When Will I Feel a Runner's High?

Running towards a healthier and happier lifestyle

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Especially if you're new to running, you may have yet to experience the runner's high. While research (and lots of first-hand reports) does show that the high exists, there isn't necessarily a magic distance or length of time you need to run to feel it. It's different for every runner. Some may feel a runner’s high after their first 30-minute continuous run, while others may not have ever felt it during years of running. And, once you do experience it, you may not feel that way after every run. You could go a long time before it happens again.

What Is the Runner's High?

Runners who have felt the high describe it in many different ways. They often use words like "calm" and "peaceful," "euphoric" and "blissful." Some say they feel like they're floating, almost as if they're weightlessly running on air. Minor aches and pains disappear, and runners may lose their sense of time, too.

The word "high" isn't an accident, because a runner's high is similar to the altered state of consciousness associated with painkilling drugs. Perhaps most of all, running seems effortless and you feel as though you could keep going forever. However, as good as it might feel to ride this sensation for as long as possible, be careful not to overdo your workout. It's okay to run a little longer or farther than you planned, especially if you only experience a runner's high sporadically. But too much training can lead to overuse injuries.

How Does the Runner's High Work?

Something about distance running's rhythmic, moderate intensity seems to contribute the most to the runner's high (since runners experience it more than other athletes). Several processes are happening in your body and brain as you run that contribute to the high.

Endorphins

Research shows that your body releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone, during exercise. They were once thought to block pain sensations in the brain. However, we now know that endorphins can't pass from the blood into the brain. So they are likely not responsible for the euphoric feelings of the runner's high—but they do help prevent muscles from feeling pain.

Endocannabinoids

Like endorphins, endocannabinoids are biochemical substances that the body produces. Unlike endorphins, though, endocannabinoids can do their work in the brain. Scientists now believe that these substances are responsible for the euphoric feelings associated with the runner's high. And yes, there is a connection with cannabis. Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like substances, but they are produced in the body, not acquired from smoking or otherwise consuming cannabis.

Increase Your Chances of Feeling a Runner's High

So, is there a way to "force" a runner's high? If you always run the same distance and pace, you may need to switch things up and bump up your effort a little. Try mixing it up by doing a fartlek run or increasing your distance to see if that makes a difference. Keep your effort level up, but also sustainable.

Running outside, with all the stimuli for your senses, definitely increases your chances of achieving a runner's high, as many treadmill runners can attest. Some runners practice mindfulness during their runs to help themselves feel calm during and after their runs.

Running with a group or a buddy may also help. One study from Oxford found that rowers who exercised together had a significantly higher pain tolerance (a measure used to approximate euphoria) compared with those rowing by themselves. If you're running by yourself, you may want to listen to music. Research shows that listening to your favorite music may also ease pain.

You may want to sign up for a local road race if you've never done one before. Sometimes it takes pushing yourself to your limits or the thrill of crossing the finish line to really experience that sense of euphoria. If you've already done a race, pick one that's a new distance for you or in a new location, so you'll experience something different.

And, remember that even if you don't feel a runner's high, you're still getting plenty of other benefits, from stress relief to better self-esteem to improved cardiovascular health.

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