I consider myself a runner. I jog regularly and have participated in several running races, including a marathon. I have an unashamed, unabashed love for the pursuit.
At a dinner party, an athletic friend of mine complained about running, “I just don’t get it,” she said, “how could anyone enjoy themselves while running? I’ve never had a runner’s high.”
Not only did I feel the immediate need, the instinct of any lover, to ardently defend my passion for the sport, but her words also got me thinking about runner’s high – is it a real thing?
To me, there’s no real mystery. Running, generally, makes me feel good – otherwise I wouldn’t do it. There are plenty of other ways to exercise, and I would encourage everyone to find their preferred athletic endeavour rather than stick to running if they don’t find it enjoyable. My friend likes to play hockey, and soccer (which, I reminded her, involves a lot of running!)
While there are plenty of ways to exercise, there’s something about running that has its hold over me. The urge to take off on two feet is a primal urge, an inherent part of my DNA, of our collective DNA. We are, originally, hunters that relied on our legs to feed ourselves, to track down our prey.
I get so much out of running beyond strength and fitness. Runners develop endurance and mental toughness. Running allows me to work toward a goal, keep a pace, run a race – or not. Often, I run only for me. It’s a form of escape from the grind, a soothing of the nerves, the daily meditation my body craves. I’m the covered pot of boiling water, and all my worries, fears, stresses, and responsibilities threaten to boil over. Running is like removing the lid and releasing the steam. I don’t want to boil over. Running cools my temperature.
Let me explain to you how I’ve come to look at running. Running will never be ‘easy’ work. No matter how good I get at it, or how many kilometers I log. Easy is sitting in a chair. Easy is changing the channels on the tv. Running isn’t easy. I won’t ever say it will be. If that’s what you want, you’re going to have to get over it. However, there is hope because running does get easier, with practice. And with practice, as running becomes smoother, silkier, more textured as you pair back the tough exterior, that is where you enter the sweet center of the runner’s high. The epitome of the chase.
I have personally experienced runner’s high many times. I will describe it as this, like an explosion of gladness in your brain, a celebration of your muscles to the tip of every nerve cell. The embodiment of happiness released to infinity.
But, hold on a minute. Most committed runner’s know that runner’s high is a real thing, so what is going on here? Why didn’t my friend experience the same results I did? The key to finding runner’s high is hitting your target zone. If the run is too easy, and your body is never pushed to the point of exertion, there’s no chance of hitting a runner’s high. Conversely, if the run is too challenging, and you’re pushing yourself too hard, you won’t achieve a runner’s high either. You must find a balance: the edge before difficult becomes too hard, where challenging rises above too easy. Push yourself, but not to your max. Find that sweet spot of aerobic fitness, in other words, that can be maintained. Once you hit that zone, the flood of endorphins released in the brain is overwhelming. Euphoric.
A group of German researchers studying runner’s high used brain scans on athlete’s completing a two-hour long run. They found the pre-frontal and limbic regions of the brain spewed out endorphins during that time. The more endorphins released equated to the greater the reported sensation of the runner’s high. These are the same regions of the brain that light up in response to feelings such as love. Is it any wonder then, why I find running addicting, why I’ve developed such an infatuation?
While timing is different for everyone, anyone can achieve the high that comes from pushing yourself. Yes, runner’s high is a real thing, and it’s possible for anyone to get there. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you lace up your shoes, and join me for a jog. There’s a greater chance of experiencing a runner’s high while jogging with a friend.