Whether you’re new or an experienced runner, you’re probably familiar with a runner’s high. Whether you’ve had it or somebody just told you about it, you know, that’s a thing and you’re kind of wondering, how does a runner’s high come about? Well, stay tuned on today’s episode of Runners High with me and our special guest, Toby. Yes, he’s back as I explained to you what a runner’s high is and where it comes from.
If I think back, I think I can remember my very first time getting a runner’s high, was at one of my races in high school. It was a particularly difficult race course that we always, in some ways, dreaded and relish going to every single year, a very hilly course, very difficult. And it was at the end of the race after you’re done, after all the exhaustion that you get this kind of sense that you Floria.
And this story seems similar among a lot of my teammates. But it wasn’t like it happened every single time and there were definitely races where I wasn’t in shape enough and ended up puking at the end. So, it wasn’t just a matter of run really hard, and you’re going to get this high.
Well, if you’ve ever had a runner’s high, make sure you subscribe to the channel because I want to know about it. And if you haven’t, subscribe anyway, as I share more of my experience as a runner over the last 20 odd years, and help you get to the point where maybe you too can have a runner’s high.
So, where does it actually come from and how do we get it? Most of the research about runner’s high in articles you can find attribute the runner’s high to endorphins in the brain, which are basically these chemicals that help regulate our mood. Often associated with whether we’re happy or sad, but they do other things besides that.
Now, there’s some research that actually points to endorphins and not being the cause of a runner’s high. And why is that? Well, for chemicals to go into the brain and attached to receptors, there is a blood-brain barrier to overcome. And because of the size of these chemicals, it’s thought that they’re actually too large to pass quickly through the blood-brain barrier and caused that euphoria.
So, there has to be some other chemical or you know, factor at play. I actually remember back in psych 100, one of the very first psychology classes I took in college, and the professor said there was a chemical play called -. And that stuck in my head because of the word being so different than anything else I’ve ever heard before.
He actually mentioned [??? 2:46] having a role in playing with the euphoria that we experience when we drink alcohol, as well as that runner’s high. So, what are in -? – are actually an opioid that our brain produces naturally. Well, Toby decided to leave us. And what the research has suggested that the endorphins are not a factor in runner’s high, also suggest that there’s something else probably at play, endocannabinoid, which is another chemical that we produce naturally.
I know cannabinoids attach to receptors in our brain, which are the same receptors that have an activation when we do things like smoke marijuana. It’s where THC attaches and creates that literal high. So, you can think of a runner’s high as an actual high.
Unfortunately, as we’re kind of discovering because the endorphins probably aren’t the only thing at play or may not be the thing at play, period, we’re not exactly sure what causes a runner high. It may be those -, it may be some kind of endocannabinoid that we produce, and gives us that sense of euphoria. But we’re not sure exactly all the mechanisms quite yet. So, what can we actually do to experience a runner’s high?
Is there some kind of replicable method that we can use to get to the state of euphoria? Anecdotally, like I said, at the beginning, I had more luck, so to speak, experiencing it when I raced in high school, when I was a more inexperienced runner. I don’t know that I experience it as often now that I’ve been at it for a long, long time. And the kind of anecdotal evidence that my teammates also seem to back up my thoughts on that.
However, the research that’s – about runner’s high, suggests that there is another method that may be more apt to produce this effect. Professor Paul O’ Sierra at Skidmore College actually suggests that there’s a method we can use to reliably replicate that runner’s high in various people. He suggests that a longer duration of exercise is going to be more likely to produce a runner’s high than something short. Which is, strictly speaking, the exact opposite of my anecdotal evidence. However, we don’t really want anecdotal evidence when we’re trying to figure out the science of something, we want something repeatable and testable.
So, what Professor O’ Sierra says is that durations of up to two hours seem to be the most likely to produce the runner’s high effect. Now, he does go on to say that people who are doing some kind of endurance activity for an hour also have some semblance of repeatable effect in producing this runner’s high. Now, it isn’t just go out for, you know, an hour long walk and you’ll get a runner’s high.
And it isn’t just okay, go, you know, hit the streets as hard as you absolutely can. He suggests a moderate amount of exercise for that duration. So, like a six out of 10 kind of effort for a long period of time. This means that somebody that’s new to running, is probably going to be less likely to experience a high than somebody who’s more experienced.
Now, one thing I’ve done about as far as my own personal experiences, I may be almost immune or at a new base level of experience because of the amount of time that I work out. Our body has this nice ability to adapt to a new set of circumstances as a baseline. So, for instance, if you figured out how to be happier in life or your mood is improved, eventually, that will become the new baseline versus where you were before.
So, you don’t always feel happy. Same thing for this, again, this is my opinion, is that because I’ve worked out for such long periods of time for so long, I almost think of it as a steady state. It’s something that I experienced all the time. So, I don’t necessarily get that euphoria any longer.
But on the opposite side, when I take a taper week or during the time I take off between seasons. Usually about week two, I noticed that I don’t feel as good and I think that’s coming off of having all of those good feelings from the endorphins that are you know, penetrating my brain for longer periods of time and then possibly, from some of those endocannabinoids or the natural opioids that our brains produce.
So, I’m curious if you’ve ever had a runner’s high, leave me a comment below, tell me your story. Tell me how you’ve had runner’s high and let me know what’s your anecdotal evidence, what’s your experience? I’ll see you on the next episode of this show, also called Runners High.