How running changed my life
You have to work for the high. And it’s the biggest tease.
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I started running recently, having come to the unkind realisation that your body is not going to fix itself after 30.
I’m not a gym person. My fastidious side dislikes the idea of too many sweaty bodies in a closed space.
The solitariness of the runner’s experience is so much more appealing – time alone, a clean break to focus on yourself. So I installed an app and put my running shoes on recently.
I am in good company. Literary giant Haruki Murakami may be lesser known for his love of marathons than for his novels, but any diehard fan would tell you otherwise.
He even wrote a book on the subject. And there’s the fact that running is the easiest, most cost-effective form of exercise. No need for a trainer, or a gym membership.
From Fitbit to RunKeeper, C25K, Endomondo, there are running apps to help you every step of the way, clocking the distance covered, pacing your run, generating playlists, measuring calories burnt, locating other runners. It’s a runner’s world.From Fitbit to Endomondo, there are running apps to help you every step of the way.
It’s no wonder that running is the workout of choice these days. It has also become a social activity, giving people a reason to congregate and motivate each other towards a shared goal.
Runners’ groups are easy to find in cities, thanks to the marathon boom. Marathons are mushrooming across the world, and have become the rage in India. You can run for a cause, and also for charity.
In my first ever marathon in 2009 (The 6K Dream Run version), I ran for queer rights with a rainbow group called Delhi Frontrunners.
And you can run for charity. The charity partners of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, a non-profit organisation called United Way Mumbai, has raised Rs 28.14 crore in 2016.
Moreover, marathons provide platforms for NGOs to raise awareness on a variety of issues.
Milind Soman and Reena Sanghavi’s Pinkathon focuses on women’s issues through advocating fitness, and the proceeds go towards treating underprivileged women with cancer.
CEOs use running to develop a healthy work ethic among employees. Vaishali Kasture, managing director at Goldman Sachs and a seasoned ultramarathon runner, did an inspiring TED Talk on how running changed her life.
Budhia Singh, now 16, had run 48 marathons by the time he was five years old. Astronaut Sunita Williams ran the Boston Marathon in space, while orbiting Earth, in 2007!
So what is it about long-distance running that makes people across the world defy all odds to pursue their passion?
Running is hard. It requires grit. But there is a running rhythm and once it kicks in, you’ve found your sweet spot.
To achieve this, you have to find inspiration in strange places, and distract your mind from playing truant with determination, powering through like an automaton, challenging your body and your mind.
The experience of running is immersive. There is no part of you that is spared. It involves everything. But there’s nothing like running to remind you that are your own master. And the beauty is that you can be chasing thoughts while your body is chasing the runner’s high.
The runner’s high has achieved almost mythical status, much like the lost city of Atlantis.
It’s a state of bliss, a union of body-mind-soul. There you are on the road; you’ve been running for quite a while. You’ve lost track of time, and you’re exhausted, modifying your pace just a bit, taking deep breaths to fill your lungs with air, huffing, pushing, pushing, everything hurts, your legs refuse to obey, and... suddenly you’re floating.
Nothing hurts, and you realise that you’re gliding. And that you can carry on forever. Nothing else matters except running. You are one with your body, your mind. And that’s when joy hits you.
This is joy that you’ve created for yourself, by yourself. This is the runner’s high.
What are the components of this joie de vivre?
It’s your neurobiological mechanisms being activated, it’s your brain releasing endorphins, and it’s euphoric. But it’s also your body producing endocannabinoids. Okay, not cannabis, but TSH, the chemical that imparts the feeling of calmness and well-being.
You feel invincible. And this combination is a killer cocktail.
Why do you think there are so many runners out there, enduring pain, defying the odds, crossing you with a determined look and beatific smile on their faces? They are chasing the runner’s high.
The most brilliant, and trying, thing about the runner’s high is that you can’t just have it. You have to work for it. And it’s the biggest tease.
I was lucky to encounter this phenomenon so early in my running life.
It happened in the first few months of my routine. I used to run to get fit, but after that episode, every time I set out for a run, I know exactly why I am running - to find it again.
And in the process, I find myself.
It’s not a bad deal at all. I would highly recommend it to everyone.