The Runner’s High: 5 Great Ways To Achieve It

The Runner’s High is real – that exhilarating, if not euphoric state which you can reach simply through running is something you can achieve.

Everyone has heard of the runner’s high, but it’s treated as a myth – something intangible and unproven.

However, in recent years several studies have confirmed the existence of the High and identified the conditions which stimulates those feel-good brain chemicals.

Ever wondered what causes runner’s high?

Or why the High exists in the first place?

Maybe you’re looking for guidelines on how to attain a runner’s high – then you’re in the right place!

Let’s jump in!

What Is The Runner’s High?

The Runner’s High is a feeling of elation brought on by continuous exercise.

It can vary in its intensity and effects, but a typical runner’s high includes:

  • Feelings of elation, exhilaration, calm, and positive vibes
  • Reduced levels of stress
  • Less awareness of pain or discomfort.

The runner’s high isn’t actually exclusive to running, but can be attained through different forms of continuous strenuous exercise. It’s most commonly associated with running, as the conditions of going for a run well suit the required state to induce a Runner’s High.

The runner’s high is one of many neurobiological effects of physical exercise (i.e. how exercise can change your brain state), and is relatively short-term – it will typically wear off a few hours after you finish your run.

What Causes A Runner’s High?

The runner’s high takes place completely inside your brain.

It’s triggered by a flood of endorphins – those feel-good brain chemicals – which kick in after a bout of physical exercise.

What are endorphins, exactly?

Endorphins are your body’s own home-made opiates, which actually act in a similar way to morphine (the engineered version of an opiate).

These happy chemicals originate in the brain’s prefrontal and limbic regions, and the more that is produced, the better the high.

Endorphins are released as a reaction to pain and discomfort, in order to numb those effects and allow the body to keep functioning.

More recent research also identified endocannabinoids as another major contributor to the Runner’s High.

Endocannabinoids are our own natural version of THC (yes, the same thing found in marijuana) and are pumped out and affect the entire body.

Endocannabinoids help create a sensation of calm and tranquility, which not only relax your mind but can relax unnecessary tension in your muscles.

When you realise what the chemicals released can do, you realise it’s no wonder we call it the Runner’s High!

Why Does Runner’s High Exist?

The prevailing theory is that our bodies developed these abilities to allow us to push through pain and discomfort when necessary.

Our ancestors would have spent long days hunting; at times in extreme conditions like heat, cold, and humidity. They would have gone for prolonged periods without food, occasionally pick up injuries, and get fatigued.

The runner’s high may have developed in order to improve our performance during these long periods of running and hunting.

It’s mother nature’s way of taking care of us when we’re under physical stress.

The endorphins would have made us feel better, and tune out of pain and discomfort so we could focus on survival.

The Runner's High: 5 Great Ways To Achieve It 1

How To Achieve Runner’s High

Ok, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this thing.

You’ve read all about it, and now you want to experience it.

Let’s walk through some of the optimal conditions to stimulate a runner’s high.

Run For Over An Hour

The Runner’s High typically kicks in after between 1 – 2 hours of running.

This reflects the fact that your body needs to be placed under continuous stress and discomfort before those feel-good chemicals get released.

This makes distance running easier, and the exhilaration experienced in a long, winding run can border on the transcendent.

The bad news is that rookie runners will struggle to keep going long enough to attain the runner’s high. Looking to increase your running ability? Grab a free training plan from us.

Push Your Body (But Not Too Hard)

As endorphins and endocannabinoids are released in response to stress and discomfort, it’s necessary that you push yourself hard enough to feel the strain.

An easy, slow jog isn’t going to induce that blissful state, I’m afraid.

Aim for a workout which is 70 – 80% of your max effort, or around a 7 out of 10 for Rate of Perceived Exertion.

If you push your body too hard, you’ll reach exhaustion quickly and the high discomfort you feel will be greater than the gentle rush of the endorphins.

Run Consistently

In order to attain the elevated effects of the high, you’ve got to be physically capable of running for an extended period under some strain.

This often means that beginners simply can’t reach the Runner’s High as they can’t keep running long enough.

Develop a good running habit and avoid injury to become a Runner’s High Practitioner.

Mix Up Your Training

Distance runners run the risk of getting into a comfortable groove, where they don’t push themselves hard enough to induce the High.

If this sounds like you, add in some fast intervals, fartleks, or downhill speedwork to up the intensity of your workouts, add some physical stress, and reach that elevated state of mind!

Rest and Sleep

Your body is best primed for endorphin and endocannabinoid production when it’s rested and ready.

A good 8 hrs of sleep is necessary to maximise your potential endocannabinoid production, and that potential slowly decreases as each day wears on.

Training on tired legs (and a tired mind) makes it harder to attain and maintain the runner’s high.

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

2 thoughts on “The Runner’s High: 5 Great Ways To Achieve It”

  1. Thank you Thomas, really interesting article! I am just a beginner training for my first marathon, and I have a stupid question. The runner’s high is a state where the body react to long term discomfort, but long distance experienced runners push their limits and therefor get more and more used to discomfort, does it mean the more you train, the less are your chances to achieve runner’s high?

    Reply
    • Hey Jeremy,
      Thanks for the question!

      Correct that the more you train, the more your body is accustomed to running long distances.

      In order to attain the runner’s high, you need stress and discomfort.

      This means that experienced runners have to push themselves, just like intermediate runners.

      In other words experienced runners experience the high just like all others – they just have to push to a state of discomfort and stress.

      Thanks!
      Thomas

      Reply

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