Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Going Long

There is something incredibly empowering about going long. A long run is just what it sounds like: a run that is usually significantly longer than your other weekly runs. Most people will do one a week when training for a long race. I usually do one a week, often with my running partner, Lauren. I love the sense of empowerment that I get in knowing that I am doing something that most people cannot do. I love the feeling of peace I get afterward from the endorphin release. I love the feeling that I am really strong. Every once in a while, I "check" myself and say, "Remember when you couldn't run a full three miles?!" I love that I can be outside, no matter the weather. I hate being shackled up all winter! Even though it may be cold, there is still something unexplainable which is gained from being outside for an extended period of time. I am grateful for everyday that I can go long, as I know it won't last forever. Eventually my body is going to reject me running so long, but until then, I will continue to enjoy every long run I do.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Endorphins: The Runner's High

Although many people in the scientific community dispute the idea of endorphins (or anything else) causing a "high" in runners, I don't know one serious runner who hasn't experienced this feeling. What is it about running, especially really hard or long, that causes us to feel that euphoric, relaxed high? A recent study was conducted, which for the first time showed increased levels of endorphins in certain areas of the brain after a two hour jog. Scientists are beginning to realize that there is more to the endorphin theory than just myth. (Boecker, 2008)

Endorphins are neurotransmitters released in the brain after experiencing a significant amount of pain and they calm physical (and some believe psychological) pain. Endorphins are a human's natural opiate, like morphine, which is released to numb pain. (Boecker, 2008) In my experience with running, I feel amazing directly after a mental battle of whether or not I should turn in my running shoes forever. This point in my run usually only comes after a real significant time of running and I really feel that it is due to some type of chemical release in the brain. However, I am just one person and cannot make assumptions saying that this is the point of endorphin release (but it sure does seem like that).

So, the idea now is to find out, not only if the added release of endorphins are the cause of the "runner's high" feelings, as it has also been shown that exercise can release the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter related to mood and dopamine is related to arousal. Since these two neurotransmitters can be linked to "feel good" emotions and dopamine can cause the relaxation, perhaps it is a combination of all three fun little neurotransmitters which give us a runner's high. Raised serotonin levels improve mood and relieves anxiety; raised dopamine levels cause relaxation while prolonging energy set specifically for running; raised endorphin levels numb the pain (or the perception of pain, really). Sounds like an awesome combination to me!

Boecker, Henning. (2008). Brain imaging explores the myth of runner's high. Medical News
Today. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/99420.php.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Socratic Guide

At one point in my life, which I like to call my "mid-college crisis", I became unclear about what I wanted to study and what I wanted to pursue for a career. My guidance counselor at the time was also a sociology professor and had a Socratic method of teaching and counseling. He wanted his students to make the decisions and, as his job description implies, he was only the guide. His method included, most often, a series of questions which would eventually lead an insightful decision, something that Socrates was known to do in ancient Greece.

As I pummeled my guidance counselor with my insecurities, he impored the Socratic method and asked me, "What subject can you talk about for hours at a time and not get bored?" The answer was so incredibly clear: psychology. Now, I believe that I can add running to that mix, although at any given time in my life, I have always had psychology and nothing more. This added topic of running (and really a lot of exercise physiology in general) is incredibly freeing. Although some may think that I complicate running and exercise by the amount of time that I put into thinking about, scheduling, recording, etc., I really feel that it simplifies it. Having a plan and having an outlet for my OCD is helpful to my psyche.

Running has influenced my life like not much else has. Psychology has already influenced my life and it is going to have a more profound impact, as I near the completion of my psychology degree. Although I am still not sure exactly what I would like to do within the field, I do know that, as much as I want to make an impact on the field, the field will also impact me. The people that I will come in contact with will change my understanding of human behavioral trends and emotions. At the same time, I pledge to continue my education, whether formal or not, to understand how I can better help those with psychological issues and disorders. I want to be what so many have been for me in the past: a guide in understanding and stepping firmly into the future.

A Change in Focus

For the past few months, I have still been running. I met my goal of running 100 miles in one month...twice. I am currently running about 20-25 miles a week, with a long run of 13 miles. I have also added yoga once or twice a week. All of this and I have gained weight, but whatever. I have quit smoking (October 7th, 2008 was my first smoke-free day) and I have no urge to go back. I have been running my long runs with a partner, Lauren, who is fun and fast. I have been having trouble with my ankles and shin splints. I have tendonitis in both ankles, but I lowered my mileage, ran through it, and I think that I strengthened them them. Yoga has helped to lengthen them and my muscles as well.

Enough of the boring "where I'm at now" crap. Let us now discuss where I am going. I have never been good at keeping up with a blog (or any journal for that matter); however, for some reason I am constantly drawn back to them. I would like to combine this blog into a running/psychology blog. A blog which gives me an outlet for my ideas in psychology, while it gives me a place to talk about the two things that I annoy everyone talking about, since I can't shut up about them: psychology and running. I'm not sure exactly how that is going to work out, or what exactly that means. However, from now on, this blog will not only be my boring running stuff, but also how running affects my psyche and how my psyche affects my running. The good old mind and body link.