How Do You Hit Swim, Bike Or Runner’s High? (What Actually Is It!)

People get into running for all kinds of reasons. Some people run to get into shape. Some run to burn off frustration and stress. Others run to train for and compete in specific races. When I first started running, it was because I had a couple of goals: I wanted to lose some weight and I wanted to complete a marathon.

But is it possible that some people run in order to get high?

Now I’m not talking about the kind of high that has only been recently legalized in many US states. What I’m referring to is an overwhelming feeling of strength and positivity, commonly known as the “runner’s high.”

The subject of the runner’s high has been written and talked about for decades. The first known mentions of it occurred during the first running boom nearly 50 years ago. Since then, sports related scientists have studied the phenomenon in-depth over the years.

So how do you hit a runner’s high? This might sound overly simple, but just go out and run! You don’t have to try and run particularly fast. The flood of endorphins begins to occur after running at a medium-hard effort for at least 20-30 minutes.

Some studies have suggested that running with a partner/group can attribute to the feeling of a runner’s high. Listening to music while you run can also be a trigger for the endorphin release, so you might want to cue up your favorite playlist next time you head outside for a few miles!

You Might Be Wondering, What in The World Is a Runner’s High?

A runner’s high is the feeling of positivity and increased mental awareness due to a rush of endorphins. The body releases these chemicals to help the brain deal with the stresses that it encounters as we exercise. The main theory behind this response is that it traces back to the time of our ancestors when they depended on running in order to eat and survive. Rather than let us perish, our bodies release these endorphins to mask the pain and fatigue to enable us to continue running. [source]

At that point, the aches and feelings of discomfort that we often feel at the start of a run begin to fade away. The timing of the endorphin rush often coincides with the loosening up of our muscles and connective tissues, making the run a more enjoyable experience.

Is a Runner’s High Real or Is It a Myth?

The runner’s high is totally real. Even though people will experience different levels of the runner’s high, it is still present for anyone who exercises long enough.

For some folks the experience is strong enough to cause a sense of euphoria. When they get to that point in their workout, these athletes feel so good that it seems like they could keep running all day long. That feeling of being “in the zone” can be attributed to the effects of the runner’s high.

For others, the endorphins just barely take the edge off their aches and mental discomfort, making the run tolerable rather than enjoyable. These folks probably wouldn’t describe the effects they are feeling as a runner’s high. However, without the chemical reaction occurring in their bodies, the run would be much more uncomfortable.

Do Other Sports Give the Same Feeling?

Yes, they do – running isn’t unique in this aspect. Cycling, swimming, and other endurance sports are all capable of producing the feeling of being a superhuman.

The endorphins that cause the feeling described as a runner’s high are also released during other endurance workouts. The phenomenon is only named what it is because it was discovered during the 1970s running boom.

That particular burst in the popularity of running coincided with the study of exercise on the human body and brain. If cycling would have been super popular at the time that the mechanics of the brain were being discovered, it might easily be known as the Biker’s High instead.

How Long Does the Runner’s High Last?

The effects of the endorphins usually stick around for a couple of hours before they start to wear off. It is the body’s short-term solution to the stress of running, and only lasts long enough to get you through the workout and recovery period. After that, the chemicals start to fade away and you are on your own.

The great thing about the runner’s high is that it is completely legal. You can even safely drive while under the endorphin influence! The effects they have on the brain are quite mild and in no way do they impair our physical coordination or judgment. In fact, many runners have reported that their mental functions are sharpened during the time they are in the endorphin zone. [source]

Can You Become Addicted to Running / Runner High?

Just like many other things that make us feel good, it is possible to become addicted to running. Some people have become so dependent on their regular running routine that they have a hard time functioning without it. However, there are probably worse things to be addicted to than running! 

If someone is addicted to running, they will have an overwhelming urge to run all the time. Any day when they are unable to run could be disastrous. Without their regular running fix, they will more than likely be cranky, distracted, and will have a hard time focusing on the task at hand.  

While we certainly want to stop short of addiction (it’s never good to be so dependent on something that we can’t get through the day without it), we do want to make working out a habit. Consistency leads to success, and we are more likely to become consistent runners when it becomes such a natural fit into our schedule that we barely have to think about it.

So now you know more about the completely legal phenomenon known as the runner’s high and how you might try to experience it for yourself. While there is no certainty that everyone will experience the feeling, I CAN guarantee that we WON’T feel it unless we get up and exercise. So why not strap on those running shoes (or dust off that bicycle) and head outside ?!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

Recent Posts