Have you ever experienced a feeling of euphoria during a long run, where both pain and fatigue were suddenly swept away? Then you have probably experienced the so-called “runner’s high”. Let’s find out together what it is and give some tips on how to achieve this state.
Runner’s High – what is it?
What is “Runner’s High?” To describe it simply, it’s a state of euphoria and happiness that you can experience after running many miles. And even if this sounds strange to some ears – this phenomenon really exists and is not a myth. Feather-light legs, a smooth stride and a free mind – these are the sensations you can experience! However, it is important to know that not everyone succeeds in achieving this “runner’s nirvana”. Many athletes have not experienced the high of a runner’s high even after many years. Several factors play a role in this. In addition, euphoria is a very subjective feeling and therefore a rather rare phenomenon.
The scientific explanation
Let’s get to the bottom of this and try to explain this strange phenomenon with a scientific approach. Where does the runner’s high come from and what does it take to experience a feeling of joy and lightheartedness during physical activity?
Running and aerobic exercise are activities that allow the human body to naturally release neurochemicals called “endorphins” into the bloodstream. These are produced by the central nervous system and are also known as “happy chemicals” because they trigger a sense of well-being and joy in the body. They also make you feel less pain and fatigue while running. Thanks to their action as a natural painkiller, we are able to endure prolonged efforts and our mood improves.
For many years, scientists thought that only endorphins were responsible for the feeling of elation. However, these are large molecules that cannot cross the blood-brain barrier (a type of barrier in the body that protects the brain from pathogens or molecules). This means that if the endorphins cannot cross the barrier and reach the brain, something else must be responsible for the high and, consequently, cannot be the cause of the effect, but only a side effect.
And this is where the endocannabinoids come in. These are molecules that are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier and are activated at the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. These neurotransmitters can contribute to improved mood and pain tolerance. They can also protect brain cells from overstimulation and have an anti-inflammatory effect in the gut. When you hear the word endocannabinoid, you might think of cannabis, which isn’t totally wrong: it’s the same system activated by THC, the active ingredient in cannabis.
So the “runner’s high” is a combination of these two phenomena: on the one hand, the production of endorphins helps muscles hurt less, and on the other, endocannabinoids cause the feeling of euphoria and freedom that many runners seek.
However, the details of what happens in the brain when these substances are produced and activated is still a mystery.
6 tips for achieving the runner’s high
The interesting question now is: how do you achieve that famous “runner’s high”? As mentioned earlier, many dynamics come into play and there is no certainty or mathematical law with which to calculate it. However, we can provide some tips to create the best conditions to achieve the Runner’s High:
1) Continuous exercise
First of all, physical activity must be performed without interruptions. Volleyball players, for example, who alternate periods of intense play with short breaks, hardly get into the “flow”. To experience the runner’s high, one must run for at least 40 minutes (depending on the study, people talk about 40 minutes to two hours). In short, you don’t get to the desired state by 15 minutes of light jogging!
2) High training intensity and realistic goals
Only by training at fairly high intensity (80-90% of maximum heart rate) is it possible to achieve the Runner’s High. If one exerts too little, the endocannabinoid receptors will not be activated. However, if one exerts oneself too much, it will be difficult to run long enough.
So, the right balance must be found to put the body in the needed state of stress and produce the “happy substances.” Of course, to combine high intensity and long duration, you have to be very well trained, which makes it a bit more complicated for beginners. Also, people who set realistic goals and neither under- nor over-train are more likely to experience the Runner’s High.
3) Add intervals
To maintain a high stress level in the body, you need to stimulate it. Therefore, it is advisable to add intervals to your training: In this way, the body doesn’t get used to the training level, and you can vary the workout while maintaining a high intensity.
4) Run alone with a clear head
Relaxing while running is essential for achieving the runner’s high. If your thoughts are too focused on a particular problem or if you are tired, it is difficult to reach the desired state. Clear your mind and run with a positive attitude. Focus on breathing in and out, on the stride of your legs, on the nature around you. To facilitate this “detachment,” we recommend leaving your watch at home, not listening to music, and running alone.
5) Run in a pleasant environment
This point is related to the previous one: When forced to run in the city, it is difficult to reach the “runner’s high”. We get distracted by the noise and have to pay attention to the traffic and our surroundings. Completely “turning off” is difficult and also not advisable.
6) Sleep enough
Finally, sleep is also an essential factor. If you don’t get enough sleep and are therefore tired during your workout, your chances of getting a “runner’s high” are much lower. Studies show that you need at least 8 hours of sleep to achieve optimal endocannabinoid production.