The day the announcements about schools going virtual-only were made in Toronto with the most recent lockdown, I dodged a bullet. I kicked the wall in frustration that afternoon and felt it immediately in my left foot. I’d been susceptible to injury since New Year’s Day, when I woke up to 2021 and could barely walk. A longtime marathon runner who has twice run Boston and even written a running book and still edit a running magazine when I’m not doing kind, I’ve been immune to injury since I first laced up my sneakers in 2010. Back then, before my daughter was born, running was a means to getting my shit together. Today, it’s different, sort of. Now, at 46, I groan when I sit and cut short my Sunday long runs and my longtime running partner, slower than me, now beats me regularly at our Wednesday night workouts. My back going out on January 1—from working at home on my daughter’s desk over the holidays—illustrated the indignities of deterioration, and age. It would only follow that, when kicking the wall after words had failed me, I’d break my foot, need crutches and hobble to the liquor store for a bottle of whiskey, red wine and four IPAs. Then have something to drink.
On this February evening, however, that wouldn’t be the case.
Instead, lacing up and heading out into the evening after returning the kids from the park, I jogged down to the water and began a series of repetitions in which I ran my marathon pace for one kilometre, then my 10K pace for a kilometre, and repeated it four times.
At the start, limping and grumpy, I hit the ground like a lineman and my partner wondered if I’d finish the workout. Beneath the stars, however, I not only finished, I soared. Sometime during the second rep, wind in the trees, ice crackling audibly from the lake, a path laid out before me like a runway, I had the sensation of flying. My strides lengthened, my chest puffed out and I told myself, ‘breathe easy, glide,’ and the speed came to me like a gift, and kept coming.
My third repetition was faster than my second and by the time I hit my fourth set, I was out-and-out sprinting and returning to me was an old sensation: I am powerful. I have agency. I am not to be fucked with. I can not only do this, but I can do anything.
This is the out-of-body experience of the runner’s high—that mystical sensation anyone can spark upon letting go of his or her conscious mind and letting our brain chemicals narrate the story. With gyms closed and team sports banned, there’s been a global running boom with the New York Times estimating last summer an 80% increase in new runners. It only makes sense. You don’t need anything to run. You can start by jogging around your block or to pick up edibles. It’s not complicated or expensive. You don’t need technology. It’s something you can do by yourself—no court, no equipment, no rules. You can not run incorrectly and it’s easy to improve as you go. Say you’ve never run before. That you smoke weed and like video games and have gained weight during the winter lockdown. Run twice. You’ve recorded an accomplishment. Now try it again, because running accrues. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s addictive. Like a bad habit in reverse. Meanwhile, while that happens, other tendencies begin forming, too.
When I started running, I also quit drinking and saw The Killers play Massey Hall. I enjoyed the show, but what was memorable about that night is what happened afterwards. Involuntarily, I started running home. I craved that feeling: that freedom, that power. I’m not the only one.
“I was introduced to the sport by a friend and when I jumped in, I realized all the natural endorphins get released in your brain when you push your body,” says Peter Machalek, Chief Commercial Officer at TREC Brands, who competes in Ironman, which is a marathon, plus a 112-mile bike ride and a 2.4-mile swim. Pete is a crazy athlete, but he’s also a normal guy. We met at an infused dinner. He says that he started running because he was curious, but he stuck with it because he liked the ripple effects it produced in his life.
“It didn’t only benefit me physically, but I started performing better at work and my relationships improved,” says Machalek, who already got a promotion in 2021. “I was in a better, happier place and state of mind. I felt like I had more tools”
Being in a better, happier state is important for all of us, always, but especially during COVID. With few exercise outlets and no socializing, we can all feel confined and trapped. Sometimes I literally feel squeezed from all sides. Machalek, who enjoys cannabis after a workout, says running helps clear his mind. All of our brains are so much fireworks exploding it’s like an endless steam kettle looking for release. Running releases the bad vibes into the air.
“It’s like a breath of fresh air or a pause and you find the same things that make you succeed in sport have a ton of parallels to life and career,” says Machalek, who became so immersed in the training lifestyle that one summer he competed in a triathlon every weekend. He did that without giving up weed.
“There’s a ton of undercover athletes that use cannabis on a regular basis and there’s been a stigma associated with cannabis-users, but that’s evaporating,” he says. “Runners are accepting cannabis products, and cannabis users are accepting the sport.”
Darren Karasiuk is also an Ironman and a friend of mine, an early employee at MedReleaf and Aurora and now CEO of Nova Cannabis, a huge chain of cannabis retail stores in Ontario and Alberta. He loves cannabis and running and thinks that he and I and Peter aren't alone. Karasiuk says that running, for him, is a chance to unplug from the universe and enjoy the moment he’s in.
“It forces me to clear my head and gets me almost into a meditative state,” he says, adding that when he traveled constantly during the dawn of cannabis legalization, he made sure to continue with his workout program—even if it meant doing pushups on a plane or hitting the treadmill in his hotel at 3am. There’s a danger, he believes, in becoming only your work. Having a hobby—baking, magic, needlepoint—is good for the body, good for the soul.
“One of the best ways to see a city is at dawn with a run,” says Karasiuk, who talks about moving through Berlin, Amsterdam and London in his sneakers and feeling not only revived, but alive. “All of us can get the chance to clear our head and and reset our body clock and I think cannabis and running aren’t antithetical—they go quite well together.”
I think cannabis and running aren’t antithetical—they go quite well together.
Sometimes I can feel it welling inside of me and know I’ll need to go outside and run. Like I’m overwhelmed or start feeling like a victim. I’m in a rush, but not going anywhere. I lose control. My son has similar pent up kinetic energy. He’s 7-years-old and electric and he’ll need to go to the park and run around like a puppy, and I have the same instinct in me. It’s not enough for me to stay civilized and contained. To work and hire plumbers, to strive and try and live life like a model adult. That, on its own, eventually leads me to kicking walls or screaming or going to the liquor store with bad intentions and a credit card.
Running can be your something else. It doesn’t have to be intense and you don’t have to go fast or far and you don’t need to participate in a race or buy anything just to do something for yourself. This pandemic season has brought many new people to running, but I want to see many more. Now, as the weather warms up and we know life as we know it isn’t going to return any time soon, I implore you to go for a run. It’s free. It’s impossible to screw up, and it's there’s for you—just like your cannabis—to save your sanity every time.
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