Janet Sheridan: What runner’s high?
June 3, 2010
I run for exercise. More accurately, I quick-shuffle. On a good day, I scuttle along quite nicely, though I slow to a walk for a few paces when my breathing sounds like a steam engine run amok.
I began my exercise program at 26. I read "Aerobics," by Dr. Ken Cooper, purchased running shoes, loaded the dog, and drove to the old railroad grade between Carson City and Virginia City, Nev.
Knowing from my reading that cardio conditioning requires continuous movement, I determined to keep going 30 minutes. Having no idea how to pace myself, I sprinted along the grade, then lurched along the grade, then vomited on the grade.
Miraculously, I didn't give up. I prefer not to discuss my speed, can't brag about my distances and have added a variety of cardio activities so I don't run every time I exercise, but I'm proud of my consistency: a minimum of 30 minutes, 5 days a week, year in and year out.
I fuss when unable to workout because of illness or injury, travel or tragedy. Exercising has become an engrained habit like brushing my teeth — I feel guilty if I don't do it. Dread also keeps me on the move. I fear if I quit for any length of time, I could never go through the agony of starting again.
Over the years, I've been teased about my persistence.
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A brother told me he'd read an article about the impact of cardio exercise on longevity: consistent exercisers lived only a few months longer than non-exercisers. With ill-concealed glee, he concluded, "You drip sweat and jar your joints in order to live 88 years and 9 months instead of 88 years and 7 months? Wow, Janet."
Even my dad piled on, telling me he never saw runners with smiles on their faces and asked why they looked so grim.
"Well, Dad, they're concentrating on how to avoid the old guy in the careening pickup who seems oblivious to traffic regulations and lane stripes," I answered.
I love my family, but sometimes they try my patience.
I exercise not for longevity, but because I enjoy its day-to-day benefits — increased energy, sound sleep, no dieting and good overall health. But it has never been easy for me.
I remember running into a frigid headwind that would have sent the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria back home.
Thick snowflakes coated my face and blurred my vision. As I sloshed along, I thought about the nut in the Reno area who had been mugging women — not for money, but for underwear.
He left his victims unharmed and unsupported.
"If this crazy guy jumped me right now," I thought, "I'd get to stop running … but he's probably too sane to be outdoors in these conditions."
Recently, NPR aired a program on running. The panel discussed endorphins and the fabled runner's high. I was cheered by a bit of research they shared: 5 to 8 percent of runners experience no high other than a feeling of relief when they stop.
One of my fondest memories of my dad involves running through an airport. Joel and I had flown with my 88-year-old father to Nashville to visit my brother. Our flight home had a close connection in Houston, and we arrived late.
While Joel ran to try to hold our flight, I linked arms with Dad, and we high-stepped ahead as fast as possible, counting down the gates. We were at 20, on our way to 14, when Dad reassured me: "Don't worry, Janet; we'll make it in plenty of time. I'm saving my kick for the finish."
I remember this story when I'm struggling through my workout. The resulting chuckle helps me continue.
And some days, I need all the help I can get.