This week I’ve found myself several times with this thought: for some people, running is a drug.
They can’t get enough. They live, breathe, and eat running. They buy stickers for their cars, get tattoos and wear running jewelry, and buy cute little t-shirts with funny running slogans on them. Sound familiar?
You should see my car. And my t-shirt drawer. And the ten pairs of running shoes I bought on sale last year.
Some are instantly addicted from the very first run. They like the way running makes them feel. It may be the first time in their lives they’ve ever felt in control, empowered, and strong. That’s how it was for me.
For others, it comes on more slowly. After years of running they one day realize they simply can’t live without it. They run in spurts, until the day arrives when they feel like they can get through a run without feeling like they’re going to die.
Sometimes it happens after your first long race. You’ve pushed yourself further than you ever thought possible. Finishing your first half marathon or marathon is exhilarating. Even though you swear you’ll never do another one, you find yourself planning your next race within an hour after crossing the finish line.
For some, racing is the drug. These runners book a race every weekend. They don’t train; they race. Continually. I don’t know how they do it. I’m good for one or two big races a year.
For many, their addiction to running only shows up when they’re injured. First they ignore that little twinge of pain that could signal something serious. They refuse to believe that they may need to back off and rest a day or two. I can’t be injured, I have a race in two weeks. They think they can run through it, that it will just go away. Denial is its own powerful addiction.
When they give in and go see a doctor, who then confirms what they knew all along, they become depressed when day after day passes and they can’t run. Some even feel like their identity disappears when they aren’t out running with everyone else. They need an intervention. We’ve all been there at one point or another.
Thankfully, I haven’t met many runners whose identities are that tied up in running. Most of us accept that there needs to be balance in every aspect of our lives, and running is just another part of the pie.
The bottom line is, it feels good to run. Nothing beats a good run first thing in the morning, and those feelings carry through for the rest of the day. That’s a pretty good incentive to keep running.
For instance, the other day my friend Liz needed to run earlier than our usual winter time of 8:15am, and we met at the lake at 6:00am. It was dark and foggy, but I have to admit it was a nice change. After the run I came home and went into hyper mode, going shopping, cleaning the entire kitchen (even the fridge!), doing dishes, doing laundry, answering emails, and even fitting in a session of yoga. I am a dedicated Night Owl, and somehow the combination of getting up earlier and a good six miler definitely felt like my own personal drug.
When I’m injured or sick, and don’t run for a few days, NOT running starts to become just as addictive as running. Not running is easy. There are other things that need to be done. Not running is relaxing. I can sit on the couch and watch TV instead. Not running makes me wonder why I push myself so hard, week after week. I could walk and stay just as healthy. Not running makes me question why I put in all those hours of physical exertion. I have so much more time in my day when I don’t run.
I mean, what’s the point? We’re all going to die in the end anyway, right?
But then I hit the road and fall in love with running all over again.
It isn’t about staying alive as long as we can. It’s about living as fully as we can.
Running is life affirming. I run because I can, because it makes me feel strong and powerful. On some level, I find running to be very spiritual, especially trail running. When it’s just me on a trail, under a canopy of trees, or running through a gorgeous desert landscape, I feel connected to everything. There’s no separation between me and the universe, and every moment becomes meditative as I focus on nothing other than the trail ahead. It sounds hokey, I know, but it feels natural and unforced. If allows me to focus on the here and now, the immediacy of moving and breathing, and nothing else. In those moments there IS nothing else: nowhere else I need to be, no one else I need to be, and nothing else I need to have.
If running is a drug, so be it. It’s cheap, easy, and does the body, mind, and soul good. And that’s an addiction I can live with for the rest of my life.