Endorphins are the Ultimate Drug

There is nothing that running hard for 10 kilometres, especially on a cold winter day, can’t improve.  Or if you are having a bad day, try going to bootcamp and getting your ass kicked for an hour and half of brutal exercise – I guarantee you will feel better – well at least till the pain sets in!   Those were my Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday activities.  Saturday morning was our first dragonboat practice of the new year.   Try paddling a 1.5 kilometre race piece, with full start and full finish – twice.  A normal dragonboat race is 500 metres – paddling full race pace for 3 times that distance, than just for fun doing it all over again – well that’s just plain crazy. But wow, talk about building endurance.  Our coach decided this morning that there was no such thing as easing into the new year, he wanted to set the tone for the remainder of our winter practices.  It was fantastic.  I’m in a world of pain now, but I know that’s only temporary, it was a challenging, but very satisfying morning.

In case you don’t know what a dragonboat, or dragonboat racing is , here is a photo of our team, Deep Cove Perfect Catch, racing in Whistler.    

 And one of me racing in San Francisco this past September.  Competitive much? 

Strenuous physical exercise makes me feel fantastic . . .well other than the pain part from being a sloth over Christmas.  . .but I digress . . .  that’s temporary.   For me, running has always been the ultimate stress buster and sanity saver.   When the going in my life gets tough I throw on my shoes, turn up the iPod and burn off some tough kilometres.  I live in a very hilly area of North Vancouver, so my runs involve not only distance, but hills, lots of hills.   Busting up a few steep hills is guaranteed to drive the cares of the day out of your head.   And instead of feeling worn down, depressed, stressed out – its like a miracle, I’m energized, jazzed up, happy.  After a good run I always feel there is nothing I can’t tackle.   And the same goes for bootcamp.  It’s a tough class, there are no “easier” alternatives.  It starts out hard and the only alternatives are harder . . . and harder.   Not for the faint of heart, but a ton of fun.  

I’m training over the winter with another dragon boat team that is going to an international competition in Hong Kong in the spring.  They want to do well and they are pushing really hard to train for that.  It is the toughest paddling I’ve ever done, but it’s exhilarating.  Even my fingers hurt today (death grip on the paddle – I know coach, poor form) but I love being pushed that hard, way beyond what I thought I was capable of.  

And there are scientific reasons why pushing yourself that hard makes you feel so damn great.   Those wonderful things called “endorphins”.   I expect that most of you will have heard about endorphins at some point and about the so called “runner’s high”, but to physically experience it is, well, addictive.    Wikipedia, the bloggers best friend, has this definition of endorphins:

Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters.[1] They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise,[2] excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm,[3][4] and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.

The term “endorphin” implies a pharmacological activity as opposed to a specific chemical formulation. It consists of two parts: endo- and -orphin; these are short forms of the words endogenous and morphine, intended to mean “a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.”

I knew about the endorphin release during exercise, but that they are also released because of pain, excitement, spicy food, love and orgasm really blew me away.  It maybe explains why I also love spicy food . .and a few other things!  Who knew.  That bit of information pretty much made my day.     Wikipedia also went on to say that deep relaxation and acupuncture can trigger the release of endorphins – well call me a junkie because I have been  hooked on the deep mediation aspect of yoga (as well as the physical benefits) for years and have had great success with acupuncture in treating a number of injuries.   What I didn’t realize is that it was rooted in the same biochemical reaction.  

I’ve run for a long time, it’s got to be close to 10 years now.  When I first started, I was so unsure of myself that I didn’t even have the confidence to join a running group.  So I cut the training schedule for the Vancouver Sun Run out of  the newspaper and, without telling a single person, I started following it on my own. I had no expectation that I would ever be able to complete a 10km run.  Well I did, and I cried as I crossed the finish line.  To this day I remember the feeling of empowerment that came from that.   And I was hooked. 

A long time friend who was privy to the difficulties of my marriage at the  time once asked me if I was running out of that marriage – but I realized that I wasn’t running out of it, but to survive it.  It was my solace and my sanity.  Over the years I ran not only more 10km races,  but longer distances as well.  I love the half marathon distance (21kms)  and I’ve done a bunch of those.  There was the brutal 16km Khatsalano race in West Vancouver  – it’s basically 8kms uphill and then 8kms downhill.  Nasty, nasty, nasty.  And 3 years ago I undertook the ultimate runner’s goal and finished the Vancouver Marathon.   Sweet, sweet day to cross the finish line after running 26.2 miles.   Here is a picture of my good friend Janice, who I did all the training with and ran the entire race with, as we crossed the finish line.  

There are few accomplishments in my life I’m prouder of them completing a marathon.  The race itself was fantastic from start to finish, I enjoyed every second of it, but it’s the dedication and hard work that goes into the training that I’m most proud of.    You give up a lot, but it was worth every second and every sacrifice. 

And with each distance that I surpassed, with each goal I completed, my self-confidence increased in lockstep with my physical fitness.   It quite literally changed the person that I was, into the person that I am; mentally, physically and emotionally.   

Not everyone will want, or need, to run a marathon.  It’s a very personal decision.  And not everyone will love running.    But if your resolution this year was to “get fitter or get healthier” then find something that you really enjoy, or even better a couple of things, make a plan and stick to it.   

The most successful changes come from setting goals for ourselves that are concrete, measurable and realistic.   So instead of saying “I want to get fitter”, set a specific goal – it could be something as simple as “I want to participate in a physical activity three times a week from now until Spring Break”.   Or make it more concrete by specifying exactly what you want to do and where and when you will do it.   And get a workout buddy.   There were lots of times I might have bailed on a training run, but knowing that Janice was counting on me to be there made me drag my  tired butt out of bed at 6:30am and go meet her for that run.  Buddies keep you honest!!   And make it realistic.   Don’t go to the gym 5 times this week if you haven’t been for a long time.  You will be exhausted, sore and burned out.  The likelihood that you will decide it’s too hard and quit is so high.  Make it reasonable for whatever works in your life – not only your level of fitness, but the time and commitment you are able to give.  But do carve out some time for yourself – it’s the biggest favour you can do not only for yourself, but your family.   They will enjoy the happier, healthier you as much as you do.   And don’t forget – it’s fun!!  Some of my best friends are my training partners.  You will meet a lot of new and great people, so make the most of it. 

In Heavy Rotation:   The three most important things I have for running are my shoes, my rain jacket (it’s Vancouver after all) and my iPod.   I love, love, love cranking on the tunes really loud and heading down the trail.  And I listen to entirely different music when I run – call it my guilty pleasure.  I like stuff that has enough kick drum to kick my ass and for that – can’t beat Nickelback.  I can hear you laughing . . .I know . . .but it’s fun, it’s loud and  the lyrics are so nasty they make me laugh out loud.    I also listen to a lot Hedley when I run . . .you see the theme?    Here is Jakey and the boys in one of the funniest vid’s ever.   They are totally irrepressible. 

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