Runner's World

THE RUNNER’S HIGH

In the U.S., DRUG & ALCOHOL ABUSE IS RAMPANT. The face of addiction is your sister, your nephew, your nextdoor neighbor. New science suggests

RUNNING MIGHT HELP USERS FIGHT THE DISEASE. Is this the breakthrough we’ve been searching for?

Young perhaps, but it was Soviet Moscow, where my dad was stationed as an American journalist in the 1980s. I wasn’t very good at drinking, though I tried. When I was 15, I was arrested three times for public drunkenness, twice in one day. Back in the States, while I was still in high school, a litany of drug and alcohol violations got me kicked out of boarding school—with the final incident just hours before my graduation ceremony, my father the keynote speaker (nope, no daddy issues there). In college, the morning I was scheduled to clock in for a new job, I woke up behind the wheel, on a highway in another state, facing the wrong way. Several years later, a DWI and drug charges landed me in the crime log of the newspaper where I worked as a reporter. And so it went.

Fast-forward 17 years and I’m catching my breath near the 14,115-foot summit of Colo rado’s Pikes Peak, my race bib flutter ing in the wind. Bracing myself at the half way mark of the grueling mountain marathon, taking in the countless jagged switchbacks I’d just picked across, I couldn’t help but think about the distance I’d put between Then and Now. And the irony: that after nine marathons and thousands of miles, this is how I get high. Standing on a vast rooftop shingled with mountain peaks, the thin air fizzing my brain, I was feeling pretty buzzed. And grateful. I largely have running to thank for my transformation. After years of face- plants (literal and figurative) and a self- image curdled by guilt and self- loathing, a simple pair of running shoes had returned momentum, even joy, to my life and allowed me to evolve into a capable person—a genuine human being.

And I wasn’t alone.

About five years into my running life— mostly solitary back-country road work—I started to come across stories about other troubled souls who had traded in chaos for running shoes: a meth-head-turned-Ironman-competitor; a recovering crack addict who once ran 350 miles in a week; an ex-convict alcoholic who would tackle the equivalent of almost six back-toback marathons across the Gobi Desert. Later, I’d read about a treatment center in East Harlem that trains rock-bottom people suffering from addiction to finish the New York City Marathon and another

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