Middletown Athletic Club

(serving the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend, Delaware Running Community since 2002)

"That's the thing about running: your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is."  - Kara Goucher

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Thoughts on the Run - "The Runner's High" by Andrew Shearer

November 02, 2023 8:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

“Aren’t you gonna get out of the car?”

“I will... in a little bit.”

“What are you doing, anyway?”

Truth be known, I wasn’t sure how much longer I was planning to sit there or even why I was sitting there.  It just felt good.  And in a million years, I couldn’t describe it.

I started running in 1978.  Back then, there were far fewer people running and just as few topics of discussion bantered about.  Things like cardiovascular health, flat feet, knee joint health and how bad running was for women were the topics du jour.  In 1978, runners were still considered fringe weirdos.  Hey, I resemble that remark.

I do vividly recall one such discussion topic was ‘the Runner’s High’.  Since Timothy Leary was such as cult figure to the generation, I suppose getting into an altered state of mind was all the rage.  And far be it for runners to miss out on the movement.

Just what is a runner’s high?  How does one attain this mystical state?  And why doesn’t everyone experience it?  Quite simply, it’s a feeling of euphoria and/or ultimate relaxation that accompanies a run.  And it’s not a universal experience for endurance athletes, according to researchers. 

Now I’ll be honest, experiencing this ‘high’ was never part of my end-goal as a runner.  In fact, I was rather happy that I didn’t reach for something that seemed a bit surreal or even made up.  I mean, don’t runners feel good just from running, racing and experiencing?  Why do we need to invent some other worldly sense of peace?  And what the heck is an endorphin and an endocannabinoid anyway (your homework assignment for today)?

Here seems to be the anatomy of attaining a runner’s high – go for a run, the body releases chemicals into the blood stream which interact with the brain, there is a unique-to-each-person response, the body returns to equilibrium, end of run/end of fun.  That seems to be the science behind it.  And spoiler alert… scientists are pretty sure endorphins have nothing to do with it (something about their molecular size and inability to cross the brain-body barrier… sucks for them!). 

The body reacts to the chemicals responsible for the runner’s high much like the body reacts to morphine or cannabis.  Really.  So Timothy Leary may not have been a good runner, but I bet he would have been a great coach.  Oh, and the feeling isn’t universal to all runners, nor is it the same from one run to the next.  It depends on…. Well, it just depends…

I don’t recall the first time I had the sense of being pain-free and totally relaxed.  I’m not even sure I would call it euphoric.  But I recognized I felt ‘really good’, sitting in the car after having returned from a trail run. 

My runs are more uncomfortable as I’ve aged, and in some cases downright painful, but I still run.  The sense of ‘wow, this feels good’ is in stark contrast to a 30 or 40 minute slog in the woods.  And when I do experience this sense which isn’t often, it’s almost always sitting in the car either before I head home or when I pull into the driveway.  And it’s worth every ache, pain and grimace. 

If you’ve experienced it, you know.  If you never have, there may come a day (like me) when you will.  And if you never do, sitting in the car after your run will still provide you with all the health benefits running is known for…. So there’s that.

“I’m coming in now…”.  Moment over. 

I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails. 

Middletown Athletic Club is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. 99 Willow Grove Mill Drive, Middletown, DE 19709

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