Deja Vu

Deja Vu

Deja Vu

Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher, is credited with saying, of the West Coast, “It gets late pretty early out there” and, of a once-favorite restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” He also quipped, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

How do Yogi Berra and déjà vu relate to running? Well, I’ve experienced “déjà vu all over again” in my running life. And I’m betting a lot of runners have been there, too, like Yogi and me.

Déjà vu, if I remember from my college French classes with Professor Turgeon, translates to “already seen.” Psychologically, it’s a phenomenon in which one feels that he or she has been in a particular place or had a specific experience before.

For runners, the phenomenon is not just wishing we were out on a run. And neither is it simply reminiscing, remembering good or bad running experiences.

I remember, fondly, my experiences at the Boston Marathon. And, not quite so fondly, I have frequent recollections of “hitting the wall” so very hard (ouch!) at the Scotty Hanton Marathon in Port Huron. But these are not déjà vu. It’s much more mysterious or mystical, almost otherworldly. Eerie, I think, is a good description.

Here’s an example. A few years ago, I was firing up the grill to cook some burgers. Soon, it began to rain, pretty hard. I hustled back to the shelter of the house, standing guard over the grill, just watching what was going on in the backyard. For no reason, at least none that I can fathom, I found myself transported (“Beam me up, Scottie?”), running in, of all places, Ellicottville, New York.

Ellicottville is a quaint, picturesque village in southwest New York State. It’s nearly two hundred years old. Karen and I were there, just once, for a cousin’s wedding. While there, I went out for a couple of runs. One took me on a bluff that overlooked a good portion of Ellicottville. And now I was “running” there again, about a dozen years later!

“How much longer?” Karen called, snapping me out of my déjà vu moment, reverie, or whatever it was. I had been out there running, for at least a few minutes, but I don’t know for how long. But, I was there, over three hundred miles away.

This wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that I revisited Ellicottville for a run. Physically, though, I’ve only been there once, on that rainy weekend in 1996.

No doubt, some of you are prepared to write me off as certifiably wacko, but wait.

A few years ago, Dr. Gerald Osborn explained this phenomenon to me. He is a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Michigan State University. While there, he was the chairman of the department of psychiatry. And, he’s a runner.

“I think its real common,” he told me then. “I think you’d find lots of runners who experience this.” Memories, he explained, can be from a variety of experiences, “a really fun training run with a group of friends” or “a good race or best time.”

Dr. Osborn himself has experienced the phenomenon. He recalled “a single training run, even specific conversations [with] old buddies” as well as “my funnest marathon, the London Marathon.”

He differentiated between several similar senses. There are “wishful thinking” and “reminiscing.” Neither is a real deja vu. Nor is being what we call “being in the zone.”

My repeat experiences with running in Ellicottville, Dr. Osborn then told me, “was not quite a déjà vu.” It was what he called “a fugue state, an altered state.” “Altered state?” Wait a minute!

Before I could get too worked up, Dr. Osborn noted that differentiating between fugues and déjà vu experiences “is hair-splitting, a technical issue. It’s best described as a fugue state. But you can use the term déjà vu.”

Like my favorite dreams, I can’t call up these experiences at will, although that would be nice. Dr. Osborn said, “It’s hard to know what causes it. Maybe it’s a release of endorphins [or] the circumstances that are happening at that moment.” He suggested that my Ellicottville fugue might have been “triggered by looking at the foliage in your backyard in the rain,” since my Ellicottville run was also in the rain with lush, green foliage. I suppose, but I’ve also “run” there in the dead of winter and on a brilliant summer afternoon and, there, I’m still running in the rain.

I’ve had other fugue moments, too. Some are scenic runs, but not necessarily the ones that have stricken the most awe. They aren’t the courses I run most often. In fact, of all my favorite training routes, the ones I enjoy the most, only one has appeared as a fugue.

One déjà vu moment is a stretch of the Free Press Marathon along Windsor’s Riverside Dr. I’m not actually in any one specific marathon, just there. I can see the Detroit skyline while I’m running this one.

The Empire State must rub me the right way because, for no reason I can discern, I have found myself running on a mostly deserted section of the Old Lake Shore Road between Angola and Farnum, NY. Reality or fugue, there is little if any traffic, the sun is shining brightly, and the sky, reflecting the adjacent Lake Erie, is the bluest of blues.

As I noted, I can’t call these up at will. I don’t know when they’ll appear. They surprise me. They just happen. And I’m glad they do.

Do you have fugue moments? Thanks to Dr. Osborn, it’s all right to admit that you do.