Kait Heacock on how weed helped her reach a marathon goal
I ran my first half marathon stoned. When I picked up my packet minutes before the bus to the race site was to take off, the nice church ladies at the registration table didn’t know I was late because I was in the parking lot spraying a cannabis tincture under my tongue. When my seatmate asked if I was nervous about my first race, I felt the opposite – chill, a tingling sensation rising up my spine.
The stubborn part of me decided to train for the half marathon using weed to prove a point: I am not a lazy stoner. I can have a career and be active and enjoy using cannabis. Besides, living in a city like Seattle, where pot shop billboards line the streets and our mayor calls bullshit on Jeff Sessions and his threats to our legal marijuana, I’m tired of feeling like this is a part of myself I have to keep hidden.
The truth is, I love combining weed and running, elevating the runner’s high to a magical level. I also love how it forces me to settle into and feel my body: the length of my legs, my pumping arms, and the calluses on my feet. That’s not always an easy task to transition into after so many hours sitting at a desk and forgetting this brain of mine producing press releases, novels, and tweets isn’t floating in an intellectual ether. It is connected to this body of mine.
The non-stubborn part of me decided to do it because the act of training intimidated me, and I wanted something that eased my fear. When I discovered weed helped me physically and mentally long-distance running, it dramatically changed the activity for me. It was no longer a mere form of exercise, but a way to tap into a new part of myself, full of strength and perseverance.
I’ve been a cannabis user since the age of 23, for many years socially, and more recently, I’ve come to accept, medicinally. Coming from a family full of high blood pressure, panic attacks, and alcoholism, I’m thankful that I’ve never needed prescription drugs, and my drinking happens out with friends or at parties. But I do know that I have moments of high stress just like any other adult, and that two things tend to sooth me: running and weed.
Training for the half marathon meant giving myself enough time to get lost in the running. Running more miles was boring and made me sore in unexpected places — for some reason my left butt cheek was always the first body part to yelp in pain — but weed changed my perception of that. It was easy to forget the miles when staring at the scenery or absorbed in my thoughts, and only occasionally being thrust back to my real world environment to cross the street. On a practical level, weed eased the pain and made stretching at the end waaaay better.
It was counterintuitive to smoke and then run, so as I trained I tinkered with different ways to ingest cannabis: pills, sprays, and even teas. The problem with many edibles is that they are inherently unhealthy. Eating a brownie before a run felt just as bad as inhaling a lungful of smoke. Unfortunately, I had yet to encounter much in the intersection between cannabis and exercise, so weed protein bars were few and far between. I came to really enjoy taking a capsule about an hour before I ran. It took care of my body by offering it a cushion to brace myself against cold weather, hard pavement, and catcalls when I ran through the city.
When I ran past groups of twenty-something men in their cars parked by Lake Washington with smoke billowing through their windows, there was a silence in response to the way I dressed: matching running clothes from the Nordstrom 'Suburban Mom' collection and overly-expensive Brooks running shoes. I looked like a narc. I wanted to tell them they had nothing to worry about. I wanted to say, “How do you think I can run this many miles?”
When people heard Bob Dylan and Cream streaming from my earbuds did they know right away that I was a stoner runner?
The starting line of the half marathon was at the halfway point of the full marathon. As I stretched and shivered in the early morning cold, I watched muscular older men and svelte 16-year-olds who looked like they just left soccer practice run past. The half marathon was made up of a wide range of running levels: those who had run in dozens of races, those who were planning to walk and jog, and one elderly man who was power-walking the whole thing.
The race took place in the Yakima Canyon in Central Washington. The landscape’s beauty was distracting, particularly when the cannabis washed over me and I began really paying attention to the scenery: the winding river, the sun breaking through the clouds, and the old man walking his golden retriever who wished me, “Good Luck!”
I often slipped into pockets with other runners and watched them. Along the way, I met an older woman who made a deal with her friend to run a half marathon every month for a year. She became my running spirit guide, the Sam Elliot to my Lebowski. We kept re-pacing each other, continuing conversations started a mile back as if no time at all had passed. There were runners who wore shirts from their last race and yelled, “Yeah big guy, you got this. Slow and steady!” These runner bros harshed my mellow but inadvertently forced me to work harder so I could run away from them and reach a peaceful stretch of open road.
By mile three, all I could think was, “This is dumb. Why do people pay to run in the cold? Why is this my hobby?” But by mile nine, I felt empowered and understood why people run. I felt uniquely American – singular, racing against others for the sake of it. When it ended, I held the medal in my hand – “Yakima River Canyon Half Marathon" – and smiled. I would drop it into the garbage that afternoon, but for the time being I didn’t care about kitschy memorabilia. I was busy stuffing myself with bananas and pretzels. Running and weed give you double whammy munchies.
After the race, I came out of the “green closet” to my mom. As I stood in her kitchen and reheated carb-filled leftovers, I explained to her how positive an experience it was for me to use cannabis and run a race. Her open, accepting face led me still further: I talked about how cannabis is a part of my wellness routine; I recommended CBD to her; we watched a clip from Broad City.
Later, we went out for pedicures to celebrate finishing my half marathon. Usually this mother-daughter indulgence in my hometown was made complete with a visit afterward to Starbucks for sugary drinks. As I settled into the driver’s seat outside the nail salon, I suggested an alternative: we could visit one of the local pot shops. My mom smiled agreeably. My choice.
Kait Heacock builds community around the arts, women, and now cannabis. She is a book publicist for independent feminist publishing house Dottir Press, the Seattle event organizer for the cannabis wellness organization Ellementa, and the Pacific Northwest editor for Joyland Magazine. Her debut short story collection, Siblings and Other Disappointments, is available now.