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420 Games: What We Talk About When We Talk About Runner’s Highs

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I like to run, but I wouldn’t consider myself a “runner.” Runners are people who train for marathons or a “quick 5K, no big deal.” Runners never miss a run, whether there’s a blizzard, their ankle is broken, they have the flu, or the newest episode of Survivor is on, they heroically fight through the pain and just go, man. Runners are disciplined, pushing their bodies to the very peak of physical performance and living to tell Facebook about it. Alexander Aciman is a runner. I’m just a guy who spends 80% of his time sitting and wearing glasses. I like to run because I’ve convinced myself that I’m being healthy and it’s a good excuse to listen to a podcast all the way through. Not because I get some sick pleasure out of it.


Which is why I was so intrigued when I heard about the first annual 420 Games in Santa Monica on Saturday, March 27th. The organizers put together a 4.2-mile fun run, encouraging attendees to jog/walk/skate/ride from the Santa Monica Pier, to Venice Beach, and back. The 420 Games present themselves as “cannabis users [who]are NOT lazy, unmotivated or ‘stoners’” trying to “de-stigmatize the millions who use cannabis in a healthy and responsible lifestyle.” I personally identified with the mission statement as a casual cannabis user who doesn’t spend all his free time face down in a bong (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but occasionally gets high with his friends and talks about “Game of Thrones” too much. I’m a full grown man with a job (this article isn’t writing itself), bath towels, and a strict laundry schedule. Just because I sometimes smoke weed I’m lazy?  The “stoner” stigma is annoying. Who knows if a gathering of physically active marijuana enthusiasts does anything to remedy that, but I signed up in support of the cause.


Conventional runners’ wisdom dictates you should keep your running schedule light the week leading up to the run and get plenty of sleep the night before. Instead, I ran 7.1 miles on a treadmill then went out for pitcher after pitcher of beer with my roommate the night before the race. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I subconsciously hate myself and want to punish my body? Probably. When I woke up hungover, sleep deprived, and sore the next morning I realized I wasn’t a lazy stoner, but I was a stupid idiot.


The race was set to start at 9:30AM. I went with my friend Rhetta because she’s the only “stoner” I know willing to wake up early to run 4.2 miles on a Saturday under their own free will, and also, she’s my very good friend. We left for Santa Monica fifteen minutes after we should have, got lost, got a violent case of road rage, got lost again, and arrived late because we’re horrible stereotypes. Reminder emails from 420 Games organizers leading up to the event encouraged participants to have fun, but also to emphasize that we weren’t there to smoke a bunch of weed. We were dutifully sober. When we got to the “420 Village” we were extremely pleased to see the eclectic bunch of cannabis enthusiasts who came out in large numbers (over 1,700 attendees). The collection of participants was equal parts athletic gear wearing runners, easy going joggers (me), hardcore stoners, hippie burnouts, beauty budtenders, nerds (also me), and casual cannabis users (Hi! Me again). While I didn’t feel exactly at home, I felt extremely welcomed by the many friendly, potentially high, faces eager to run in Mary Jane’s honor.


By the time Rhetta and I checked in and found ourselves at the starting line Chris Barnicle, the winner of the race, was already done and posing with his $ 500 First Place check. Side note: The fastest person at the 420 Games was named Chris Barnicle. C’mon, that’s amazing.


The Play by Play


10:10 a.m.: The running group Rhetta and I are in starts running. My 7.1 miles worn out legs hurt so bad I consider immediately giving up and dramatically begging Rhetta to kill me.


10:13 a.m.: Luckily Rhetta’s shoe is untied and we have to stop for her to tie it. I catch my breath and reconsider asking Rhetta to murder me in cold blood.


10:17 a.m.: Like a true millennial/shameless idiot I Snapchat myself running. I even type with both hands and eyes glued to my phone without breaking stride. I win (at failing).


10:20 a.m.: Rhetta says “I’m going to walk this curvy part” at the curvy part. “You can keep running,” she says. I lose Rhetta, my one ally. It’s tragic and heartbreaking.


10:21 a.m.: I’m now by myself. I have allegiances to no one. Anything can happen (but doesn’t).


10:24 a.m. I get confused whether to run on the boardwalk by the surf shops and people walking, or the bike trail that juts off a bit towards the ocean. I see runners with 420 bibs in both. I briefly become self-conscious.


10:26 a.m.: I hit what some may call the “second-mile stride,” meaning somewhere into the second mile I don’t feel my legs screaming in pain and my lungs don’t feel like they’re about to explode. I think I am experiencing a runner’s high. I pick up my pace. Rhetta is dead to me.


10:27 a.m.: Maybe I’m high.


10:30 a.m.: I start to wonder where the halfway point is since there aren’t any markers. I see a station with free water bottles (courtesy of O.pen Vape!) and a cluster of sweaty individuals wearing 420 bibs. I ask “Is this the halfway point?” out loud to no one in particular. No one answers me. I’ve never felt more alone. I assume this is the halfway point (2.1 miles away from the start) and turn to head back.


10:31 a.m.: I find Rhetta! I stop running to wait for her to reach the halfway point, grab a water bottle (courtesy of O.pen Vape!), and catch up. She takes her sweet time and messes up my mile average.


10:33 a.m.: Rhetta decides to play music from her iPhone 5. I suggest Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” because I want to yell “Start up that Maserati and VROOM VROOM, I’m racing!” But she puts on Rihanna’s “Work.” We pass a surf shop also playing “Work.” We are behind a woman running with a speaker, also playing “Work.” All three Rihanna’s are at different parts of “Work.” It sounds like this: Work, work, learn, no one, dirt, learn, learn, work, text me, learn, dirt, me in a, dirt, crisis, work, work, ner, ner, ner, done at, work, work, come over, ner, hurt, hurt, work, learn, dirt, if you had a, work,  twin, I would still, ner, choose you. (Translation: Never stop running, Nic. Love, Rihanna.)


10:38 a.m.: Rhetta says “I’m going to walk this curvy part, again” at the curvy part, again. I lose Rhetta, again (tragic, heartbreaking).


10:40 a.m.: I hit what some may call the “third-mile stride,” meaning somewhere into the third mile I start up that Maserati and VROOM VROOM, I’m racing!


10:42 a.m.: Will someone tell me if I should be on the bike trail or boardwalk, please?!?!?


10:43 a.m.: I decide to run on the bike trail.


10:44 a.m.: I decide to leave the bike trail and cross to the main boardwalk. I run on sand for a full ten seconds and it’s possibly the most agonizing ten seconds of my entire life.


10:45 a.m.: My body is really pumping endorphins and endocannabinoids, killing any pain I was feeling during the early part of the run and sending me into a slight euphoric haze. I am one with the run. I am the run. (Translation: I’m high.)


10:46 a.m.: I’m at my fastest pace I’ve been the entire run. Hell, I’m at the fastest pace I’ve been my entire life. I’m the fastest man alive! (Translation: Still high.)


10:47 a.m.: I cross the finish line! Stigmas against marijuana users, both medical and recreational, are now nonexistent! A plant that is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol is now legal, as it always should have been! Blaze it, bro!


Well, no, not exactly, but that wasn’t the point. The crowd cheered for every person, whether they were sprinting or walking, that crossed the finish line, creating a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and community. Everyone who ran, walked, biked, or skated those 4.2 miles was there to support the cannabis cause. While there is still so much work to be done regarding legalizing marijuana and drug policy in general, being one among 1,700 passionate “stoners” was surprisingly inspiring. I came away with a newfound perspective and respect for cannabis users that beautiful Saturday morning in Santa Monica. Also, a major runner’s high. That was the point.

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