33.  Drug Running
Right: Looking towards Ingleborough, up the Lune valley, from Halton Park on the other side of the river.
I ran through Halton Park on Wednesday after being tipped-out at Netherby, near Gressingham. I began by running in the
opposite direction, towards the Redwell Inn, and returned through Swarthdale and Addington. This was the second of two
one-hour-plus runs this week. I dare hardly believe how comfortably (touch wood) I’m progressing towards our target.
August 20th 2011
When we went on our butterfly hunt last week
we met a couple of friends who, when the topic
turned to running, said “Our daughter runs every
morning: it’s an addiction, isn’t it?” as though there
were nothing more to say on the subject. I feel obliged
to investigate this theory thoroughly in the hope that
there is nothing more to write on it either.
I’ve found a ‘running addiction self-help test’ .
I have to mark 20 statements on a scale from 1 to 10
to indicate the extent to which it applies to me and
my running. If I score over 160 then I am “running
So, here goes: “If a shirt doesn’t boast a race logo,
it isn’t one I want to wear.” Um ... I think I’ll mark that as
0. The statement seems preposterous. The only shirt
with a race logo that I can recall wearing was a fine one
given as a prize for the Heversham 10-mile (a race I ran
twice and on both occasions the runners ran the wrong
way, which may be why I won a prize).
I need to take this more seriously. Addiction of any
kind is not something to be flippant about. I need some
precision but, inevitably perhaps, there is no universally
agreed upon definition of addiction. This one will
perhaps suffice: “addiction [is] a process whereby a
behaviour, that can function both to produce pleasure
and to provide escape from internal discomfort, is
employed in a pattern characterized by recurrent
failure to control the behaviour and continuation of the
behaviour despite significant negative consequences” .
This highlights the two key features: the lack of control
and the negative consequences.
Addiction is usually considered to be of two
forms, one concerned with the use of psychoactive
substances, such as alcohol and heroin, and the other
with a psychological dependency on certain activities,
such as gambling and shopping, although some
experts prefer not to regard the latter as an addiction.
As far as running is concerned, any addiction would
seem to belong to the second form.
it has been found that after a
2-hour run runners had produced endorphins that had
attached themselves to parts of the brain associated
with emotions . Endorphin is short for ‘endogeneous
morphine’, that is, a morphine-like substance that
originates within the body. Endorphins are released
by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in
response to various activities and produce analgesia
(an inability to feel pain) and a feeling of well-being.
The suggestion, then, is that runners may become
addicted to their own endorphins. The activities that
are listed as generating endorphins are: exercise,
excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and
orgasm. Even if I restricted myself to exercise for my
endorphins (and why would anyone?), I don’t think
that it has been demonstrated that running is the most
effective method for producing them. It is also unclear
whether it is essential to run for 2 hours to generate
them. If I ran for 1 hour twice a day would I be safe
from endorphin addiction?
Maybe, but in that case I might be thought to
have the second form of addiction, a psychological
dependency. What are the signs of such a dependency?
According to Michael Sachs , they are: fatigue, inability
to concentrate, an overemphasis on running quantity,
missing appointments, running with injuries, adopting
runners for friends, spending more time at the local
club, subscribing to many running publications,
watching running movies, buying more running shoes
and clothes, searching for longer and more distant
races, spending more time and money on training and
trips, and steering every conversation back to running.
I am greatly relieved that writing a running diary is not
on the list.
Tarquin Cooper concedes that many ultra-runners
have addictive personalities . Some have taken up
running precisely to escape from other addictions.
However, not many runners accept that they have an
addiction, because they do not acknowledge any
negative consequences, which, according to the
definition, a genuine addiction has. Cooper quotes a
runner who had run 619 marathons in 15 years: “I’m
somebody that needs exercise. I don’t intend ever to
stop. But I’m not addicted to running. I’ve just made it
a part of my life. And it’s a positive thing”.
If it is possible to be addicted to running, is there
any ‘cure’? Nobody seems to have much to say about
this. Obviously, one must run less and reduce all the
associated factors that Sachs lists. And then there are
liable to be ‘withdrawal symptoms’, some physical,
some psychological: muscle twitching, bloatedness,
headaches, sluggishness, tension, depression, anxiety,
guilt, restlessness and irritability.
Do I suffer from running addiction, in the medical
sense? I have been running, on and off, for over 50
years. When I am off, for a day, a month, or years, I may
have some withdrawal symptoms. It depends why I am
off. When, for example, I go on a holiday and leave
the running gear behind (as I usually do) I have no
difficulty at all in forgetting about running. In general,
if I had not anticipated running in a certain period then
there is no problem for me in not doing so.
However, if I am off (through having flu, say) when I
expected to be on, then, yes, I would be depressed and
irritable. I would feel the same way if I had planned to
go for a drive and the car had failed to start. It seems
to me a normal reaction, not the sign of an addiction.
And, yes, I would feel guilty if I were off when then is no
good reason that I am not on. The guilt, however, is not
directly to do with running: it is because of a failure to
meet one’s commitments (to oneself, in this case).
I am still running, so clearly all my off periods
have ended with me returning to my ‘addiction’. I have
not proved that I can do without running. I think I need
to go back to that test.
Here’s another statement for me to mark on a scale
of 1 to 10: “It exhibits their inbred weakness if people
don’t want to hear my step-by-step re-creations of races
I’ve run”. Well, of course you want to hear them. You
don’t? Oh. Anyway, I would never attribute anything to
someone’s ‘inbred weakness’. So that’s another 0.
Here’s a couple more statements that are so
ridiculous that I’d give them 0: “All my friends are
runners and I wouldn’t consider befriending a non-runner” and “A string of running days must remain
unbroken”. The most I can score now is 160. That
would make me “leaning towards running addiction;
beware”. I am not sure if the ‘beware’ is directed
towards me or you.
.  Sachs, Michael L. (1998), Too Much of a Good Thing?,
Marathon & Beyond.
.  Goodman, Aviel (2006), Addiction: Definition and
Implications, British Journal of Addiction, 85, 11,
.  Boecker, Henning et al (2008), The Runner’s High:
Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain,
Cerebral cortex, 18 (11), 2523.
.  Cooper, Tarquin (2009), Confessions of a running
addict, Daily Telegraph, August 24th.
The rest of Fifty Weeks Running will follow in due course.
© John Self, Drakkar Press