Runner’s High

I ran cross country as a senior in high school, which is to say that I ran in three meets because Coach Blair needed more boys to field a team. I was thrown into the mix because I played soccer and therefore had more distance training than the football players. So I have run exactly 3.1 miles exactly three times in my life. My finishes were last, second-to-last and 15th (and yes, in that particular race there were more than 15 entrants thank you very much).

Needless to say, I’m not a natural runner. I’ve tried getting into running on several occasions in recent years, but usually I run once, hurt all over, then throw in the towel. One time I forced myself to run twice in the same week and I couldn’t walk for days. I have heard fables of the elusive “runner’s high” from my athletically-inclined friends, but I’ve never bought it. Endorphins? They may as well be mythical dolphins that swim backwards.

However for the last few weeks, I have been running out of obligation to my company to test the data we receive from the myriad of mobile health apps and devices we integrate. On most runs I venture out with a Fitbit One, Fitbug Air, Nike+ FuelBand, Omron HJ-324U, the Moves App, and RunKeeper. (Can the self be over-quantified?)

I skipped my run yesterday, so I woke up early this morning to sneak one in as this is the most straightforward way to get data on the six mobile apps and devices that are assigned to me. After I laced up, I looked outside and it was raining. I was disappointed. Actually disappointed! For about 30 seconds. Then I happily reverted to my normal routine: drink a glass of water, brew a cup of coffee, eat a banana, and check Facebook for 20 minutes.

But the need to run today kept nagging me. Could it be that I actually wanted to run? After my morning meetings, I had a spare hour. Barely enough time for me to cover my 2.6 mile route and cool down (I “run” at a tortoise’s pace — it’s a banner day if I break a 10-minute mile average). The rain had stopped, so out I went. And it felt horrible. Ugh. God, why would anyone ever run for fun?

Toward the end of my run, as I was about to collapse while rounding the corner to my building, I felt it. Well, I felt something. I think it was the runner’s high. I felt good. I felt really good. My body hurt all over and my lungs were gasping as if it were their last breath, but personally, I felt great. I felt superior. Prideful. I felt I could turn my nose up at the rest of the world and shout, “I ran for 24 minutes today and my heart nearly exploded out of my chest while you did nothing!”

Is this what the runner’s high actually is? Do runners prance around with a false sense of superiority, or am I still missing a larger endorphomatic piece of the puzzle? I don’t think I am. I’ve traversed the entire width of Iowa on a bicycle twice on RAGBRAI, and while I enjoyed the beer drinking, all I got from the physical activity was the ability to eat as many pork chops-on-a-stick as I wanted without gaining a pound and the gratification of seeing small town Iowans gaping and cheering as I finished the 80-mile route each day. I had, in a word, pride.

So come on (fellow) runners, let’s cut out all this “runner’s high” talk and call it like it is. We’re silently judging everyone else from atop our perfectly sculpted ivory tower. I have now run seven times in the last 20 days. And I’m better than you.