Thursday, April 3, 2008

After setback, recapturing the runner's high

Most runners didn't need to see the research to know that the runner's high is real. Last week, the New York Times published a story proving it to be true. Researchers studied distance runners, but I think that shorter runs get those endorphins going too. Sometimes just the fact of having run does it. You can let things slide, knowing you've gotten your run in. I once had a serious relationship with a man who didn't get it when I attempted to fit my run (or tennis match) into the day against all odds. "I need to run," I'd say. "You don't need to run," he'd say. "You might want to run, but you don't need to." But I did need to, underscoring a point that many of the "addicted" already know: You need to be in a relationship with somebody who gets it (or you need to be alone).

When you get sick, or injured, you miss the calming effects of your runner's high.

In 2003, calm was hardly in my vocabulary while I battled cancer. I received my chemotherapy in-patient at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, where I was confined for weeks on end. I felt a little better when I discovered that, at least, I could do some kinds of exercise almost every day, except for when I just felt too sick to move. I did some exercises in my room, but preferred getting a change of scene by walking up and down the Pike, a hospital corridor connecting offices marked by Turnpike-like signs.

This was my new landscape. I took the elevator down to the Pike and got on at Exit 1, walking down to the end, Cardiac Surgery at Exit 9. Places I passed included Mammography near Exit 4, the Blood Donor Center and Plastic Surgery between Exits 5 and 6, Pain Management Center (which I could have used!) just before Exit 7, and Thoracic Surgery at Exit 8. There was plenty to look at on this main artery where doctors, patients, visitors, hospital personnel and med school students walked, often at a fast clip that I envied.

At the end of The Pike, I stopped to do runner's stretches or catch my breath, before turning around and heading "home" to my room.

I wore a mask and gloves to protect myself from germs, and most of the time pushed my IV pole, which was my nearly constant companion.

I cannot say that this "exercise" gave me a runner's high, but it did distract me. I'm sure it helped me physically, but I wasn't in much shape to do anything when I got back home after my treatment ended with a strong blast of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. In fact, back home, my definition of a hill now included just a tiny incline on the sidewalk, and I was out of breath just trying to walk to the corner.

I wanted my runner's high back, and although I eventually did get it, the path was arduous. First walking, then walk/running, then finally running is a long process. I told my children, not "I'm going for a run" or even "I'm going for a jog," but rather, "I'm going for a trot." On frigid days when I couldn't get outside, I ran up and down the stairs. Before going outside, I would linger at the door for a long time, procrastinating with one more stretch. It took months to regain my stride. You can't get a runner's high when you're working so hard. Sometimes I asked myself why I was doing this, but I already knew the answer. It was because I would only feel like myself when I was running again.


Anonymous said...

Your story is so inspiring. Exercise really did save your life. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Good words.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your progress Ronni. Keep looing UP!