My use of exercise as a release valve began quite early for me. I used to enjoy at the age of about 11 the times we were sent out for a "cross country" run at school. I'm not sure if kids actually do this anymore. When I was about that age it was compulsory. There were times in the winter when you could not move your hands afterwards because they were so cold. They would also throb with pain as the blood returned to prevent you getting frost bite! It sounds like I'm exaggerating but I can assure you I'm not. The shirt buttons were almost impossible to do up and sometimes the PE teacher or a friend would have to do it for me. We ran in shorts and a vest. It was the kind of experience by Dad used to call "character building stuff". I think I know now what he meant.
It sounds odd but I came to enjoy those runs and for a time looked forward to them. I recall coming I think 6th in my year and sprinting for the last few hundred yards because you were given a time when you crossed the finish line. Afterwards you felt quite numb but calm. I think now that the body releases natural pain killers and of course adrenalin is like a small hit of morphine or something. The feeling turns into a warm glow about 10 mins after and you feel just all the more optimistic and accepting of your lot for a good few hours. From the age of about 19 I returned to it and my runs were solo. I was on my own and at weekends might be out in all weathers for an hour or so. Gradually my runs became longer.
I liked the routine of following a certain route and then one day deciding I would take a new turn or test myself some more if I felt strong. I especially liked running in the rain and some of my most pleasant memories today are of the long Sunday run along the Surrey Hills, pacing myself so that I could try to sprint the last few hundred. I enjoyed the pain of it of you like. Like many of us I think it was my own form of self harm! but of course a much healthier one than others I have tried!
Later I trained for a marathon and ran the London in '98 when the whole event was just getting really much more popular. I wasn't interested in completing a time. I just liked the experience of trying it out and the training. I decided I enjoyed my solo runs much more. But now my knees are not what they used to be and my legs require a lot of stretching at times just to do the basics! Thankfully I can experience the same level peaceful pain relief and mind detox when I swim. I used the pool a great deal during and for some years after my divorce. I also used quality wine when I felt like it and have ever since decided that life is way too short for cheap wine!
Like my school days on the cross country runs, I look forward to the pool. I have to be there early and it should ideally be outside in the open air. So at weekends I can be there at daybreak. I will eat well the night before but not have any wine! The pool I go to is a 20 - 30 min drive and so I wrap up warm in the morning and jump in the car taking only my trunks, swimming goggles and a bottle of juice or water. The road is clear and I often have no music or radio in the car. Its just me and my thoughts. In the early days I might arrive before the pool was open so that I could be the first in. Being slightly heated there is a layer of white steam above surface and the water is smooth and shining like glass. And it is quiet. Invitingly it has lanes for fast, medium and slow swimmers and I will happily take a medium and especially if I can have it to myself.
By starting slowly, I take can take my time to feel the water and stretch out my limbs while being supported all round; the slight upward pressure of buoyancy on my stomach and chest can only be maintained by deep breathing. I try to relax my limbs and keep stretching out at the same time. Holding or catching as much water as you can is a technique I am still learning. I might try to mix up my pace with a few faster lengths and to introduce the feeling of numbness in my arms. Stopping for a few times at one end and leaning on the tiles to catch my breath I'm suddenly back at the finish line of a school run.
I recommend these kind of experiences much higher than any pills we might be given by the doctor
Love this blog..
Many years ago I also was a cross country runner,and the cold,biting winds whipping your legs?? Ouch I remember it well,then those showers when you thought your skin would burn from your back...
Happy carefree days...
Now I am old and running is not an option.but my treadmill I use daily,and getting longer each day..
I have a goal,Cardiff half marathon next year..
Okay I will walk most of it,but do it I will,but maybe also need to have a look at this swimming lark also...
But oh my hair !!!! ;D
Hi FofG, good for you. I'm sorry to hear about your Copenhagen experience. I read recently in Ruby Wax's book "Sane new world" that by the time we are in our 50's we either turn into wine or vinegar!. It sounds to me that mane problems arise in our marriages and relationships when two different varieties start to emerge. The problems created are therefore more about the other person than ourselves. With all the challenges we face in life its hard not to let them turn us to vinegar but there is no excuse for a lack of control.
I love the title of this blog and totally agree with its sentiments. But I do envy the freedom and great feelings that outdoor runs give you. I had to give up outdoor running many years ago due to knee problems. But I joined a gym - that must be 18 years ago now and have been going 3 times a week ever since. I regard it as an anti depressant and could certainly not do without it. I kept going right through the problems in my marriage and every time I forced my reluctant self to go, I was so glad that I did. My current gym has a pool which I have used more and more as times got bad.
I have to say that I am not a sporty person. I only do and hour each time and a 10 minute swim, but even that small amount 3 times a week gives me the boost that I need.
Today I am 59. A year ago he took me on a birthday treat to Copenhagen and ruined it by yelling and swearing at me because I had not bought myself something when we split for an hour in the city. I wept on the street. I knew then it was over. Exercise is not an option it is an essential. Do it.
Firstly thank you so much for this blog, your blogs are always interesting and engaging, this one is no exception. I totally agree with you, experiences like the one you describe are a gazillion times better than any pill.
I to did cross country runs at school and was lucky enough to live in an area where the countryside was virtually on my doorstep. Whenever I go home I pass the place where we use to start the runs and I always think about them and remember those " buzzing " feelings than surged through my body after the run. I remember when my bare legs burned with the freezing cold, it was agony at the time but the glow that I would later feel was absolutely so worth it.
After my ex left I sat around for a very long time mulling over things, I felt lost and had no clue what I wanted to do, the only thing that appealed to me was running. Whenever I saw someone running and looking strong and free, I watched with enviy, that's what I wanted. Of course my cross country runs where many many years ago, I can't say that I am fit so I had to start small. I kid you not when I say that I started with walking the length of my living room/dining room through to my kitchen and back again and again until I had walked a mile. Eventually I hit the streets and slowly I started to run. It was hard but I enjoyed the feeling of determination. Unfortunately my knees just couldn't cut it and I had to stop running. I felt gutted because I wanted and still want that feeling of running free. I'm being tested for arthritus and due to go to the rheumatology clinic soon. I joined a gym which was ok but not really what I wanted, I've now changed gyms and this one has a pool. I love it but I don't get the same experience that you describe which incidentally sounds wonderfulI. . I've just started Chi Kung which I'm told is really good for arthritus but running strong and free and in the rain, what I wouldn't give for that feeling.
long may you run (or swim ) and thank you again for a lovely blog. Take care and stay warm.
Thanks Vastra, I hope you enjoy your next swim. Today was a real joy, the sun was out and air cold. I stayed in as long as I could without completely knackering myself! I need some energy for later in the day. Perhaps a small wine or two this evening!
Thanks for the lovely blog - as an injured runner I can relate to this very well. Your description of the pool in the morning is beautiful, what a lovely way to start the day! I love early morning winter swims in our local outdoor (heated in winter) 50m pool- the sprint across the cold concrete in my swimmers makes the reward of the hot shower even sweeter.
I agree with you, if Pharma devised a a pill that could simultaneously be calming and energising, help with sleep, blood pressure, mood and anxiety, diabetes, high blood pressure, weight loss and muscle strength, it would make billions, yet exercise does all of those.