Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cannabinoid Moment

I had such a strange experience during the final race on the final day at the Buzzards Bay Regatta back in August that I've been putting off writing about it because I couldn't find quite the right words to describe what happened.

It was (for an old unfit Laser sailing geezer like me) a long three days. I had sailed and finished all nine races so far, in spite of breaking my rudder on the first day. The winds each afternoon had been strong enough to push me to my limits of endurance. Gotta get fitter. Gotta get fitter. Now, before the start of the tenth and final race, I was having my usual debate with myself as to whether to quit early.

I was tired. I was aching. The race committee signaled a T3 course -- triangle followed by windward-leeward-windward -- a longer course than we had been sailing all day.
A few other sailors headed back to the beach. I was tempted to follow them. But my stubbornness overcome my indolence and I started the last race.

As soon as my feet hit the toe strap and I hiked out hard to accelerate off the line, it was if something snapped. No, not the hiking strap. No, not a tendon. I mean "something snapped" in a good way. Suddenly I wasn't aching more. My shoulders stopped hurting. My legs stopped hurting. I was confident I could finish the race, and that I could work the boat aggressively all round the course.

I couldn't believe the change in how I felt. What was different? Was it mental attitude or had I subtly changed my hiking position to a less stressful posture? No idea.

Anyway, I raced hard up the first beat and then capsized at the windward mark. No idea why, but I did a dry capsize recovery with the energy and speed of an 18-year-old. Again, so unlike me. Usually on a capsize I fall in the water and take the opportunity to catch my breath as I sloooooowly right the boat, slooooooowly climb back on board, sloooooooowly check the boat and my body parts to make sure nothing has fallen off, sloooooooowly collect my thoughts, sloooooowly regain my bearings, and start racing again. But this time I was up and racing again in a blink of an eye.

But not before that other guy passed me. Damn him. But I was faster than him on the reach. Again that's amazing. I always consider the reach to be, relative to my usual opposition, my slowest point of sail. I caught up to him. I pumped the sheet on a good wave and surfed past him. Ha. He told me afterwards that he was pissed that I had passed him like that. He would have been even more pissed if he had heard what I called him as I overtook him. And I passed another sailor less than half my age. Kids!

I was in the zone. Up the second long beat I felt powerful and in control. The original That Guy was way in front of me, up with the leading pack, but I was gaining on him.

As we neared the top of the beat I could see that the finish boat and finish line pin were already set up to windward of the windward mark. I could hear some of the other (younger) sailors ahead of me hailing to each other, "Do we finish here?" I guess the long, tough weekend had affected their brains. Or maybe they hadn't had the sense to read the SIs and remember what a T3 course was.

So there was some confusion. Some folk crossed the finish line and stopped sailing. Until they realized their mistake.
More fool them. I knew we had two legs more to go, and there was no Shorten Course signal.

That was the other weird thing about the state I was in. Not only could I feel no pain I was mentally sharp. Not always the case at the end of a long day's sailing.

So I set off down the run
. The waves were challenging, but after three days I had the rhythm. I had That Guy in my sights and was gaining on him. I closed the gap significantly on the run, then chased him all the way up the final beat, and ended up less than a boatlength behind him at the finish. Damn.

But it was my best race of the regatta. Not just because of the score, but also because mentally and physically I felt sharper, more competent, more focused, more in control than I ever had been before while racing.

So what was it? This special zone? Why was I in it? And, more to the point, how could I recapture the experience?

Then a few weeks later I was reading a book about a totally unrelated subject: the sources of our food, of all things. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan has written a fascinating account of how we produce, market ... and agonize over ... what we eat. It touches on so many aspects of where our food comes from and how it reaches our plate: politics, economics, business, ethics, biology, chemistry, history, farming, cooking... and Pollan does it without becoming an extremist or apologist for any particular point of view.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is structured around the preparation of four meals, from four very different food chains: industrial farming, organic and sustainable agriculture, and hunting. It was the section about hunting that gave me one of those "ahah" moments... and an insight into what I had experienced on Buzzards Bay.

Pollan was not a hunter before he researched this book. But as he sat silently in the woods, gun at the ready, waiting for a wild pig to come within his field of view he found himself entering an altered mental state... "sharper senses, narrowed mental focus, forgetting everything extraneous to the task at hand including physical discomfort and the passage of time" ... And I thought, "That's it. That's exactly the feeling I had during Race 10 of BBR!"

Pollan says, and here he has the advantage over me, that this state "in many ways resembles the one induced by smoking marijuana." And he goes on to discuss some recent research in neurosciences into the "cannabinoid network", a set of receptors in the nervous system that are activated by a group of compounds called cannabinoids, which include THC the active ingredient in marijuana.


So was I having a "cannabinoid moment"? And, if so, can anyone suggest an easy way I can recapture this experience next time I go racing?


Anonymous said...

I am not sure if it is legal in R.I., but maybe you could get a "prescription" for a medical inhaler LOL

Anonymous said...

I understand that medical marijuana is legal in Rhode Island but only if you have certain specified medical conditions. I don't think "chronic addiction to Laser sailing" is on the list.

EVK4 said...

Carry a gun with you. Picture "that guy" as an uncrustable that you absolutely are hungry for....if that doesn't enter you into the cannabinoid state I don't know what will.

Litoralis said...

A sailor's high?

Anonymous said...

Good name Lito. And it could well be related to the well-know runner's high.

There's an interesting article on the Runner's World site Runner's High that debunks the long-standing theory that runner's high is caused by endorphins, and describes some research that a fatty acid called anandamide may be be responsible. And guess what, according to that article anandamide gives you a buzz by affecting the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

But here's the bad news. The author reckons he has experienced runner's high on only .00185% of his running miles and, like me, would love to have a formula of how to make it happen in a controlled fashion. Seems like it's something to do with just the right amount of stress, not too much or too little. Maybe I just got lucky at BBR?

Anonymous said...

The key here may be the dry recovery.

That means you kept your doobie lit through the capsize and into the critical final beat. Very impressive!

The extra sailing you're doing this year must be improving your technique.

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