Coaching

What is Runner’s High and How Do I Experience It?

Runners high

Question:
I’m training for my first half marathon and I’m surprised at this point that I haven’t felt “runner’s high.” What does it take to get to that point where you can run forever?
Answer:
All good things in fitness are earned, but just because you haven’t felt your runner’s high, doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t. Runners describe it in a variety of ways, but they all report a similar state of exhilaration and euphoria. I lie to call it our state of flow, or a feeling of effortlessness and unrelenting focus.

How it happens: Endorphins

According to MedicineNet.com, endorphins are brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters that transmit electrical signals within the nervous system. At least 20 types of endorphins have been demonstrated in humans and can be found in pituitary gland, on parts of the brain, and in the nervous system.
The body releases endorphins in the presence of stress and pain to reduce our perception of pain, much like drugs do as well as leaving us feeling euphoria. Recently, German researchers used brain scans on runners to discover that during prolonged two-hour runs both the pre-frontal and limbic regions released endorphins. The greater the release in these areas of the brain, the more euphoria the runners felt.

How to get runner’s high.

In order to achieve that runner’s high, a runner needs to push in what I refer to as the orange effort zone, or one that feels hard and outside your comfort zone. You won’t feel it in the easy yellow effort zone or the harder red effort zone. It’s lies somewhere in between your comfort level and your hardest effort, and should feel physically uncomfortable. This also ties in well with a Tempo Run, where you run at your lactate threshold, or the effort at which you shift from using fat as a primary fuel to more glycogen.
Runner’s high is more likely felt in a runner that has evolved their training, as running in this effort zone for a prolonged period of time is achieved with a solid foundation of easy effort mileage and experience. As the runner develops their base of miles, they can build fitness with workouts that are more demanding in nature. It is at this point where the runner can begin to experience the runner’s high.
My guess is that your runner’s high is on the horizon, and that you may not have experienced it because your body is in the beginning stages of adaptation to long, slow miles. Once you run your race and recover, you’ll have a nice foundation from which to progress your training to involve harder effort workouts. This path will lead to new highs, it just takes time, training and patience to get there.
runners-high-zone-chart
Note: The zones shown above are based on feel. If you want to be more precise with your training and target certain zones during your workout, you’ll want to check out this article about exercising with a heart rate monitor.
Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

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