Here’s the science:
Runner’s high is a colloquial term for a sudden euphoric feeling or boost of energy experienced during prolonged strenuous exercise. It is suggested that β-endorphins are responsible for this state. β-Endorphins are released during long, continuous workouts of moderate to high intensity, corresponding to prolonged physical stress. This also corresponds with the time that the muscles use up their stored glycogen. The presence of β-endorphins would presumably mitigate pain sensation by negatively regulating pain-carrying signals from nociceptive neurons in the spinal cord. Notably, such analgesic effects of β-endorphins could potentially increase the likelihood of injury, as pain sensation could be more easily ignored. Although called a “runner’s” high, the effect can occur anytime that people engage in any strenuous exercise or activity, not just running.
What’s the runner’s definition : a feeling of euphoria and invigoration that is experienced by some runners after strenuous running and that is held to be associated with an endorphins rush to the brain. Similar to sex…but without a goofy grin.
Runner’s high. Is it actually a thing? The times I’ve heard ‘I’m never doing that again’ after a tough hill run or race but a promise seldom kept. Can it, does it exist?
Scientific formula but doesn’t tell the whole story
I always had a feeling of self satisfaction after a hard run. At my previous club, in a previous lifetime, we would run 8 or 9 miles for a club run. I would shower and sit in the club with a Guinness and think ‘fuck, I’m knackered but I’m knackered in a good way’. At Tewkesbury Athletics Club we had a group of runners who could run 8 miles in under 50 minutes, easy and we would push each other week on week. If you were injured, don’t bother coming back unless you could 6 minute mile. One year we had more sub 3 hour London marathoners than any club in Gloucestershire and that includes Gloucester AC and Cheltenham and County Harriers. No mean feat for a small club.
But that runner’s high. What is it? When suffering from depression GPs should encourage physical exercise, especially outdoors. Can it be the exercise or an enlightened awareness of your surroundings and environment, similar to shinrin yoku or forest bathing, if you’re fortunate enough to live near such a place.
As I eluded to, running to the max in a reletively friendly and competitive atmosphere can raise those endorphins that produce that ‘Runner’s High’. I believe that a combination of environment, friendly rivalry and the all important end goal are primary in the production of that ‘Runner’s High’.
This year with Covid-19 it’s been impossible to establish that end goal. Training, running, hasn’t needed to be at that high intensity. Is that the whole story? Does emotion come into it? Of course, if you feel low or down training results may not be what you expect, but conversely they may be much higher. You may somehow compensate for your feelings and misgivings with an exceptional run.
Of course not all activities are ‘ runner’s highs’
That Runner’s High can only be a temporary experience and the feeling of of being low and worthless takes over. But, for that moment, life feels great and almost anything is achieveable. This feeling of worthless can be amplified or exaggerated by the demands of social media afterwards. We are all in contact with everybody all the time through this. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, and, now because of Covid 19, Zoom and everything else and the demand and pressure of putting up a solid front is overwhelming to the point of breaking. I know many people who feel this not just from running but the pace and the way life puts demands on us all. We all must conform and play the game. Sometimes an individual who contributes in an obscure or ‘left field’ way to the masses can be belittled and be made to feel small.
How can the runner’s high be replaced when the cheering has resinded? The average runner doesn’t normally feel this but there’s always a feeling of ‘after the thrill has gone’. Shit, I can’t come close to how I used to run years ago. I don’t really want to try but I do see people who think they can seriously match the times of people who are 20+ years younger than them. Why?
Is anybody aware of the bouts of depression that 3 time Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton suffered from? She wrote of her struggles in her book Fast Girl. She became a Las Vegas escort to replace that ‘runner’s high’. She replaced sex with strangers for that feeling of euphoria. That excitement, that kick. It’s a sad story and I really feel for her husband and daughter as they all came to terms with her depression and anxiety and that ‘come down’ after competing at a very high level and representing her country which most of us can only dream of. Her husband must have been very strong and supportive to put up wit such erratic behaviour. For us ‘Average Joes and Janes’ we have to fight on and whereas sex with strangers sounds, and almost certainly is, appealing it’s not really achievable for most or the answer.
Today I ran a 10 mile run up the Quantocks with Ian Booth and tried to achieve that shinrin yoku. The exact route I have no idea but I love the challenge, the views and the outdoorsness of it, and this time of year the colours are so vivid. The shades of green of the trees and ferns and the golden browns of the bracken as it dies off for the Autumn. The steam rising from the trees as the heat of the sun warms the earlier misty rain gives the impression of a forest fire. The weather was favourable but high up on the ridge the north westerly wind was chilly.
Doesn’t really do the view justice
Breezy but a stif upper lip and crazy Tommy Cooper hair
Ian and me
Somehow, I will always have that Runner’s High.