February 21, 2012

Feels Like…

Feels Like…

A lot of people have asked my why I would chose a year – that’s a long time to commit to something that you have never done and you might not like. It was not arbitrary.

I did a lot of research before I started running – not about gear or technique – I wanted to know why runners run. What calls them to do it, why they keep doing it, what pushes them forward, gets them to run and run and run.

Talk to enough runners and you realize that most of them are fanatical about running. Many, I am pretty sure would give up sex before they would give up running if forced to make a choice. When you ask them why they run, you get all kinds of answers that make little sense to non-runners. You especially get various descriptions of “runner’s high” and the dreamy looks that accompany the descriptions always speak louder than words. It’s like talking to someone who just fell in love.

I am about to get technical here for a minute, so beware.

Runner’s high is a state experience. I am planning to say more about states in some future post, but if it is a topic that really interests you I recommend the writing of Ken Wilber. (And if you have not read Wilber before – so you don’t get overwhelmed by the options – start with The Integral Vision for an overview and go from there.)

Briefly: there are natural and altered states. The natural states – those that all humans experience – are sleeping, dreaming, and waking. Altered states can be externally induced (exogenous) – usually through drugs (legal like alcohol, or recreational like acid) but also through things like hypnotherapy or sleep deprivation. These are the altered states that most people are familiar with, and humans through the ages have sought them out in various ways from the fun to the destructive. But altered states can also be “self-induced” or trained. These internal or “endogenous” experiences include states induced by practices such as contemplative prayer, meditation, traditional yoga and – you guessed it – serious athletic training.

For myself, I figured that if I was going to have a good shot at staying the course with running, then being able to achieve the mystical state of runner’s high was probably the best chance I had. A long time student of both yoga and meditation, I already knew that these things don’t usually come without hard work.

And the answers I got to the question How long do you think I have to run to experience runner’s high were really consistent. No one, not once, ever said anything less than a year.

Here is what a conversation with three runners once sounded like over breakfast:

Me: So how long do you think it would take a brand new runner to experience this thing, runner’s high.

Runner 1: A long time. You have to run for a while and run consistently. At lest a year.

Runner 2: Yeah, wow – at least. Maybe longer.

Runner 3: And you have to to run regularly – I mean you can’t just run once in a while. But yeah, a year, at least.

And then they get this dreamy-spacy look that all runners get when they talk about runner’s high and it’s really really hard to get them to say anything else that is useful.

The next question, of course, has to be: How do I know when I am there?

When you are looking for anything, you always hope there are some obvious signs you have arrived. Asking this question to any runner is like asking a Zen master what Satori feels like. You get answers in simile, analogy, parable even, but nothing ever straight forward or clear.

You will just know, they say.

It feels like flying, they say.

It’s like free falling out of time and you could just keep going and going and you never want to stop.


So when that happens, I am sure I will know.

And of course, I ask myself sometimes what if I miss it? Or what will I do if a year comes and goes and I have had no such experience? I don’t have answers for these questions yet. But I do like to think that if it is attainable, trainable, find-able – that it is mine to discover too.

Here is to growing my own wings.

Happy President’s Day.


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