“My name is James Stewart, and I am a runaholic”


Happy Place
Happy Place

Online, in the queue for Euan’s Christmas show and in work at the proverbial water-cooler, I have recently found myself in conversations revolving around whether running is an addiction. Three separate conversations with runners and non-runners alike, and yet the same point comes out. Do runners need to run?

In each of these conversations I think back to when we were on a family holiday at the start of April, a couple of weeks before the London Marathon. I was pacing the living room of the lovely wee apartment we had rented for the week. Outside the sun was shining and we planned on going to the beach for a walk. I hadn’t been a run that day and was agitated. Of course, I was tapering and winding down to London. Louise, clearly sensing my agitation, manifest as a modicum of crankiness, said “I’m phoning that Paul guy and telling him you are going out a run…”

I nearly let her!

Addiction is a word with some horrible connotations, be it drugs or drink. As is the phrase -aholic when suffixed to a noun. It isn’t always bad, but the general perception is one of a problem. An irresistible need to do some sort of self-harming activity that will inevitably result in some angst or hurt. Yet, there are some socially acceptable addictions that rarely see eyebrows raised in their direction; caffeine, painkillers and the like.

So, are some of us addicted to running? Well, that’s too simple a question to ask. We might joke we are. In fact, in some cases it is a badge of honour. There are elite ultra-runners out there who run and race incredible amounts. Look at Mike Wardian for example, he does more racing than the classic Yello song on constant repeat. I listened to an interview once on Talk Ultra where Mike was on a treadmill throughout. This is a guy making the most of life and his talent. On the flip-side, we’ve seen how running too much burnt out Geoff Roes who ended up with chronic fatigue syndrome, and he ain’t the only one.

It could be argued that it is not the act of running which is addictive but rather the outcome: getting high. The release of endorphins at the end of a tough training session is a case in point. Running may just be the preferred method of that release. Cyclists, martial artists and any other sportsperson probably gets the same thing. We call it ‘Runner’s High’ but in reality is achievement x effort that gives the feeling of exultation. And we want more of it.

Gear laid out before getting ready for a Lab session
Gear laid out before getting ready for a Lab session

Most Thursdays around 7pm, a squad of folk from out Croy, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth way head to The Lab for an interval session. The range in capability is massive, yet the old ash-track, beaten but not broken, is a brilliant place to level that out. There can be anything from 3 to 15 people all firing round the puddles and potholes, all searching for that runner’s high. The guys and gals all do the same session and start/stop shouts go up from the clever ones who know how to programme a Garmin workout. The group moves between sets in unison, doing their own version of fast, their own version of recovery. Fanned out with headtorches dotted around the 390 metre long track (another little foible of this great place) everyone gIves it their all. It’s an inspiring sight to see when it’s a good turnout.

And most get what they are looking for. Afterwards, whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter and Strava light-up with comments and virtual pats on the back. Curiously, the conversation is most voicefoerous from those who were there. “You were cruising; You looked awesome; Wow check those splits…” are amongst the things written after that could have been said at the time.

The Runner’s High is manifest for hours, and sometimes into the next day afterwards. It doesn’t matter if you do 5:00 /mi miles, or 10:00 /mi miles. The release is the same. I am friends with the wonderful bunch in #teamsub4 and these guys positively brim with vitality after a great group session. Some even get high on the highs of others.

It’s not even that simple though, endorphins are one thing, but on the other end of the scale, the high can manifest in being at one with nature, or one’s self. You don’t have to be ‘baws oot’ working to your limit. Sometimes the best feeling a runner can have comes from an easy 5 or 10k over beautiful trails. Takng pictures, breathing in fresh air or finding a new trail, can all give a high.

I had an easy 10k to do on Sunday. Usually I am out

Looking east from Mount Cookie
Looking east from Mount Cookie

before the sun is up at this time of year, which means roads in the main, and certainly no opportunity to look around and take in the beauty of my surroundings. A Tarmac path illumated by the dull orange halogen glow of North Lanarkshire’s streetlights is not bewildering beauty in my eyes. But on Sunday, the opportunity arose to run early-afternoon. The ground was thick with frost and the beautiful grey way that only winter can bring. A marvellous sheen of Mother Nature at her finest bedecked the central belt of Scotland. I was excited to be able to get on a trail. And so I did. I took my phone, stopped to make a video, snap pictures aplenty and generally had fun.

I was high after this. The outcome was happiness; exultation in fact.

These are just a couple of ways running gives me a high, and I am sure plenty of you are the same. Addiction is sometimes described as ‘chasing the unattainable high’. It eventually destroys when the person is either broken (physically and financially) or worse. In running, the highs can come from the simplest of actions. It’s not a needle or a bottle, but an action. It’s ok to love it. You do need to manage it, that goes without saying. But if you get the balance between achievement, enjoyment and your own personal journey right then it is a joyous juncture you will find yourself at.

Not all addictions are bad. Not all addictions are harmful. I, James A. Stewart, am a runaholic and proud.

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Typical ultrarunner, you’ve simply replaced an unhealthy addiction (wotsits) with a slightly healthier one of running. I’m sorry to tell you that your story is far from unique… 😉

    1. Oh, I ken it’s not unique! Far from it 🙂

      1. And wotsits, well they’re pretty hardcore. You have come a long way, to be fair…

      2. I still have wotsits on occasion – like a smoker who only smokes when he drinks now…

      3. I had a wotsit binge recently. I felt durty.

  2. nelson says:

    That was a great read, man. I’m doing ‘cold turkey’ just now, courtesy of a lower lumbar strain – so I get the appropriate metaphor going on here. (In more ways than one.)

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