November 03, 2010

Getting High

By Dan England © 2010

When I haven't had a hit in a few days - most of you would call it a "workout" - my body starts to tingle.

Only it's not the kind of tingle you want. It's not the kind of tingle that drives 16-year-old boys to scrounge around in the back of seedy gas station dumpsters for Tits Magazine (though now that I think about it, that's how we did it; I suppose the Internet makes that a moot point any longer. So much for reminiscing).

No, this tingle feels like a thousand spiders crawling anxiously around in my bloodstream, turning my neurons into omelets and running up and down my legs and through my arms and all around my brain.

It's the kind of tingle that would eventually drive me to try something else to quell it, only there isn't anything else.

Nothing but endorphins.

Those of who who haven't felt the glorious, mind-bending rush of endorphins probably think I'm a healthy person.

I guess, by normal standards, I am. I guess, by normal standards, my running or climbing partners are healthy. Yeah, we don't gobble McDonald's like a nuclear war survivor, the way most of you do. We don't gobble anything really, except maybe energy chews on our second hour of running or our sixth hour on the trail. We don't drink much, either, though we're not afraid of beer, as it's full of carbs, or red wine, as it's good for your heart, or margaritas, as tequila thins your blood, or so I'm told. We don't smoke, as we would never, ever do that to our lungs. Most of all, while more Americans come up for air after a trip up the escalator, we can run three miles and call that an easy day.

We're endurance athletes. We're active. We look it, too.

Ah, but we've got you fooled.

You've got your addictions. Your fatty foods and sugar. Your alcohol. Your pharmies. Your drugs, maybe. Your poker and dice and slots. Your Facebook. Your sex. Maybe all of it in one night. That's what Las Vegas is for.

We've got our endorphins.

We're just as hooked as you. We live for the rush as well. We're willing to pursue it, too, no matter what it takes, just like you.

This wasn't more apparent than at the Pikes Peak Ascent late this summer. That's a race up the famous, 14,100-foot Pikes Peak. You run 8,000 feet up the mountain over almost 14 miles, and just when you're really getting tired, your oxygen gets cut in half.

Oh, the pain is so sweet when you're on your fourth hour, and you can barely breathe, and cramps are knocking on your door. The endorphins are just sweeping through at that point.

But it's not the event that gets me. It's the expo. This is a legal drug trade. You can buy energy chews (uppers), pills that help you sleep so you can "get more rest before a race" (downers) and some sort of raspberry colored liquid that tastes like you've just soaked your socks in it. That's supposed to help your joints. I tried it after my marathon. I think it works, too. Junkies always think their magic juice works.

Wanna chase the rush? How far are you willing to go? You want to buy machines that make water bubble, giving "life to your feet." How about sunscreen that contains energy droplets, whatever the fuck those are? And the bracelets that use holograms to up your body's energy field. I actually wear one of those. One of my running friends, or fellow junkies, gave me one. They work. She runs fast.

Nothing can keep us from the rush.

Injuries? Ha. Our long runs on the weekend sound like NFL locker rooms as we pound the pavement together. How's the foot? How's the ankle? How's the shoulder? How's the neck? How's the knee? The answer's always the same. Never better. Even when your body hurts like a motherfucker. Because admitting it hurts means taking time off, and after more than a few days, the spiders start crawling through the bloodstream.

Besides, we like that hurt. That's part of the rush too. The pain, almost as much as the endorphins, keeps the spiders at bay.

We don't eat much because we want to be thin, perhaps too thin, like meth addicts, because even a pound slows us down. Five pounds can add as much as a minute, and a minute easily separates those with medals from those without, especially at those community races ran by mostly people coming off Atkins diets and those trying to "find themselves" or celebrating a new them. We run those community races too. We're the ones elbowing our way to the front, wearing dry-fit clothing and those strange watches that tell us our pace, our total time and our miles.

The rush, as always, is expensive.

We spend our money on pairs of running shoes, special shoes, not the kind you buy at Kohl's. We sniff them before we take them out of the box. We hoard them and change into them only right before a race, even wearing another pair until five minutes before the gun because there's only so much magic in them and we want to keep the rush going for as long as possible. Just like you. We need a GPS and enough running clothes to fill part of a closet, and races cost money, too, sometimes $100 or more.

I have belonged to many exercise cults, even though I never played high school sports. I lifted weights first. That's the gateway drug. I love mountaineering, especially the 14ers in Colorado. I'm a card carrier for that group. I talk to others about how many they've done on the way up. I have far too many guide books and water bottles and head lamps.

But I'm a recent member of the running junkies. It's the most hardcore group out there. I guess the soft stuff just doesn't do it for me any longer. I need a stronger rush.

And now if you'll excuse me, it's been a couple days. It's time, once again, to put the spiders back in their cave.

Dan England is a professional writer who lives in Greeley, CO and writes for the Greeley Tribune.

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