How It Feels
Posted on October 11th, 2011
I’m trying to figure out if I’m having runner’s highs.
As a teenager, I believed I felt a runner’s high on about 50% of my runs. Basically, if the run was long enough and my legs weren’t pre-fatigued, BOOM. High! Virtually guaranteed. There was a weird heady air about being a runner in the late seventies and early eighties. It was the first time you heard of endorphins. I read a lot of Dr. George Sheehan’s lyrical musings on the meaning of running, which were like Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception” for runners.
I walk around in an altered state of consciousness as a matter of habit, as it is. All of us move from normal waking “beta” brainwaves in and out of slower, trancelike “alpha” and “theta” brainwaves throughout the day. I move there more than most — I’ve been diagnosed as extremely hypnotizable, and I’m notorious for spacing out at strange times without realizing it. My ninth grade English teacher, Mr. Kelsall, was both impressed and frustrated with the way I’d stare out the window all class like I wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention, but every time he called on me, I’d have the right answer. So, who knows, maybe I was really having runner’s highs.
But in the last few years since I’ve been running again, I can’t say there’s anything I’ve experienced while running that I’d attach that phrase to.
When I’m tired, I’m tired, and when I’m flying, I’m flying. Some days I notice every step I take and can’t wait until it’s done, but some days a mile will go by almost without registering. I always bring myself back to the running when I drift away from the experience, because I don’t like to miss the running itself. For an hour or more, I stay absorbed watching the terrain I’ve watched a hundred times and listening to my breathing. I don’t like to “think about” my problems when I run; I let them simmer underneath, where they seem to resolve themselves without my intervention.
Obviously, this is an altered state.
But “high” to me signals euphoria, and I rarely feel genuinely euphoric. It’s the mildness that I like, the way the physical effort counters the emotional overreactions we’re all prone to, from the way daily life activates fight-or-flight. The older I get, the more I value peace over euphoria! The best hour of my life is the one right after a run. Nothing in the world can bother me. You could stick long needles through my arms and I wouldn’t flinch.
And then there is this other feeling, one I had again just last week — what I privately label the “born to run” feeling (my apologies to Mr. Springsteen). When I’m running well and fast and everything is firing and I feel how right the movement feels to me, I think: “I was made to do this.” And I know in my bones I was. I don’t know how or why or where it came from — it isn’t even shared by most members of my family — but I, Connie Marie Vaughn, was made for certain specific things in this world, and one of them was Running. At that moment, I know Who I Am.
I wish everyone could find this feeling for themselves. There’s magic in how you find it right in your body without ever even going to your head. If you want something to exercise for, I’m telling you, it isn’t your cholesterol, it isn’t your bikini, it’s to know Who You Are. This is a secret I’m telling you, and no one else may know how to say it, even when their bodies know it, so listen.
My brother Michael (himself a triathlete and active in sports) once kept asking me, over and over, “What are runners running away from?” — he’d heard the question asked of competitive runners and seemed concerned about the implications — but I just stared at him in that spacey way. I already knew Dr. Sheehan himself had answered that question a long, long time ago.
Runners aren’t running away from anything — they’re running toward.