How to Achieve the Ultimate Runner’s High


Ah, the elusive runner’s high. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. So how do you gain more control over it?

While there’s no sure-fire way to guarantee you’ll achieve the coveted runner’s high, there are several ways to make it more apt to happen. Plus, understanding the brain chemistry behind this natural feeling of euphoria is pretty cool in itself. So read on and find out how to increase the chances of returning home from a run smiling like a maniac (in a good way). Just click on a link below to learn more!

What exactly is a runner’s high?

A“runner’s high” refers to the feeling of pure elation, reduced stress, and a decreased ability to feel pain due to a flood of endorphins released by exercise. A flood of, uh, what you say?

Endorphins! They are  a naturally occurring opiate that acts a lot like morphine when released into your brain. Not to say that chasing a runner’s high will turn you into some sort of addict, but it will make your body crave that high again—which can be a great motivator to keep training! Endorphins are like home-brewed happy chemicals that are also released in response to positive emotions like love.

In addition to endorphins, new research has shown that endocannabinoids play a more significant role in achieving a runner’s high than previously thought. This chemical is a natural version of THC (yep, the marijuana kind of THC) that gives you a full-body buzz once you reach that feeling of euphoria.

Researchers believe endocannabinoids helped our ancestors stay energized and focused as they hunted down wooly mammoths or battled saber-tooth tigers for food. Although we’ve evolved quite a bit since those days, the same brain chemicals keep us motivated to push our bodies to the limits—and then reward us for the hard work we put in!

Why do these chemicals get released when we run?

Both endorphins and endocannabinoids are produced as a response to stress. I can almost hear you protesting, “but running helps me relieve stress!” While I’m sure that’s 100% true, I’m talking about physical stress. Prolonged running puts stress on your bodily functions (no matter how well trained you may be!) which causes you to then pump out endorphins and endocannabinoids like nobody’s business. Extreme happiness, serenity, motivation, and gratitude are all emotions commonly reported by athletes when the runner’s high finally kicks in.

How do I get a runner’s high on a regular basis?

Alright, now you that you have all this brain chemistry knowledge under your belt, let’s talk about how to apply it.

To increase your odds, run your next session faster. Really push yourself. Go all in. We know that this gold standard is achieved by putting stress on your body, so it’s time to walk the walk, or rather, run the run. If you typically run a 10: 00-minute mile, buckle up and aim for a 9:30 or 9:00 minute pace.

When I regularly ran 3-milers at an aggressive pace, I came home panting and usually quite ecstatic. I noticed that when I started making 5-milers part of my regular regimen, I slowed down and, ultimately, experienced far fewer highs.

Some runners experience a high from ending their runs fast and strong, but that doesn’t work for me. I achieved a high consistently when running those 3-milers at a fast pace. I went hard the whole time and it worked. Plus, this method is backed by research (thanks, science). When you run for a consistent period of time at moderate intensity, your body produces the stress hormone called cortisol, which then stimulates that fun stuff (AKA endorphins and endocannabinoids).

To get a more consistent runner’s high, try these techniques:

  • Run at 70% to 85% of your maximum intensity. You want to push your body into a state of stress, but not too far where it bypasses the release of good brain chemicals in favor of simply keeping you alive and breathing.
  • Run for an extended period of time. One to two hours is typically the sweet spot for producing the solidhighs.
  • Run consistently. Newbies to the sport likely won’t get a runner’s high because their bodies can’t sustain an intense enough level of exercise to push them over the edge into that blissful state.
  • Add intervals. This is an important step to prevent your body from acclimating to your workout. Remember, your body produces that high when it’s under a moderate amount of stress, so you need to switch up your routine with high-intensity interval training to keep the stress factor flowing.
  • Get enough sleep. While this might not seem like it would affect your chances at a runner’s high, studies have demonstrated that you need eight hours of sleep in order to achieve optimal endocannabinoid production. So get some Z’s for a more frequent full-body buzz!
  • Schedule days of rest. Overtraining can have serious consequences on your body, such as shin splints, runner’s knee, and chronic foot pain when running. Even if you’re craving another runner’s high, be sure to give yourself time to rest after an intense run.
  • Zone out. I mean, don’t give everyone a dead-eyed zombie stare as you run past them, but try to turn your brain off at least during the middle portion of your run. If you focus too much on the end goal of experiencing a runner’s high, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get there. Put on your favorite running playlist, get lost in thought, or run with a friend to help your mind relax as your body does all the hard work.

Why should I go after a runner’s high?

Trust me, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as feeling the boost of a natural high that your body has specifically designed to reward you with after a lot of hard work. Apart from experiencing a euphoric sensation, here are some otherreasons to continue your pursuit of the elusive runner’s  high:

  • Training will get easier. While the chemicals involved in a runner’s high won’t form an addictive habit, it will make your body crave another session. If you’re having trouble staying motivated, hitting a runner’s high a couple of times in short succession will keep your mind and body excited to push yourself to the limit more often.
  • Your mood will improve . Endorphins don’t only kick in when your athletic performance peaks. All exercise releases these happy chemicals in some proportion, improving your overall mood—even if you’re only out for a light jog. Many studies have linked decreased symptoms of depression with higher levels of physical activity. So even if you’re still working toward that first high, you’ll probably notice that you’re in in a better mood more often.
  • Losing weight will be easier. Because achieving a runner’s high requires you to switch up your training, shedding a few pounds will be easier than if you maintain a consistent routine. When your body gets accustomed to a specific type of exercise, it’s harder to lose weight. But with a varied routine, you’ll put enough stress on your body to burn up those calories..

Can I get a runner’s high if I don’t like to run?

Hey, just because I love to run doesn’t mean you do. I totally get why a non-runner would want to go after a runner’s high—that feeling is unbeatable. If you’re not a fan of running, don’t worry—you’re in luck.

Turns out, any kind of intensive cardio exercise can provoke a runner’s high (even for non-runners!) Whether it’s biking, swimming, or rowing, endurance exercise is the common denominator when it comes to stimulating those amazing brain chemicals. Just make sure you keep the intensity high, the routine varied, and your mind relaxed!

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