Not that shady kind of high. The runner’s kind of high. Most would like to dismiss it as a myth, but it is real. How does anyone get it? I have no idea exactly. So how do I know its real? Because I ran into it. Once. Ten years ago, and the only time ever. Looking back now, these 3 factors coinciding, in my opinion, helped me get there.
First, I was not a runner those days, a literal couch potato but for whatever reason I decided to go running. Without any guidance or reference, I just went out and ran. No RunKeeper or Strava yet, I never read up on anything remotely related to running. Not knowing how slow or fast or hard I was or should go relative to my fitness (the lack of it) may have helped triggered it, as I most likely unknowingly had been going faster than my natural pace now. In short, ignorant.
Second, the location may have helped. I remember using Google Earth to pre-measure some routes around that once empty plot of land where people go for a different kind of high – picnic and flying kites! (no drones then) – and where now stands Sengkang General Hospital. In the evenings this area was isolated and dead quiet with almost no traffic. Apart from allowing me to go fast and uninterrupted, there were minimal distractions which may have made me more aware of whatever was going on with my body.
For when it happened I was maybe on my 3rd run and 3-4 km in, a weird glowing feeling from inside me started spreading out across my entire body, while I was running. Imagine me like a video game character at the brink of Game Over finding a lifeline then powering up to 100% in slow motion.
What happened next surprised me more. Whatever din there was faded out and all I felt/heard were my heartbeat, breathing, footsteps, somewhat amplified and ultimately sync-ing their beat/cadence. It was like those cinematic scenes where the hero doing something, uh… heroic… conveyed in super slow-motion while everything in the background crashing and exploding, and all you hear is the rhythmic thumping of the protagonist’s heartbeat or laboured breathing. From that point whatever I was doing felt so effortless that it doesn’t feel like I’m running at all. I felt light, almost floating, gliding, getting high like those kites flown nearby in the late afternoons.
The drunk side of me felt blissful and carefree, feeling like I can run for the next half hour like Usain Bolt. On the other hand my sober mind warned me, if this was like anaesthesia, some pain killer effect that will eventually wear off, then I will surely regret later if I overexert myself (and for someone who just started running on a whim). So after doing some extra distance over my original target mileage, I opted not to get carried away too long and stopped. The feeling was still there while walking back home along with a stoned smile on my face.
The next few runs, I eagerly anticipated it at around the same distance or time but it never came. I stopped running eventually after just a handful more sessions. It was only years after, from 2014 that I resumed running in earnest, but for all the effort and distances I did since, the same sensations never resurfaced.
I like to think everyone has this in them, that this is nature’s design in our bodies to help us cope when under stress, to mask the pain so we can carry on. And this is where my third factor came to play – my body might have “over-dosed” me relative to the amount stress that’s why I felt high. Don’t take me seriously on this (this entire post actually), but this is just how I am trying to make sense of why that moment stood out vs my other “could it be?” encounters.
I had those odd moments when I expected myself suffering already yet somehow I felt the complete opposite literally charging into my run. I always reasoned to myself its due to proper training, pacing and all, but now when I look back my body could have dosed me some extra that I noticed it, but I may have been too preoccupied with things to mind like the terrain/gradient of the trail or managing my pace to last the entire 21 km that I didn’t think too much of those seemingly out-of-place good feelings. In short, it may be happening more often that we thought, just that we are not aware or recognize the cues.
Endorphines, endocannabinoids, or maybe adrenaline. Call it getting crazy due to hypoxia, or just plain euphoria, whatever. I don’t mind nature loading me up one more time to revisit that high 10 years ago.