The Runner's High

While the experience of a runner's high may differ from one runner to another, there are some strategies that you can employ to ensure that YOU get that feeling of euphoria more often during your training runs.

The term runner's high is used to describe the sensation that is experienced due to the endorphin release brought on by running. Your pituitary gland releases endorphins in response to stress or any kind of pain experienced by the body. While this endorphin release is not exclusively experienced by runners, the runner’s high is of course brought on as a result of the stress caused by running on the body. Keep in mind that stress, particularly stress induced by exercise such as running, is both healthy to impose on your body and essential for adaptation, growth and progress.

There are a few interesting facts about a runner's high that you might not have known. Firstly, some runners experience the high much earlier, as early as 10 minutes, while others may not experience the high until several hours into a run. This might be the reason why many beginner runners don’t report experiencing a runner’s high, they simply aren’t running long enough!

Without much hard scientific evidence, but with much personal experience and drawing from that of many other runners in the matter, experiencing runner’s high also seems to differ among runners who train for different distances. Specifically, distance runners who regularly run 16 to 22 miles seem to experience runner’s high much later in their runs than those who typically run much less. It’s personally quite common for me to feel a sudden sense of well being during my second or even third hour of a long run. Some describe this as a ‘second wind’.

This likely has much to do with the adaptation that has taken place in the body of the distance runner. Since they are more used to running for longer than 1 hour, the perceived stress of running on the body might be much less than that of a shorter distance runner. That said, higher intensity runs of any kind such as track workouts or hill repeats also do extremely well to trigger the endorphin release.

Experiencing a runner's high is of course a wonderful and healthful feeling and it only makes sense that everyone would want to ideally experience this during every run. This however, doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve heard of countless runners complaining that they ‘may’ have experienced runner’s high, but they certainly don’t experience it very often if at all.

Through diligent training log keeping over the years including such comments as ‘invigorating...felt great today, finished strong...’, along with some basic principles of exercise physiology, I’ve been able to identify a pattern of key actions that increase your chances of experiencing runner's high more frequently.

Tips to Experience Runner's High More Frequently

The first strategy is to pay very close attention to your warm up! You either already know this from experience or have heard this advise before from other runners, that you’ll rarely have a great training run when you haven’t properly warmed up. Whether you are planning to run a short and high intensity workout or intend to be out for a 3 hour run, start SLOW and give you body ample time to warm up. Ample time typically means at least 15 to 20 minutes of anywhere from a very brisk walk to a light jog.

The second strategy is to ensure that you are not running on empty. Making sure that you are fuelled both before your run as well as have enough water and glycogen sources with you for the duration of the run is super important. If your body is in a depleted state, you will feel crappy and no amount of endorphins will do much for you.

Third, wherever possible, remove any sources of discomfort. This includes being overdressed, underdressed for the conditions you will be running in or worse, underlubed! Much like being undercaloried, being uncomfortable during your run due to heat, cold or friction will greatly take away from your ability to enjoy your endorphin release.

A fourth strategy to get that runner's high is to pursue high intensity/interval training. While a runner's high is not reliant on high intensity fast paced running, doing the same pace every day will eventually do little to stimulate or 'stress' your body due to adaptation and will therefore limit your chances for a nice runner's high. Little comes close to the feeling you will experience after a well played fartlek session , a good hard bout of intervals or hill repeats !

Finally, cut back on high mileage training. This last tip is admittedly generic and possibly quite difficult to achieve if your running goals prescribe 90 miles/week. Recognize however, that there is no amount of endorphin release, that your body can produce naturally, that can mask the pain of sore legs!

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