April 22, 2012

Feels Like Flying and…Oh…

Feels Like Flying and…Oh…

Since I took up running in June of 2011, I have been fascinated with the experience of “runner’s high.” When I was first looking at making a commitment to running, the question I posed to many runners was “how long did you have to run before you experienced this magical thing?” – I never once got an answer of less than a year. Most in fact, seemed to agree that you would have to run for a while and you would have to run often. As I have run longer and more often, I think I have had glimpses of this self-induced state-experience. But I am not sure. My real runner friends assure me that I won’t mistake it when it happens. Ok. So I asked a few of them if they would be willing to describe their experience of runner’s high such that a novice like me might be able to better be able to identify the feeling when it strikes. My friend Ted volunteered. Before he sent me this post, he said “I hope you won’t be offended by my analogy…” All I can say is that if it’s really that good it explains why I have heard people say they would give up sex before running. May I also add that this surely motivates me to keep going – how about you?

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes” – Andrew Carnegie

Last week Jacqueline and I were running at a very reasonable pace along the beach, and on the return portion of our run, I suddenly turned to her and said, “Sorry, but I have to fly.” And with that, I took off with longer strides that somehow felt lighter, a fast pace, and a huge smile on my face. The world had seemingly become more beautiful, and I was feeling wonderful!  After a short while I turned around and ran back to Jacqueline, who was also smiling. Although she encouraged me to keep going, I was still experiencing that “runners’ high,” and wanted to continue our run together.  I tried to explain what I was experiencing, and promised I would blog about it….about this so-called “runners’ high” that so many of us who run just love to experience.

(Really, he did try to explain it, but he was doing better at smiling than talking….)

So what is a runner’s high? From a scientific perspective, it’s likely due to an increase in endorphins in the central nervous system, chemicals which help to give us that happiness and pleasurable feeling we all covet.

(Here is a good little article from Scientific American that my friend Lena at Invisible Shoes sent me: It Hurts So Good)

But how do I describe this to those who have never experienced it, or at least never knowingly experienced it? Having run for 30+ years on a regular basis, I have experienced that feeling more times than I can count, but I honestly can’t recall when it first happened. Was it after a certain mileage?  After a certain period of time of regular running? Maybe it happened after I was conditioned so that I could run (at the time) my 3 miles a day without a lot of effort?

I thought about this many times over my last few runs, and think I have a good description of what this “high” feels like, and the answer might surprise you. It’s even possible that some runners will disagree, but for me, I’m convinced this is what it is: it’s a feeling of peace, of happiness, of de-stressing, of relaxation….and sometimes it’s a feeling of very intense happiness and pleasure. I don’t think it’s the same every time, nor does it happen at the same portion of my run. In other words, although I think the strict definition would be that feeling of happiness, I think it has some variability.

If I may give an analogy (and excuse me if I offend anyone), but I think it’s much like an orgasm.  Sometimes, that sensation and feeling can be incredibly intense and/or long lasting at its peak, and other times it’s a bit less so….but it still is fun and still pleasurable. I think the runner’s high is much like that. Sometimes it’s that feeling that I can just  “fly,” where I can seemingly run forever without effort and with intense pleasure.  Sometimes it’s where instead of being tense and a bit upset from my day when I start my run, I finish totally relaxed and able to enjoy my evening.  Other times, it may be the ability to just think through problems (or write blog posts in my head) without giving even a moment of thought to my stride or my timing or how my muscles feel.

I often run in the early evening, right after work. I’m simply not a good morning person, and I just enjoy running more in the evening as it allows me to reflect upon my day and often solve the problems or situations of the day, as running helps me to think through issues very clearly. Is this a form of that high, where as a result I’m so much more relaxed at the end of the run? Maybe I should pay more attention to whether this “flying” feeling occurs more on weekends or after work. When I was running with Jacqueline, I was in a different location (the beach, instead of inland) and I was running with a friend (rather than alone). Consequently, I started my run more relaxed….did that have an impact on the “high” that I experienced? I’ll have to pay more attention in the future and let you know.

So how will you know when you experience it?  How will you know when you are getting close?  When you just hate missing even a day or two of running, I think you’re closer to experiencing that high than you imagine.  If you can run and just think about other things rather than your pace or how your legs feel, I think you’re about there.  It will happen….you’ll know it, and that smile at the end of your run will tell the world that you’re a runner…right Jacqueline?

I might still be undecided on wearing that title, but I do appreciate having a tip or two to know I am headed down the right path. Many thanks, Ted.

And happy Sunday to you all!


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  1. Dawn
    April 23, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Ran the ZOOMA Atlanta half marathon yesterday and that feeling of elation is amazing!!!! I can feel the high kicking in when I run, not every time but when I do…… it is a good day! 🙂