The Runner?s Not-So High

For all the chatter and hullaballoo about the “runner’s high,” it certainly is an elusive son of a nutcracker. I’d like to say that every time I run I am the incarnation of a Pinterest motivational meme—you know, the one with the super-fit girl with her cute little ponytail and her six-pack abs standing in the middle of a vehicle-less, building-less, carbon-footprint-less road. With her hands on her hips and her quad muscles shiny and chiseled, she looks (glares?) into an omniscient distance that I can’t quite figure out but presume to be just to the left of my computer screen.

“When I run, I am unstoppable,” it reads.

Well, that’s cool, I think as I look at her legs and resolve to add squats and lunges to my workout routine. Good for you. 

I mean, sure, I’ve felt like that before. Once. In, like, 2009.

Despite the well-toned determination postulated on Pinterest, most of the time, I feel pretty… stoppable. I’m not saying I do stop. I’m just saying that when I run, I’m very aware that the right combination of events might persuade me to trim a mile or two off regularly scheduled programming.

That’s because most of my runs are not amazing or adventurous or particularly noteworthy in any way. Most of my runs are just runs. They are less Freddie Mercury singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and more “please hold and listen to these instrumental covers of the greatest soft rock hits of the ‘80s.”

Sure, it’s still “Sussudio,” but the song loses something when you slow the tempo and replace Phil Collins with a saxophone.

[enter elevator music]

Now, the flip side is that most of my runs aren’t terrible either. And that’s good. But at least terrible runs give you something to talk about, because usually there is some sort of adventure involved. After a terrible run, you can tell your friends, “You won’t believe what happened today!” and then embark on a narrative that will make everyone laugh, cry, fume, or all of the above. After a terrible run, you have a story.

Instead of what I actually had during today’s run: a tight hamstring, my neighbor’s light blue Camry, and a dead skunk that’s been decomposing on the side of the road for the past three weeks.

Therein lies a dirty little secret about running. Sometimes our daily runs are just that: daily. There are no epic poses and motivational taglines. There are no six-pack abs and chiseled quads (okay, at least not on me). There are no mysterious horizons at which we stare. There is just us and a training program that says we have to run eight miles before work. And we probably won’t have time to shower.

There. I said it. Sometimes running is just so daily. And you know what else? Sometimes all the daily-ness of every day seeps into my runs.

Case in point: Is there anything less motivational than feeling bloated? Is there anything less motivational than the word “bloated?” Even saying the word makes my mouth feel like it gained weight. Bloated. Bloated. I hate running when I feel bloated. And it certainly doesn’t provide good fodder for a story. 

“Hey, guys! You will not believe how bloated I was today!”

You know what else happens?

Sometimes my quads feel really heavy for weeks at a time and I dread track workouts. Sometimes my ankles feel creaky. (I don’t know how else to describe it.) Tired RunnerSometimes I simply don’t feel like running, and it takes all my willpower not to keep looking at my watch. Sometimes I keep looking at my watch anyway, and I wonder how in the world I’ve gone only half a mile. Sometimes my mind is consumed by all the things I have to do that day, and I barely remember the miles at all. Sometimes I feel rushed. Sometimes I’m just tired.

For every runner’s high, there are ten not-so high realities. For every memorable mile, there are ten that have fallen underfoot, never to be recalled. But just because a mile is unremarkable or underwhelming doesn’t mean it is without value. 

Kurt Vonnegut wasn’t exactly Mr. Positive, but he did make countless astute observations and admonitions. One of my favorites is, “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were big things.” 

When we look at our running, we need to do so in light of the final portrait, not the individual brushstrokes. We will have good days. We will have bad days. We will have days that we don’t remember because we were running late and didn’t have time to grab coffee. But there is one important fact we must never overlook: even if a run is forgettable, it is still a run. We are still adding to the canvas, even if we don’t feel particularly inspired (or have chiseled quads). Besides, in order to truly appreciate the runner’s high, you have to experience the runner’s not-so high.

And if they ever need a Pinterest poster child for that meme, you know where to find me.

Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story.  Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.

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