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This Addiction

Thursday 22nd December 2011

You hit me just like heroin
I feel you coursing through my veins
I once tried to kick this addiction
I swear ill never kick again

Alkaline Trio, This Addiction

This is one of my favourite songs by one of my favourite bands. I’m sure Matt Skiba’s lyrics were intended to liken his feelings for a person to a drug addiction, but he was actually singing about running. He just doesn’t realise it.

And he is right of course. Running is an addiction. An addiction that millions of sufferers get away with having. No one tells us to seek treatment. No rehab, group therapy, counselling or self help books for us. In fact, running is probably the most socially acceptable form of addiction there is. Tell people you’re a smoker and depending on their level of tolerance, their reaction will vary from “me too, but I’m trying to quit” to “you disgusting human, get out of my face.” How many people express envy the plight of the homeless man clutching a bottle of white lightning at 7 in the morning? How many people genuinely think it’s cool to be at the mercy of some chemical? But if you tell someone you’re a runner their reaction wil be completely different. Suddenly people want advice and tips. They want to know what the secret is (though they are less thrilled when you tell them it’s all about running lots and running hard rather than a type of shoe or energy drink) and how to get good at it.

Now I appreciate that I have put a rather large flaw in my argument by likening running to drug and alcohol dependency. Running does at least have huge benefits in terms of maintaining a healthy heart and lungs. But in many ways it is just as damaging. The British marathon record holder Steve Jones has arthritis in his knees. Hip replacements are common and many who run in their twenties and thirties struggle to walk in their forties and fifties.

As well as the physical perils of being a running addict, there is the profound effect it has on the people around you. It is just as antisocial as being a smoker. Despite my warped perceptions of ‘normal’ that are proliferated by the runners I surround myself with, I realise some things aren’t normal. Running twice a day, avoiding social events and going to bed early because you have to run in the morning, drifting off at work because you are tired from that morning’s run or losing concentration because you’re just thinking about your evening run. And don’t even dare using the phrase “just ten miles easy this evening” in front of your colleagues. If you aren’t careful, these things can push the people around you away.

We all still seek that high though; the endorphin rush, the unrivalled satisfaction of bettering past performances or beating people you have never beaten before. We crave the feeling of worth and purpose that is provided for us by the simple act of putting left in front of right thousands of times. We get a rush from the giddy excitement of race day. We travel far and make huge sacrifices for a simple need. Running is a drug and most of my friends are hooked on it.

I could give up running if I wanted to. Definitely. I just don’t want to.