Monday, April 11, 2016

When Running Becomes an Addiction.

Addiction is usually a bad thing.  Entire industries have been established to try to cure you of your addiction...as if it was an affliction.   However,  there are some times when having an addiction is not really so terribly bad.   For example:  Running.
 

You may have noticed that I did not say that it was a "good" thing.  I know there are people out there who think that all running is always good all the time.   However,  running brings its own set of side effects that could be perceived as "negative" from many points of view.  But first,   Let us define an addiction.

An addiction is when you have to have something to get though the day.    Whether it be a drug, a drink, food or some other earthly vice,  you NEED it to simply function.   Of course drugs, alcohol and tobacco are the obvious villains.   They tear down your body while offering a slight, temporary bit of pleasure or relief from the crushing depression that is life.  Those are easy targets that most of society can recognize as "bad".  Even food,  something that every one needs to survive,  could become an addiction as we try to nibble our way through the day when we are not really hungry.

But what about exercise?   Specifically running.   Since when would it be "bad" to get off the couch and run a few laps around a track?   Or even a couple of miles on a treadmill?    Society wants everyone to stay healthy, right?   Deep down, I think most people would rather have that sexy sleek body that is the product of such activity.  But we are talking about an addiction here. Something slightly more than a "healthy habit".

Even the most demonized drug had its initial positive uses.  Most of the hard drugs out there started out as medicine used to treat specific ailments; controlling pain or depression.    However, it is their abuse and over-use that causes problems.   Running is similar in that it has many positive effects on your body.  You gain muscle endurance, stronger bones, stronger heart, and better cardiovascular strength. You increase your metabolism, decrease your risk of obesity and diabetes, and release natural Dopamine that helps fight off depression. Sounds pretty good so far...

But the side effects of running can be harmful as well.   The obvious are the minor injuries that will inevitably happen along the way.   Twisted ankles, blisters, and calluses are the first signs, followed by more advanced  runner's knee, and plantar fasciitis for later stages.  These are all ailments that happen when persistent running occurs. Trail runners have been known to develop scratches on their arms and legs.    Know the signs!  Know the causes!

For serious abusers of running:  dehydration, memory loss, extreme fatigue, and even organ failure can occur.   Sometimes their immune system become compromised by running for long periods in the rain and snow. These runners are known as "Ultra-Runners" for their taking of running to the ultimate.   As with other drugs, they use running as either a means of escape or a method of searching.  They are searching for the answers to life's questions by running past the point of exhaustion, past the point of organ shut down.
 Their amount of self-abuse could be described as "extreme" by people outside their world.   However, it is the families and friends that suffer the most.  The vast distance that is created between those who run and those who do not should not simply be measured in miles.   It should be measured in finishers medals and race T-Shirts.

Thankfully, there is hope.   Runners need support from able bodied staff and pacers.   They need to be reminded about the "important things" in life.   And the best way to show them is through race photos and finisher pictures.   Cataloging their progress with Garmin Entries and blog postings will help them visualize their journey to recovery.
As with AA meetings,  recovering addicts need  sponsors that help cheer them on towards their next goal.  The long time health benefits of running may not be worth the loss of income that occurs when that person reduced their work hours so they can run more often. It's important to show them where their priorities lie.

So the next time a small child asks, "Mommy, Mommy,  where is Daddy?"    You won't have to explain the complexities of a trail or the distances of a run.  Or try to explain to a child the reasons why runners run to begin with.   Instead, you can roll down the car window and point at him as he is passing mile 20 running along the road.  "He is right there, dear."

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