Have you had a runner’s high? What goes on in your body during a runner’s high that makes you feel so GOOD? Let’s explore this phenomenon. You might find yourself wondering if you really have experienced one after all.
There’s no denying that after that initial battle of will to get ourselves out of the door, running makes us feel good. While some runs are mediocre, it’s rare to truly regret a run. A run can calm us, lift our mood and make us a nicer person… for a few hours anyway. It really is a wonderful tool to maintain and improve our mental health. Some people call that mood boosting effect of running a ‘runner’s high’. You’re singing in your post-run shower and feeling as if you could take on the world. But as a runner, you may also experience something more powerful, weird even, and when you have, you’ll find another name for your good mood after running. The term ‘runner’s high’ will mean something different to you and you may spend the rest of your running life chasing it.
Are you one of those lucky runners who knows what I’m talking about?
My runner’s high experience
I’ve had two experiences of what I would call a true runner’s high. The first was in the final mile of a half marathon in Liverpool and the second around mile 22 of my second London Marathon. On both these occasions I can only describe the sensation as euphoric and an almost out of body experience. I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy and power. Any pain I was experiencing disappeared completely and I was literally gliding along the road. I felt invincible and super human. I found myself shouting out to encourage other runners, I can’t remember exactly what I said, I hope it was helpful to them! It really was bizarre and rather wonderful. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to replicate it again despite running many more marathons.
What happens in the body during a runner’s high?
So, what is going on in the body when a runner’s high happens? The answer is, we don’t really know. It’s a very difficult thing to research and measure because every runner has a very personal experience.
It’s well known that when you run, your brain releases endorphins which are your body’s natural feel good chemicals. Endorphins bind to the same receptors in the brain as opiates. Opiates include drugs such as morphine which reduce pain and make you feel happy and relaxed. It’s also thought that endocannabinoids might play a role here too. These are cannabis like chemicals which the body produces. Cannabis plant use is well known for its calming, relaxing, mood lifting and pain relieving properties. These mirror the feelings of a runner’s high. Blood tests taken from runners after endurance events show high levels of endocannabinoids suggesting they are released during exercise.
What is it about running?
It’s interesting that these same euphoric feelings don’t seem to happen in other sports. What is it about endurance running that can invoke this state? Is it linked to the rhythm and meditative thud of our feet hitting the ground? Could it be an inborn survival instinct that allowed us to perform at a higher level when we had chased our prey for miles and finally had the opportunity to catch it? I don’t know but it makes me curious.
I might not need to hunt prey but I will continue to run Iong distances and be hopeful that I will experience what I now call my true runner’s high just one more time.
I’d love to know your experiences of a runner’s high. Have you had one of these euphoric episode? How often do you get them and can you replicate them? Leave me a comment here or on my social media.
If you’ve enjoyed this post you’ll love my book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners, published by Bloomsbury and available everywhere you buy books.
Photo by Jill Wellington, Pexels