The runner’s high. It’s why we all run, right? Lace up, hit the ground, push our limits for the sweet feeling of…hmm, what exactly is a runner’s high? Have I ever had one? Does the ensuing goofiness after a run count? Was that what happened that one time I hyperventilated?
Google “runner’s high” and the most legit definition is very scientific while still lacking any explanation as to whether you’re going to feel euphoric or delirious or even just pretty good.
I think it was sometime in college that I realized not everybody ran. So, when I first started sharing my running experiences with others, often over a drink, pre-social media — well, OK, we had IM and Myspace was becoming a thing — I always got the same questions. “Oh, you go for the runner’s high?” “Do you get a runner’s high?” “Heeey, maaan, what’s a runner’s high like?”
I always felt weird saying, “Uh, I don’t know.” But that was the truth. Having run fairly regularly since the seventh grade, I never looked at aspects of running as ones that would be considered anything other than a stage of suckiness or a stage of “oh, running, how do I love thee?” As I’ve gotten older, I guess I’ve paid more attention to those swings of emotional high and low that come with running.
Running is a great coping mechanism for me. I often make peace with a disappointment or loss through running. Sometimes, though, I unintentionally close a difficult chapter while logging miles. One 20-mile run that I did this year was really just the pits. I had four miles left and, had quitting not meant I was stranded out in a cornfield, I would’ve just stopped. But then I started thinking of a departed friend (and previously accomplished distance runner) and I felt almost as if he were there with me. I was overcome with emotion, started really pushing the pace, and felt a huge weight crush into my chest around the same time I realized that I had tears running down my face. Runner’s high?
I’ve had speed days where I feel like I was flying, just really toeing the line of that sub-6:30 mile, focused solely on speed, not even footfalls. Every skin surface tingled, all my muscles worked in unison, the feeling of unhinged strength and ability. This is where I am supposed to be, this is what I am supposed to be doing. I am the shit! Runner’s high?
From time to time during steady hill climb, when things start to feel as if I’m just stuck in the same upward motion, I ask myself, “Sheesh, do I really want to be on this hill ALL day?” So, I push it, I stress my heart, turn off the pain receptors in my brain, and go faster, uphill. It’s hard to breathe. It’s touch-and-go as to whether I’ll survive standing up. But as the hill levels, I feel good. Real good. Runner’s high?
After a long run, I can label myself as fairly useless for the remainder of the day. Sure, I can handle obligations with farm and family. I can take on a few non-essential tasks, but I’m sure that more than one bystander is like, “Really, that woman forgot how to use her pen.” I might start talking and all of the sudden that quick little tangent ends up being “a thing” that I want to discuss at length and research and potentially invest in. Crazy stuff. I’m often thankful that I’m able to drive without injuring myself or anyone else after particularly exhilarating mileage. Runner’s high?
So, let’s discuss. Were any of these runner highs?
Well, it has taken me years of running to quantify what exactly MY runner’s high is, and that might not come close to what is expected from another person’s experience. My runner’s high is a kind of gratitude. I’m just so darn thankful for EVERYTHING. It’s most intense while my body is running at a pleasantly sound mode. It sometimes only last a few seconds, but I’m happy to acknowledge it, and I realize it is a little gift (just for me) arrived at due to a little push (from me).
I can recall moments over my life where I felt very much in peak form, and this “buzz” feeling certainly accompanies that. But, as for a high, I dunno. Maybe I still haven’t gotten that. I don’t get asked about it much anymore, as I tend to share my experiences and accomplishments via DRC, or with other runners. This way, I keep my poor, extended family from asking questions like, “Eight miles? Oh my gosh, you are going to kill yourself!” or “Oh, I see, you go for the runner’s high.”
Author: Meghan McCarrick lives in Washington, Mo., eats copious amounts of kale and runs 30 to 50 miles a week, usually with her dog, Magpie.
Our blog writers are members of Terrain Trail Runners, local athletes just like you, who want to share their love and knowledge of the sport.