Perhaps this sounds a little mystical and vague, but sceptics may wish to consider that there is hard science here too. Studies of the human brain after endurance running show that certain areas of the brain – those involved in memory, in navigational decisions, or in self-control – are lit up. This you would expect. But other areas go into what you might call a standby mode. The “default mode network” is a series of linked areas of the brain that turn on when we do nothing: sit around, idling, perhaps fretting or stressing over events and blowing them out of all proportion. Studies show activity in this area is actually suppressed by running. Most runners will know the effects, if not the mechanism: that feeling of a run calming troubled thoughts, or untying seemingly intractable knots. Then, too, there are the biochemical changes in the brain and body. The endorphins released by exercise or – a more recent discovery – the endocannabinoids. These are naturally produced transmitters that have the same chemical structure and bind to the same brain receptors as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The effects, too, are the same: pain relief, mood enhancement… that “runner’s high” we all seek.
And so you can read complex scientific papers on the mechanisms involved, bandy around words like neurogenesis and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor… or you can simply experience the effects and choose to interpret them as a spiritual experience. There is room for both with Aire Libre.