How to Chase the Elusive Runners High
Crank up the dial to achieve the X-factor in your run
“The only time I get runners high is when I stop running”. I love this funny yet powerful quote by Jerry Meyers, from the 2007 film/documentary Spirit of the Marathon.
Jerry’s quote evokes the realization that on one hand, running for some people is torture. The only joy or high they receive is when they stop running. If it’s torture, then why do we continue to do it?
Those that regularly pound the pavement know what I’m referring to. It’s the anticipation of the next run. Whether it’s around the block, down the local track with your friends. Or even along the scenic, winding dirt and rocky trails.
The sweat is pouring from you. But you don’t care. You are racing along. Are your feet even touching the ground? You are flying.
The best things in life never come easy. The exhilaration of achieving greater performance. Smashing that PR. Getting out of your comfort zone. Going that extra mile, climbing that steeper hill. You’re rewarded for all your hard work. This is the runner’s high.
For the love of running
Running can suck! For some, it’s hard and uncomfortable. It can also be boring.
There can be nothing worse than leaving the comfort of a warm bed when it’s dark. Slipping on your running gear and heading out into a pre-dawn wet and chilly morning.
None of that matters when the sun rises and you have the beauty of a new day greeting you. Giving you a more invigorating morning boost than any caffeine fix ever can.
Run to the beat of your favorite tunes. Seek beautiful routes that will inspire and motivate you.
I haven’t always loved running, It’s just grown on me. Couch to 5K, 10k My first half marathon, and then finally my first 26.2-mile marathon. Achieving the runner’s high was something I thought was elusive. Every run seemed to finish with pain and fatigue.
An injury might slow you down or take me out of the game for a while. But you keep coming back.
Then it hits you. It can come out of nowhere. You are in the zone. You are in your element. The planets are aligned with your training, preparation, and fueling. It’s one of the most amazing experiences you could imagine. All the work that you’ve put in is finally paying off. This is YOUR runner’s high.
The science behind the high
Research shows the runner’s high is the release of endorphins after strenuous exercise. These ‘feel-good’ chemicals make us feel euphoric and happy. This is the body’s way of responding to extended periods of strenuous exercise.
Then we have the Bliss molecule ‘anandamide’. This is the molecule that works the same way as THC and CDC. We can find the same compounds in Cannabis.
Mix endorphins and anandamide and the result is the release of a calming, almost euphoric sense of well-being.
We then have dopamine. The brain’s #1 feel-good chemical. Released as a response to the increase of endorphins, they create the feel-good factor that you get from drugs. From a scientific point of view, this is a runner’s high.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a runner to experience a runner’s high. There are many exercises that could produce a ‘runner’s high’ experience.
Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., chief science officer, American Council on Exercise suggests that Whether it’s swimming, cycling, or rowing, the key to the high is repetition.
“What these sports have in common is that they are things you can perform in a repetitive rhythmic fashion, and that seems to produce the same effect,” says Bryant.
Why the runners high is good for you
The runner’s high will mean different things to different people. There are still studies that question whether the runner high even exists. Putting it down to just a chemical reaction in your body as a natural response to the prolonged stress of running.
Some people believe the runner’s high is the x-factor of running. Not always achievable. But when the conditions are right, you can experience such benefits as a feeling of euphoria, lower anxiety and pain, and heightened energy and motivation.
Regardless of whether you achieve the runner’s high. The benefits of running are undeniable, not which can include:
- Improved cardiovascular and immunity health
- Reduced anxiety
- Increased memory and focus
- Improved mobility and flexibility
- Helps strengthen muscles
- Helps with weight loss and weight maintenance
How to achieve the runners high
To increase your chances of reaching a runner’s high, think about what triggers it. We have already talked about the chemical reactions that occur during a runner’s high. That should give you your first clue.
The key is to get your body into a state where it’s being stressed.
- Start slowly. Warm your body up with a pre-run warm-up routine. That’s your first key to performing at your best and helping to protect yourself from injury.
- Run somewhere that inspires and challenges you. Whether it’s sea or lake-front. A beautiful mountain trail, or around your local park. Wherever you run, make sure you are having fun.
- Start slow. Get rid of the cobwebs. If you haven’t run in a while then this is a key step. You want to be running at an easy pace, to begin with. Getting all excited and bolting out the gate will only lead to an increased risk of injury and peaking too early. You’ll end up exhausted and feeling flat.
- Increase your pace. Aim for 70% — 80% of your max effort. You want to be running at a level that you breathe and sweat heavily. Not being able to hold a conversation. The more experience you have, the more precisely you’ll be able to recognize this key perception of effort.
- Be consistent. Try to maintain your effort for as long as you can.
Then there is the X-Factor. That state of euphoria that can come over you. This one is hard to explain as it is different for different people. You will know it when you are experiencing it.
That’s it really. It’s not just about stressing your body and being able to manage it in a controlled way. It’s also about enjoying yourself. Running in a beautiful location. Even having your friends around you as you run. This is the runner’s high.
How the runners high changed me
What the runner’s high has done for me is cement the reasons I started running, to begin with.
Initially, I started running to lose weight and keep fit. Soon after, I discovered it was my fitness regime of choice. It gave me the chance to zone out and find my space. To have time for myself. Achieving the runner’s high was the icing on the cake, pushing my enjoyment and expectations to a new level.
The runner’s high is the challenge that pushes me out the door in the evening. I don’t always expect to achieve the runner’s high, but it pushes me forward and makes me want to improve.
I’ve attended many running races. Before the start gun goes off. I’ve always thought about the journey we have all been on to get us to the start line.
Most of us have formed a deep connection between the pounding of the pavement and the exhilaration of just being outdoors and connecting with nature. Forging an unbreakable bond to the people that you run with, and a strong connection with your running community.
Achieving a runner’s high has always been part of that journey. Not a planned part. More a bonus, and a sign that you are doing the right things with your training and are enjoying yourself. That is how it should be. This is my runner’s high.