Ron Marinucci March, 2023 Column: Running Déjà vu

Ron Marinucci March, 2023 Column: Running Déjà vu

I’ve written about deja vu before, but it keeps popping up to me. It’s almost like it’s, well, déjà vu.

Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher, was known for his humorous (but not intentionally so) way of speaking. Of first playing games on the West Coast, he said, “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 and déjà vu relate to running? Perhaps only tangentially. But I’ve experienced “déjà vu all over again” in my running life. I’d guess other runners have been there, too, like Yogi and me.

“Déjà vu.” I remember from Professor Turgeon’s French classes in college that the term translates to “already seen.” Related to psychology, it’s a phenomenon where one senses he or she has been in a particular place or had a specific experience before. The phenomenon is not just wishing we are out on a run. Nor is it simply reminiscing, remembering some good or bad running experience.

These are not déjà vu. It is much more mysterious or mystical even, almost unworldly. Eerie, I think is a good descriptor.

Here’s an example that often hits me and that I’ve used before. Some years ago I was firing up the barbecue grill to cook some hamburgers for guests. Soon it began to rain, pretty hard. Bad planning! I hustled back into the shelter of the garage, standing guard over the grill from a bit farther. I was merely watching what was going on in the backyard. For no reason, at least none that I can conjure, I found myself transported (“Beam me up, Scottie!”), running in, of all places, Ellicottville, New York in a hard rain.

Ellicottville is a quaint, picturesque village in the southwest part of the state, well into its third century. Karen and I were there, just that once, for a family wedding. Of course, while there I went out for couple of runs. One was in the village and the other was a little more out in the countryside. This one took me on a bluff overlooking a good portion of the village itself. And now, 25 years later, I was running there again!

“How much longer?” Karen called out, snapping me out of my reverie, er, déjà vu moment and preventing burning the burgs. But I had been out there running for at least a few minutes, more than 300 miles away.

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

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

A few years after Ellicottville, Dr. Gerald Osborn explained this phenomenon to me. At the time, he was a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Michigan State University. While there, he was the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry. Better yet, he was a runner.

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

Dr. Osborn himself has experienced the phenomenon. He recalled deja vus with “a single training run, even specific conversations [with] old running buddies” as well as “my funnest marathon, the London Marathon.” He wasn’t just remembering, but was there.First, he differentiated between several similar senses. There are “wishful thinking” and “reminiscing.” Neither is a real déjà vu moment. Nor is what we call “being in the zone.”

I told him of my repeat experiences with running in Ellicottvile. He explained, “That was not quite a déjà vu.” Instead, 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 déjà vu experiences and fugue states “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 or any dreams, I can’t call up these experiences at will, although some 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 a specific moment.” He suggested that my Ellicottville fugue may 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. But there I’m still running in the rain.

I’ve had other fugue moments, too. Some are scenic runs, but not necessarily the ones which have struck the most awe. They aren’t necessarily on my favorite courses or from my most memorable races.

The Empire State must rub me the right way. For no reason I can discern, I have found myself running on a mostly deserted stretch of Old Lake Shore Road between Angola and Farnum. 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, although I wish I could. I don’t know when they will appear. They surprise me. They just happen. But I’m glad they do.

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