I thought the blissful state referred to as “runner’s high” was exclusive to the running community until I read, Swimming – A Plan B Essay, in the latest edition of Ploughshares. Author Lauren Groff’s eloquent description of the feeling a swimmer gets when she is immersed in the process of swimming sounded strikingly familiar. Read on and see for yourself.
Early in the essay, Groff writes, “There is a moment in swimming when, after a while, the body’s rhythm grows so comfortable that the swimmer loses awareness of herself. There is a marrow-deep letting go. She isn’t thinking. Her brain is off, her body is on autopilot. She is elevated… some people call this state ecstasy, others call it Zen. They are, perhaps, different names for the same phenomenon. It is difficult to attain, and there are a thousand ways to attain it. Some meditate, others do peyote, others focus so hard on their art that the world itself falls away and they look up, days or hours later, to be staggered by what they have created in the full flare of their own white heat.”
Her passage reminded me of the feeling I get when immersed in sweat at mile ten of a thirteen-mile run. In my yet-to-be-published memoir Twenty-four Years to Boston, I describe a state similar to that of Groff’s swimmer. “The sensation of a soaking perspiration flowing down over my body after an hour run felt perfect… running becomes effortless and a runner feels as though his feet no longer touch the ground, and is able to go on forever.”
“Full immersion, of course, is the highest level of anything,” says Groff. She will get no argument from this endurance runner. In the end, she writes, “The same person who swims also writes, and makes the writing into a kind of swimming. If I weren’t a writer, I’d be an open-water swimmer. They are different modes of pushing toward the same purpose: those singular moments of ecstasy, the gorgeous, the ungraspable, the letting go.”
In my memoir I observe that, “Distance runners spend countless solitary hours on the trail with endorphins emitting from the brain, which cultivates philosophical contemplation.” I suppose we all seek our own medium to find that ecstasy. After I read Swimming – Plan B Essay, I felt an exclamation point had been added to the state we runners call “runner’s high”