Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Runner's Hallucination

As a runner new to the sport five years ago I soon became aware of certain things I had to undergo to feel like a "real" runner:
  1. Jogger's Nipple
  2. Chaffing
  3. "An injury"
  4. Black toenails
Each of these subjects  is discussed in depth on running websites with enormous feeling and depth which invariably ends up with "Get a plaster and/or some nappy cream" however there is a fifth one not often discussed for fear that people may think you are just  little bit more mad than they first thought.

The Hypnagogic Hallucination (or My Hallucination)
This is discussed between a very few people, normally the night runner or the long distance runner travelling into the night. This is the most sought after of long distance runners "ailments" and the most difficult to find for they are so fleeting.

I have recited tales from last week's run to non-runners at work where I had a set of the most vivid and ever-present  hallucinations which have been met with emotions of utter disbelief to people looking a little perturbed for they think me slightly mad

When do they arrive?
I have found they arrive at about 1.00am just when night stages are really settled in and occur when the mind wonders off...but amazingly the body continues to plod on, to take in visual and auditory clues, I have found they are more likely to appear when you are alone and not stimulated by company, this hallucination is called the Hypnagogic hallucination. I stress that you should not be worried by these terms for they are exacerbated by the physically exhausted state of the athlete, their energy levels, current morale and the conditions around them.

The hypnagogic type appears at the point of wakefulness into sleep and my belief is when glucose levels are also lower which bears witness as long distance events often have checkpoints full of carbohydrates and sweet things just before this and insulin reactions start to work and you get "the dip" around the time the visions start.

They are personal
What did you dream about last night? I hear of stories of runners chased by chimpanzees, Optimus Prime (a tree) was a running partner, witches, animals, conversations with Christ and faceless walkers. I heard a wonderful story of a cyclist who thought he was being chased by Native American Indians and so his race team played along with it and he sped up.

I enjoyed my friend Michael's tale of the faceless man he once saw on a run and I joked that a man with faith may shout "Go fetch Father Patrick and ask him to bring Holy Water and the Bible" for indeed a such a vision could be perceived as a vision, they are so life like.

Dangerous or not?
I recited in my recent Thames Path 100 run that I "saw" a boa constrictor, jumping frogs and a chameleon, pretty harmless but there is also the auditory hallucination where I thought I had a bird following me which was in fact the whisping of my rain jacket. However, think of my recent GUCR when the canal became a road and I thought it best run on it as it was lovely and smooth!!! That is dangerous  

I have no answer as to how to prevent them, or indeed reduce them but my theory is to keep well hydrated, keep the energy levels up, try and keep focussed either by having company and finally be aware that they do happen.


  1. Interesting post. I like the last sentence and I could add: not to have a heavy dinner.

  2. Love this and can confirm that they exists and can be dangerous. I ran into a thorn bush once as I was "running through the church doors" at about 2:30AM of a 100 miler that started at 6PM. I've ran with many 100 mile and 6 day runners while they/we were seeing weird things. :)

  3. Replies
    1. Haa haa I don't think that saying will ever be forgotten

  4. Interesting, I’ve been having these. Cheers, David