There are many long-term advantages of running but one that makes us feel great while on a run is the runner’s high. A phenomenon that is subject to research for quite a while. It is still not entirely clear what causes and facilitates this euphoric state of mind that long distance runners love so much and strive for after they first experienced it. However there are some findings and best practices around the topic. I picked five facts about the runner’s high that I’ll describe in this piece of content.
In simple words endorphins is a morphine like substance that is produced and released to your blood by your central nervous system. The main function of endorphins is to inhibit pain signals of being transmitted. For that purpose they’re normally produced as a response to pain. Studies showed that also endurance runners have a higher concentration of endorphins on certain workouts. As with artificial opioids also endorphins can not only reduce pain but also evoke a feeling or euphoria. Therefore scientists believed for years that endorphins are the main reason for the runner’s high. It’s pretty sure that endorphins play their part in this effect but are not the main contributor as you’ll learn in the next fact.
After some longer runs I sometimes take of my shoes and socks and find a whole lot of blood around my toes because I once again didn’t care about my toenails. So it then can happen that one toenail causes a bloody wound on another toe. During the run I don’t feel any pain I only see the injury at the end of the run. The fact that I don’t feel the pain is due to the release of even more endorphins when running.
The euphoria when running long distances was assumed to be evoked entirely by the endorphins that were measured in the blood of athletes after a long run. But running exercise doesn’t only release endorphins but also certain kinds of cannabinoids. A German scientist team was able to prove that cannabinoids released by your body (endocannabinoids) are essential for the runner’s high. As you might suggest from the word endocannabinoids, it is a substance that is related to the substances that make you high when smoking pot. In a study the scientists blocked the cannabinoid receptors as well as the endorphin receptors in the brains of mice with special medication. They were able to see that blocking the endorphin receptors didn’t influence the effects related to the runner’s high but blocking the cannabinoid receptors made these effects disappear. To put it simply, long distance running is similar to smoking weed but a much healthier approach to get high 🙂
You find more information on the topic and the full publication text of the study here.
It is not easy to achieve the runner’s high especially as a beginner. And even after chasing it for years some runners never had the great feelings of euphoria on a run. Generally the runner’s high doesn’t come with the first miles on a run but after around 45 to 60 minutes. Also the preferred intensity to get the runner’s high is suggested to be about 80% of your maximum heart rate. That said it is clear that most runners need a certain training level to even be able to achieve a runner’s high. Don’t let that discourage you if you’re just starting out with running and want the runner’s high. There are much more benefits of running than getting “high” and once you felt it you’ll know that it was worth the hard work.
Morphine like substance and cannabinoids are released when running long distances and are responsible that you can feel awesome when exercising. So are all runners just drug addicted junkies? Maybe we are and it was essential hundreds of thousands of years ago to keep the ability to chase animals, a prime resource of our food back then. Nowadays we see that most people who started running longer distances won’t just stop after achieving their initial goal but keep going for years if not their entire life. The runner’s high and the substances responsible for it might play their part in this addictive behaviour. The substances released can in fact lead to a certain addiction. A lot of runner’s feel withdrawal symptoms when they need to stop running for a while due to injury or other reasons. So be careful. Enjoy your runner’s high but don’t build your life entirely on running. Make sure you have a bunch of other things that make you happy!
You can’t take a runner’s high for granted when you head out for a run but there are several things you can do to increase the chance to experience it or to even amplify the effects. As already stated above you should run at an 80% intensity for at least 45 minutes. Some also suggest that, after warming up, you should speed up for 30 to 40 minutes and then slow down and run steady without too much effort to get the best results. For me listening to motivational or happy music has a big impact on how I feel during a run and can amplify a runner’s high. Also being outside in nature shows to be much better than running on a treadmill in the gym.
All in all the runner’s high is a great thing worth training for. But keep in mind that it’s not the only good thing about running. Don’t do too much too soon just because you want to feel the runner’s high so badly. Increase your training slowly and keep a focus on injury prevention especially as a beginner or if you come back after not running for a while.
What are your experiences with the runner’s high and how can you influence it? Let us know by writing a comment!