I adore running, in part because I adore that elated, and somewhat elusive, flow state known as “runner’s high.” I might even be addicted – it’s that good. There’s more informed scientific and medical writing out there (check out this TED article) breaking down exactly what the phenomenon of runner’s high is, what causes it, how to achieve it, etc. What I provide here is purely anecdotal.
For me, runner’s high is an inevitable byproduct of going for a mid to long-distance run (anywhere above 5 or 6 miles, I suppose).
I’m generally an afternoon or evening runner (I know, I know – anathema for you 5 a.m. warriors out there), and I know that runner’s high will come easiest if I run at those times. For me, it’s not impossible in the morning, just less likely. Put simply: it’s hard to feel high when you keep yawning and thinking about espresso. You’ll find your own sweet spot when runner’s high comes easiest.
As far as I know, nutrition, pre or post-workouts, and type of run (road, trail, around the house 187 times because COVID…) don’t impact my own runner’s high. This may or may not be true for you.
What does it feel like?
I imagine this is subjective for everyone, but for me it feels like a euphoric state of low-level invincibility. I feel, quite simply, like I can keep going at my present pace forever. I look around and find myself grinning dumbly. I look at my odometer and am always surprised to find that I’ve gone further than I thought.
My breathing, cadence, and internal monologue (usually without headphones – more on that next time) put me into a trance. One of the dominant sensations if of feeling—this may be weird; bear with me—as though the top half and bottom half of my body are disconnected. In the throes of runner’s high, I’m in tune with my breathing, my pumping arms, the way my neck, back, and shoulders feel, but I’m almost totally unaware of what my legs and feet are doing. It’s as though they are powerful, impartial pistons propelling me forward, indifferent to what signals the head office might send.
When I say “I love running” part of what I mean is that I love this feeling. It’s a high, plain and simple.