Man sitting on a couch

the runner’s high

i run marathons and I smoke weed. it turns out, I’m not alone  

by: Benjamin Kaplan

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I think I ran while high only once, in Los Angeles, at a wedding. It was a terrible idea. I generally drink when I smoke, and I certainly drink when I smoke in Los Angeles at a wedding. But this was a hilly street, and I was running with someone 20 years younger than me.

She wanted to run with me because I’m a big runner— I’m the editor of a running magazine called iRun and my Twitter is @iRunningBen. I run marathons: 42.2 kilometres at least twice a year. I ran the Boston Marathon and wrote a running book called Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now. I run every other day and really only wear running shoes, no matter the occasion. I’m pretty thin, relatively injury-free and am almost always between races. Even though I don’t (usually) overpopulate my social media with running stuff, it’s something I’m known for—well, that and cannabis, if I’m known at all.  

So my friend’s girlfriend, or whatever they were at the time, wanted to run with me, but like I said, I had been partying. Even earlier that day. Nothing crazy. But a Bloody Mary (or two) and a few puffs of weed and maybe a beer, and one more toke (or two). Still, I had to run. I wanted to. I love to run, almost always. I like the way it makes me feel. Like I’m powerful and vigorous and in control. On this run, however, I was green.  

I was spinning and dehydrated—surviving, but I could have thrown up. I lived, but it wouldn’t be the way I’d recommend pot, or Caesars—California and a wedding, sure—but running?

Not so much.

The University of Colorado’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience released a survey in May in which 81.7% of cannabis users said they used it concurrently with exercise, either before or after working out.

“Our socks were knocked off,” says Dr. Angela Bryan, the lead researcher on the paper. Dr. Bryan runs half marathons and is comfortable saying that she’s used cannabis on a number of occasions, but she’s never paired the activities together. She says her research is important because it slays some of the silly cannabis stereotypes that are still in existence—like that stoners are in their parent’s basements in pyjamas eating doritos watching True Romance (though that is a pretty fun thing to do).  

“I’m a health psychologist very invested in reducing the obesity epidemic and had serious concerns about risky behaviour centred around cannabis use,” she says. “However, in our studies we’ve found that cannabis users have lower body mass index, are at less risk of diabetes and have better insulin function [than non-users]. There’s got to be something going on between cannabis and physical activity, we just don’t know exactly what.”

Cannabis and physical activity are both things I took up when my wife was pregnant. I had been drinking too much, which I’m prone to, and it had to stop. I remember the first time I wore running clothes I was worried about what people might think. They tend to be tight-fitting and florescent yellow, but I liked the sport, which isn’t really a “sport,” per say, in the way of basketball or hockey. You do it alone for the most part, and you don’t win or lose and there’s not a team or a season or really any rules. It’s goal-oriented and, to me, it’s fun—I like running as fast as I possibly can. I feel like a kid and I took to it, took to it just like with weed.

Weed is something I grew up with, even more than running. I was 18 when Dr. Dre’s The Chronic came out and I was attending the University of Arizona, in Tucson. I used to get the giggles something furious and can clearly remember being high in an elevator in my co-ed dorm and trying desperately to keep my shit together. Sometimes I did. Weed was fun and it was seedy and dirt and stems and it was everywhere and I didn’t think much of it—until after college I moved back to New York, and there were actual drugs. The weed went away. And just like that I became, or accelerated, my drinking. I crave escape, though that’s impossible, but I think it’s the correlation between running, alcohol and weed: they make you feel different from your actual self.

My daughter was born in 2011 and by that time I had moved to Toronto and gotten heavily into running—for a story at the National Post, where I worked—and decently into weed (I had a neighbour who knew a guy). The goal was to stop making a fool of myself and for the majority of time—though hardly always—the running and weed help me do that. Dr. Bryan in Colorado isn’t certain that cannabis inspires people to be physically active. What’s more, her survey was conducted in states where weed is legal—Washington, California and Oregon, places where people are probably more active than in other parts of the U.S.  

“What I’d like to understand is under what circumstances is cannabis helpful in terms of exercise and when is it not healthy,” she said. “Very few people said it helps performance, but I want to contribute to the conversation—since we know people are already doing it—to help them decide with cannabis and exercise exactly how to maximize benefit and minimize risk.”  

There’s always going to be risk associated with everything. There’s risk in running, people have heart attacks and hurt their knees. And of course there’s risk with pot, you don’t want to drive on it and you can easily smoke too much and freak out. I’ve certainly done that, though I wouldn’t say “freak out,” in the sense that I climbed a tree and called for my mother like those edible-eating police officers in Toronto last year. But I don’t like to mix the two things.

After I ran with a friend after drinking and smoking in California, I felt smacked, like I was on a rollercoaster even when I was standing still. I know people get high and run, especially in the trails, but that isn’t for me. Instead, I like to keep the two things separate. I run during the day and sometimes, I smoke at night.

I like to smoke after I’ve completed a marathon. Maybe not that same night, but soon afterwards. I like to smoke when my kids are asleep and my day is done and I’ve finished my run and I look outside and feel enlightened. I still get the runner’s high when I run, where I feel like I could run forever and feel like I’m the strongest, most powerful person in the world. I separate from myself and can look outside myself and feel like I can fly. It’s a matter of being vital. Pot, too. I get creative, get giddy, get happy. I still lose myself in laughing fits and still, well, friends have told me I beam. When done correctly, after a few drinks, just a few puffs, around good people, I feel like I do.

Like Dr. Bryan, I’m surprised how many people seem to combine exercise and weed. I think maybe it’s just part of a similar lifestyle. I crave sensations. And I get good ones, both from running—and weed.

man's hands holding marijuana pipe

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