Addiction: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Just what is it that is so extremely addictive about running? Other sports can be addictive, like football (soccer, for those who use the term football for kinds of sports where relatively little contact between the ball and feet occurs, see John Cleese’s rant for this), but running seems to be up there in a league of its own. It is the oldest and simplest form of exercise known to man and already featured in various forms at the ancient Olympic games. And it is to the Greeks after all that we owe the term marathon

I suppose that we could go even further back and argue that running might even be coded in our genes. Walking upright was a significant accomplishment for early hominids, and in order to survive it is not unimaginable that speed and agility were beneficial factors. There is no doubt that speed in the animal kingdom can mean the difference between life and death. And aren’t humans animals after all? Lot’s of spoofs exist of the image that depicts the evolution of early hominids to todays human beings, usually ending with a human sitting behind a computer with its back arched. Interestingly enough, I have never come across one such images that depicts a running individual.

But back to running and its addictiveness. Perhaps it is as easy as to say that one can go for a run at any given moment, without team mates and that if you’re really keen, you could even go for a run without shoes. There are no rules, you can go as fast or as slow as you want and for as far as you desire. But the best and most addictive part of it, I suspect, is the possibility to out-do yourself at every run. Running further than you did before, running faster than you did before, and sometimes both. It provides a drive to go out there and do it again.

Closely related to this, and most likely inextricably linked, is the psychological reward system. Whilst running the brain’s endorphin production rises and causes the so-called ‘runner’s high’, be it only during long continuous exercise. Despite experiencing pain, runners can keep on going to surpass their previous limit. Endorphins are considered only some of the many chemicals that contribute to runner’s high; others include serotonin and dopamine. Hence it can be said that a human brain after a run can be considered a ‘happier brain’.

We’re lucky enough to live in an age where ones running addiction is facilitated in ways never seen before. Without a doubt, one of the best examples of this is RunKeeper. You download the RunKeeper application on your smartphone, create an account on runkeeper.com and you’re ready to go. Using GPS technology, your smartphone records where you run, how fast, what the differences in elevation are like, and many things more. After your workout, you can send the data to your personal RunKeeper account and see how you’ve done today and over the last few weeks or months.

Last but not least, one needs music to run to. Luckily the RunKeeper app has the ability to select specific playlists on your smartphone. The right BPM and melody will make your endorphin, serotonin and dopamine-levels go through the roof. This is my current favourite.

2 thoughts on “Addiction: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

  1. Nice one Martijn. Now I am a casual runner. Sometimes I run for days in a row and then I stop for a long time and so happens with me that every time I start I feel more pain than a happy brain. Nevertheless as the days goes by I get this runner high, but how do you mange to keep the discipline for I find the loneliness part the main factor in not constantly running?

  2. Glad you appreciate the post 🙂

    It happens to me too that I sometimes can’t get myself to go and run, but I find that once you step over the threshold you’ll experience a very rewarding feeling and you’ll be very content with yourself.

    Perhaps you should get the RunKeeper application on your phone too (the basic version is free, no need to pay for the ‘elite’ version). You’ll want to out-do yourself and it’s fun and motivating to track your progression on RunKeeper.com.

    Regarding the loneliness: I love to clear my head whilst running, but I always listen to some tunes. It definitely makes the run more entertaining! 🙂

    I also got a tip from a fellow runner the other day. He recommended to read (or listen to) ‘Born to run’ (http://bit.ly/dGyl0n). Apparently the storytelling is bit cheesy but its got good insights!

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