Sunday, April 5, 2009

High on endorphins

I had two great runs on Friday and Saturday. Yes, running on two consecutive days (and still great)—7.5 miles on Friday at 9:50 average pace, and 6 miles on Saturday at 9:29 average pace. The great victory on Saturday was that every split was under 10 minutes, from about 9:56 in the first mile to 8:58 in the final one.* Every other mile was within a few seconds of 9:30. None of this is what I would consider a desirable race pace, but I was not running a race with anything but my crappy winter runs. And I am winning that one handily!

On Saturday I stopped at the Y for a stint on the elliptical before heading to Starbucks and home; on Friday I just walked home from Starbucks. But on both of these days, I experienced the elusive "endorphin rush" as I took my restorative stroll home. And not thanks to the caffeine in my latte. (I don't think.)

I have a theory that your body has to experience a little bit of pain before it will reward you with endorphins. Not pain as in injury, but rather the stress of pushing yourself a little past what is comfortable and easy. I remember feeling the rush after lifting weights and then doing about 250 crunches, more than was "comfortable," for sure. An easy run can make you feel good—I'm not saying it's necessary to run hard every single time, that could lead to real injury—but I think that extra endorphin boost is much more likely when you run just a bit more intensely. Even if it's just in the last mile, or half mile, or maybe even block!

I didn't just make this up myself. Endorphins are neurotransmitters produced in the brain to reduce pain. Eating hot peppers can produce endorphins, as your body rushes to heal the pain of the heat in your mouth. This article lists a number of other things that can generate endorphins,** including positive thinking, sex, strong emotions, acupuncture, chocolate, fear, sunlight, and laughter. (Okay, that's the list, read the article for the specifics.) Not all of those things are painful in themselves, obviously, but maybe intense physical or emotional sensations trick your body into thinking it needs to turn out some endorphins.

So really, the more of these endorphin producing activities you can engage in, the more euphoric you will be.

So try this for an ideal day. Start out with a long, intense run (and maybe a difficult Pilates class to top it off). Then take a really hot shower.*** Go get a round of acupuncture, or maybe a deep massage.**** Keep in mind that all of things things are making you feel great!***** Sometime during the day take a ride on a roller coaster, walk across a suspension bridge, or go to the top of something really high and look down. Do this in the sun! Then you need to go to a wonderful concert, dramatic or romantic movie, or other artsy activity of your preference. For dinner, eat the spicy food of your choice—Mexican, Thai, Indian, or Italian with plenty of crushed red peppers. Make sure that the food is exceedingly delicious. And don't forget a deep, dark, chocolate dessert. Okay, did I cover everything? Oh, well, you know how the evening needs to end.


*In the last quarter mile, the Garmin was steadily showing a "7" in the pace area.
**Aside from various illegal drugs, which are not recommended!
***Not on the list, but I think a shower that is just a little hotter than comfortable has this effect also.
****My idea again.
*****That's the positive thinking one.

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