It used to be a day of worship, but in an increasingly secular society we still seem to go in search of out-of-body experiences on a Sunday
Blackheath village is a basin. It sinks down into its centre; and because that is where life is busiest, a runner can’t take advantage of the slope. Then they have to climb all the way out again like a spider out of a bath. Today, I was still on the village’s outskirts when I saw a Sunday worshipper (doing her long run) on her descent after clambering the village’s walls. In a moment, believing herself unseen, she threw her arms out like wings, closed her eyes, her head dropped back to look up at the sun, and she was gone; falling into a world of her own. Her runner’s high had struck. The brain’s endocannabinoid system had activated and anandamide flooded her system. The effect is euphoric. her heart will have slowed as her blood vessels dilate. Pains and niggles will disappear as the analgesic effect of anandamide kicked in. It was wonderful to see it happening to someone else.
Sunday is the day that most people do their long-run. It is slower, longer, and probably the most looked-forward-to date in the runners’ diary. Like being pregnant, or growing a beard (trust me on this), once it’s something you’ve done you can see it everywhere.
It was several months ago, end of March 2014. I know the date because of the conversation I was having with a friend. We were driving through some of London’s outer suburbs (Beckenham / Bromley), and on one of the longer straighter roads were some runners. I said to my mate H.
‘They’re training for the marathon; they’re doing they’re long run.’
‘How can you possibly know that? You can’t know that?’
He’s right; I couldn’t. But it was THAT day, the one where you have to do that last 18-22 miler before the three week taper for race day. It wasn’t just that, though. There was something about the way that they were running. Their gait was rhythmic and minimalist – their clothes were fit for the rainy day. They were upright, economic, efficient. They didn’t shuffle. Their was nothing about them that suggested ‘beginner’ or ‘short run’. Of course, Sunday is the day that is most-free in people’s schedules, but I wonder if there isn’t some kind of social or atavistic throwback to the way we lived a thousand or so years ago. The rhythm of life was one in which (in this example, going to church) was time away from work, not leisure, but rest. And, for anyone that has experienced a runner’s high, they will tell you that it is as close to a religious experience as they can imagine. Is running, then, a kind of worship, an expression of gratitude, to and for… something? Being, perhaps.