Jim2's Running Page

The Runner's High....and Higher

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9/7/01 

The runners high is real. It isn't a myth. I've been there......briefly. I think it's very elusive for most of us, although it seems to be easier for women to find.

There were several discussions about the Runner's High on the Forums a few years ago, mostly by women. As a result of those discussions, I gained some different perspectives on the subject from listening to the experiences of some female runners, who have a much better grasp than I of the philosophical and psychological aspects of running. I used to think that the "Runner's High" was simply a state that you either experienced physiologically or not. I've now come to the conclusion that, much like depression or the emotions of joy and sadness, the feeling or intensity of a Runner's High is not the same for all people....and not always the same for any one person. I've come to think of it as having an emotional component, as well as a physiological basis.

I think that runners experience various levels of "high" under different circumstances. For example, in my 19 years and over 24,000 miles of running, I have had many good runs, bad runs, and "run of the mill" runs. Of the good ones, some stand out as the best of the good. They have included hard runs that were exhilarating; easy runs that were effortless and euphoric; and long runs that left me "pleasantly tired", but refreshed and energized at the same time. I had never thought of these runs as having achieved a level of "The Runner's High"....now I do. However, in approximately 3200 hours I have run over the years, less than 60 minutes spread over three runs are in a class of their own....an order of magnitude beyond any other I have experienced. I consider them to be the ultimate form of Runner's High.....at least for me.

Each of my three experiences (1984-86) occurred in the middle of easy 6 mile recovery runs 4 days after a marathon (my 4th, 6th, and 8th). Two occurred while running outdoors in a park. The third while running on an indoor track. Each "high" lasted less than 20 minutes. During those minutes, I drifted into what I can only describe as a trance. Though I was fully aware of my surroundings, everything seemed to be remote. I knew my legs were moving, but I felt like I was floating. Running was beyond effortless.....it was like an out-of-body experience. It literally felt like someone else was doing the work and I was merely along for the ride. Those magical moments were among the most sensuous and pleasurable experiences I have had that didn't involve sex. Each was interrupted abruptly by a sudden, loud sound (a car horn, a dog bark, and a shout) after which I couldn't get it back, though the runs continued to be very enjoyable. (A lesser intensity high?) Maybe it was a form of hypnosis. I don't know. However, I do find it curious that each occurred approximately 100 hours after finishing a marathon. And, it wasn't my first run after the marathon in any of the three instances.

I've tried to recreate the conditions of my "Ultimate Runner's High" following other marathons in the hope I could induce it again, but I've been unsuccessful. Maybe by trying, I've staved it off.

Since this was the standard by which I measured all my other "good feeling" runs, I never considered that I had actually experienced other degrees of "The High", until the dialogs on this Forum. Now I recognize that I get high more frequently than I realized.

I think it might be possible that women are more predisposed to Runner's High than men, both in frequency and intensity. Nancy, Cindi, a couple of others (none of whom any of you know) and I discussed this here on the Forum in 1997. I don't know if the difference is in the chemical or psychological makeup of the fairer sex. Maybe nature has equipped women with an enhanced ability to generate endorphins to be able to deal with the pain of giving birth. I do know that, having gotten my foot in the doorway of that "high" room many times and been fortunate enough to fully enter 3 times, I'm envious!

Jim2