Sunday, 12 February 2012

From Pain to Runners’ High

Someone once said that ‘it’s easier to build a temple than to get a god to descend into it’. This is a useful metaphor to think about running: with the effort and the repetition, the drool and the vomit, we build and maintain a temple (see my last post on pain). But going against our quotation – I think it’s Beckett? –, in the case of running, oh boy does the god descend.

By this I don’t mean the feeling of satisfaction or contentment, the moralism of determination that is nauseating and American in equal parts. This moralism is described by an essay I read in Running and Philosophy (2007), which discusses what it calls the ‘seven Cs of success’: Conception, Confidence, Concentration, Consistency, Commitment, Character, Capacity. This is meatheadedness dressed up fancy. If this is what it is to write/think/philosophize about running, then surely it would be better to say nothing, just sticking with the saying by Sam Mussabini: ‘only think of two things - the gun and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other’.

What I mean by the – very metaphorical – god that descends into the – very metaphorical – temple is something completely different. It can be produced more simply than via the ‘seven Cs’, by simply training often and hard, and on race day, by combining a really very small amount of tactics (don’t start too fast) with a healthy dollop of wanting to beat the other guy. And it has been described as follows:

Endorphins: neurotransmitters found in the brain that have pain-relieving properties similar to morphine… Besides behaving as a pain regulator, endorphins are also thought to be connected to physiological processes including euphoric feelings, appetite modulation, and the release of sex hormones. Prolonged, continuous exercise contributes to an increased production and release of endorphoins, resulting in a sense of euphoria that has been popularly labeled ‘runners’ high’ (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001-05).

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