Medical definition of runner’s high: a feeling of euphoria that is experienced by some individuals engaged in strenuous running and that is held to be associated with the release of endorphins by the brain.
I can tell you the exact last time I experienced this. It was approximately 3 years, 6 months, 3 weeks and 3 days ago. I had already completely a knock down drag out of a 2.4-mile swim and a grueling 112 miles on a bike in the foothills of Arizona with crazy winds. I still remember wanting to throw my cycling shoes into Tempe Town Lake and never wear them ever again. I’m fairly certain they haven’t touched my feet since then. But then, it was time to trade in my bike for my Mizunos. My time had come. The first few miles of that marathon were, interesting, to say the least. I needed some nutrition, and sodium, and my legs had to get a handle on a different form of propulsion. But after a few miles, I felt it. I remember at about mile 5, yelling to my friend Allison, who hates running, “I’m so happy to be running!”
During the marathon at the end of an Ironman, a runner’s high is not likely to last the entirety of 26 miles. It came and went. I had moments of feeling like I could keep running forever, despite the depleting efforts of the day. And because I am a mere mortal, I had moments that I just wanted to cross the finish line and end my misery. I will tell you this, there is nothing, NO. THING. At all in this world, like coming down the finisher’s chute of an Ironman, and knowing that, in spite of all the obstacles you were up against, you completed the whole dang thing. I have chills just remembering it. And by chills, I mean tears welling up in my eyes.
Flash forward to June 2018. Reality. A runner’s high seems pretty much like a thing of the past, a figment of my imagination, an unattainable dream. Since that day in Arizona, I have run two other marathons. One of them, very nearly killed me. Like, seriously, almost killed me since it sent me into acute renal failure and septic shock. In fairness, I was the dope who ignored my kidney’s pleas to stop running and continued on through the hills of Mark Twain forest anyway. But I digress.
After the marathon of death, running has been brutal, not fun at all, and I have just sort of trudged along through the miles to get them done. At the end of 2016, during my “comeback marathon”, the thing that kept me going was the fact that I was running as a St. Jude’s Hero. I was running for kids who couldn’t. I loved that race, but I didn’t particularly love the running. It was just relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other and wishing it was over.
That’s basically how I would describe almost every mile I have run since November 16, 2014. Relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other and wishing it was over. Running has become painful, both physically and mentally. Its something I do just to say I did, to attempt to stay fit, so I can eat all the food. I’ve tried taking breaks, running in my favorite places, giving up the Garmin. But the joy was gone. It’s not fun anymore. What’s wrong with me?
Nothing, nothing is wrong with me. I’m just…human. And it’s ok that something that is hard, and painful is…hard and painful. Even if its something that used to bring me so much happiness. Even if the passion isn’t there. Sometimes we have to let go of things we love.
And sometimes, on a muggy, June morning in the Midwest, on a path we’ve run countless times, when we least expect it, they come back to us.
I’m not gonna lie, I struggled to get out the door this morning. I guzzled a cup of coffee thinking the caffeine might help the headache I’ve been fighting for the better part of the week, and I took some Midol knowing that it was most likely hormonal. It was humid, I wasn’t looking forward to running, but I’m trying to just feel good in the skin I’m in, so I made myself go.
It was pretty uneventful for the first few miles, but then, with about a mile to go, I felt kind of weird. I had just passed Wildwood Towne Center and I was in the home stretch with a little over a mile to go. I was thinking that I had recently said to the beau (Yeah, he’s the husband now, but he’s always gonna my beau) that I’m considering signing up for a half in the fall, just to give myself something to focus on and work toward. I was thinking about what I might sign up for. I was thinking that I would do it like I did with training for my first marathon, Chicago 2001, no Garmin, no time goal, just finish and enjoy the journey. I was thinking of so many of the races of the past 17 years, flashes of the highlights and the lessons learned. And the next thing I knew, I felt it. It didn’t last long, but it was there.
At first, I thought I was just getting goosebumps because I was dehydrated. But I did a quick assessment (I’m a nurse, it’s second nature) and I realized I was fine. I was just having a release of endorphins in a way that made me *want* to keep running. It was The. Best. Feeling. And even though I fully expected it to leave as quickly as it came, I made a mental note to just enjoy the feeling while it was there. I ran up the hill toward the pedestrian bridge…still there. I crossed to the other side of Old Manchester and rounded the curve back to the neighborhood…still there. I headed around the mud-pit that is Lake Chesterfield, it’s drained again, this time on purpose to try to figure out how to fix it. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better, am I right? By the time I had less than a quarter mile to go, it was gone. But there was a quote that had been in my head, for whatever reason, at the beginning of my run: Don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened.
I don’t know if my passion for running is fully restored. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another runner’s high ever again. But I had one today. And I’ll take what I can get.
In the meantime, I’m gonna keep doing what I do and trying to enjoy the moment that I’m in. As I’ve been writing this, I received a picture from Ally who is at camp this week, I’ve been listening to three boys going in and out of the house and inventing a game they’re playing, and my husband walked by and gave me a kiss a little bit ago.
Now, I’m no expert, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that maybe, just maybe, the reason I felt a little lighter on my feet today, and less like I’m trudging along up a mountain is because my life is a little lighter and less trudgey these days. It’s still not perfect, and its definitely got its challenges, but my people are here. So, I’m going to let the endorphins flow freely, I’m going to enjoy the moment that I’m in, and if and when another runner’s high comes along, I’ll take that too.
But instead of holding my breath and waiting, I’m gonna go pack a suitcase for Ireland. #bucketlist