all up. I dunno. Luckily, the practice — as you mention — is addictive enough, and really, all that I need.

    March 5, 2012 at 08:32

  4. mike lung

    Running slow and steady gives me the same feeling

    March 5, 2012 at 09:38

  5. Dan

    I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a runner’s high, or even a second wind. I just break down. So I suppose the only “high” I get is when I cross the 22-mile barrier and can keep the pace going. In that case, I’m just extremely stoked that I haven’t died yet. Every step after that feels more powerful for that reason …

    … but is it an explicitly different feeling than simply pride in my fitness and discipline? Maybe. But it doesn’t feel any different.

    Great insight. I like reading your posts — they definitely dig deep into what it means to be a long-distance athlete beyond hitting splits.

    March 5, 2012 at 13:26

  6. Just keep movin’, Baba.

    Dan, thanks for the kind words. I’m glad someone gets something out of my thoughts. My idea for this space is to dig deep into what’s going on in my mind. I find that to be the most fascinating part of training — how it affects the mind. More to come!

    March 6, 2012 at 14:05

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