By LMQC Battle of the Bulge blogger, Alan Sivell, St. Ambrose communications professor, RAGBRAI-er, pizza lover and longtime weight watcher.
My mother-in-law was suspicious of me right from the start.
Naturally, I suppose, since I married her firstborn. But when we were visiting for the weekend, what really made her look up from her Saturday paper would be the sight of me lacing up my running shoes.
“Where are you going?” she’d ask, the first few times it happened.
“”I’m going for a run,” I’d respond.
“Why?” My mother-in-law had been a prodigious walker when her kids were young and the family had no car. But she was not one to work out. She got her exercise chasing her four kids into adulthood. She was content to sit at this point.
“Because it makes me feel good.”
“Oh,” she’d say, trying to not let me see that she found that to be impossibility.
When I first started running and for about the first five years I was running, I would have agreed with my mother-in-law. Running was a chore then.
At first, I was running for a sport, at the demand of a coach. That’s never fun.
Then, when I was first out of school, I would run two miles around an old 1/5 mile cinder track behind a vacant school. Ten laps with no music, no diversion. My mind was occupied with “When will I be done?” and, often, “Is this lap six or seven?”
But one summer, living in a new town, I had some extra time … and some extra pounds. So I started extending my runs. Three miles at first.
Not bad, I thought. Then I went four. I felt good. I could go farther. I wound up regularly running five miles a day that summer and for the next 30 years. Because it made me feel good.
Most runners who reach a certain distance know the feeling. We have come to offer a simple explanation as if it answers all questions: “Endorphins.”
Endorphins in the brain were first discovered in 1973 by researchers looking for a non-addictive painkiller. Over the years, research revealed that meditation, laughter and aerobic exercise can release endorphins.
In 2008, a study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex (What? You don’t subscribe?) by researchers in Germany reported that, yes, running does flood the brain with endorphins.
And that gave us regular exercisers our simple, scientific answer for our workouts: Endorphins.
But the story doesn’t end here. Because there is always a new study. And in this study, the researchers (again in Germany) blocked the test subjects’ ability to respond to endorphins. But the runners STILL experienced the euphoria.
Turns out, the human body also produces different biochemicals which resemble cannabis (marijuana).
So instead of responding with endorphins when asked why we run, we perhaps need to more accurately say. “Because of the endocannabinoids.”
My mother-in-law eventually stopped asking me why I ran. She even supported my running, buying me a suit of Gore-tex that I couldn’t afford at the time and a very early and expensive Walkman, which made the first few struggling miles of a run tolerable, if not enjoyable.
But she never stopped looking over the top of her Saturday morning paper and giving me a look that seemed to question my sanity. And I never stopped returning with a smile on my face.
|Meet Battle of the Bulge blogger, Alan Sivell. Alan is a communications professor at St. Ambrose University and a former reporter for WQAD-TV who has exercised – and dieted – his entire life. Read Alan’s other blog posts.|