By Matt Seidel
I could see his eyes glazing over. As a runner, I’ve grown accustomed to recognizing such signs of growing boredom, having long regaled friend and foe alike with tales of my training feats. But this time was different. I thought I could detect a hint of hostility in the expression of my former college teammate and captive listener, John. “Take your breathless paean to the glory of running and shove it,” those eyes seemed to say. But I simply couldn’t stop myself.
If logorrhea is the compulsion to talk, I was suffering from the runner’s version: jogorrhea (not to be confused with a similar-sounding digestive ailment). Medically speaking, jogorrhea is an acute form of runner’s high in which sufferers are unable to stop talking about the exercise that induced their euphoria in the first place.
My bout of jogorrhea struck at 5:30 a.m. in backwoods Oregon. I was on a team competing in the Hood to Coast Relay, a 197-mile race starting atop Mount Hood and ending at the beach in Seaside. I had just completed the third of my four assigned legs, a 6.8-mile trek over a mountain that coincided blissfully with the newly dawning day.
An hour earlier I had been in a fouler mood. One team ahead of us included runners from our old college archrivals, another my brother-in-law, which meant I would be hearing about the defeat for many holidays to come. Moreover, owing to a last-minute cancellation, a strained calf muscle, and a freak spider bite, our team had been reduced to nine members from the ideal twelve, which meant one more leg for each runner and even less opportunity for sleep over the twenty or so hours it would take us to complete the course.
Not that it would have been possible to sleep, miserably crammed into our miserable team van as we were. There wasn’t one remotely organized packer among us, so every inch of the already tight confines was littered with overstuffed bags, shoes, industrial-sized cans of energy powder, banana peels, and sweaty apparel. A Styrofoam container, which for some reason we thought would increase the car’s tidiness, was wedged between the front and middle row of seats, further reducing legroom and making a horrible scratching noise every time one of us tried to extend a limb: an environmentally unfriendly, perpetually sounding alarm clock.
In spite of these less than ideal conditions, I only very reluctantly dragged my chafed and weary body out of the vehicle to run up a mountain in darkness. And yet nearly seven miles later, I was pretty sure I had never had a happier non-bourbon-related experience in my life.
An experience which, by Mercury, I would communicate to my friend!
The problem was that as I was cresting the wave of my runner’s high, John was wallowing in a trough: sore, sleep-deprived, and with the specter of his next mountainous leg already taking shape in his mind. I knew this well, having but a couple of hours earlier been in a similar trough. And yet being in the throes of jogorrhea, I carried on my early-morning ramblings:
“That was everything I wanted from this whole trip. I was floating out there. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my own breath. You know when you’re in that groove and you actually enjoy everything about running, even the pain? Perfection.”
This was met with unintelligible muttering and some rather pronounced flatulence, which I chose to view as the inevitable by-product of a Clif Bar–rich diet rather than as a pointed riposte to my monologue.
I experienced the same swing from sullen to manic with my previous leg. That run began with me loitering beneath a Portland underpass at midnight—an exchange zone chosen by a particularly mischievous race director—as I waited for a teammate to materialize out of the darkness. I soon set out past a group of teenagers hanging out alongside the riverfront path. They reflexively hid their beer cans and joints from the intrusive glare of my headlamp, warily eyeing me and my stylish blinking vest. I gave them one last, longing look: Oh, to be eighteen again and blissfully ignorant of all-night road races.
Half an hour later and my jogorrhea was raging. I volubly held forth on the surprising serenity of the Portland esplanade; that incomparable sense of briskness one feels when running at night; and the eerie quality of overtaking a solitary racer along a deserted stretch of idle factories. John met each flowery description with a grunt.
I thought back to when he had finished his last leg—a gravelly slog through the darkness in which the numerous vans had kicked up so much dust that he had veered a half mile off course before realizing his mistake. When John made it back, he blathered on about the surreal atmosphere, the steady rhythm he had established on the climb, and the clueless runner who had led him astray. Blah, blah, blah.
I had nodded politely but wished that he would leave me alone and let me wallow in my bitterness. Of course he didn’t. We were doomed to repeat the obvious pattern: when one of us was most talkative, the other was most ragged. Worse, our periodic bouts of jogorrhea, the desire to relate and thus relive our bliss, made each of us blithely ignore the other’s obvious and profound lack of interest. Any little workout can produce an uplifting runner’s high, but an event like Hood to Coast, by forcing the body so low, demonstrates the incredible potential of that boost to annoy everyone in the immediate vicinity.
For my last leg, I resolved to break this pattern and keep quiet after finishing. However, after hopping back in the van, it was tough. Jogorrhea is a compulsion, after all, not a choice, and I had it bad.
How I yearned to gush over that final leg! The increasing intensity of the sun and my perseverance under its punishing rays, the mental tricks I played to keep my depleted body churning for just a few more miles, my brazen attack of that last hill. But I kept (relatively) silent. I could relate all that at the Seaside beach party.
Once there, beer in hand, I turned to John, ready to unload.
He was asleep in the sand, a beatific smile on his face.
I approached another unsuspecting teammate instead.
Matt Seidel is a staff writer for The Millions living in Durham, North Carolina. More of his work can be seen at matthewseidel.com.