My brain is pretty lucky. It gets to ride around in my head while my legs take us to wonderful places. For example, running up Long’s Peak to Chasm Lake in Colorado last year was physically painful, but the visual pleasure achieved as well as the emotional rewards of the task easily outweighed the challenge. It was a simple case of my body being strong enough to take my mind to wonderful places. Perhaps that is one of the most rewarding parts of ultrarunning, I call it enjoying my fitness.
Beyond the visual and auditory stimulation my brain enjoys from extreme physical challenges, the brain is also rewarded by a “running high.” It is amazing how great my brain gets to feel after a good long run. This happened last weekend after meeting up with a group of runners who are all preparing for the North Country Run. As the herd of us moved through the woods with our headlamps shining, I could already tell that it was going to be a fun day. There is something special about starting in the dark and watching the sunrise. Sure, there were parts of the run that were absolutely terrible, mostly during the part when we were attacked by clouds of hungry deer flies. In fact, half our group decided it was too much and headed out to finish their run on the roads. But this is where the fun started. With a smaller group, now moving more quickly, we logged another 16 miles in just a touch over 3 hours AND the flies never came back! I think it had something to do with running through the trails at sunrise that made them so vicious. Towards the end of the day Jason Robertson and I decided to race up every hill we could find. According to Jason these were “uphill death races” although I felt like a small child goofing around with my friends.
When the run was over I got an incredible adrenaline rush and just let out a cry of pure joy. Not only had we overcome the insanely painful flies, but had pushed ourselves hard when we were most tired. This run, together with some other runs I have had recently has really made me appreciate what amazing machines we can build our bodies into. Ultrarunners in particular have to deal with a tremendous amount of pounding, burning through thousands of calories which has to amount to incredible amounts of metabolic stress, and just general abuse from doing what we love. But then you get rewarded as this lump of tissue in your skull (your brain) becomes soaked in endorphins while the legs keep on taking step after step after step.