Monday, July 14, 2008

Where's my Runner's High?

For those of you that don't know, a "Runner's High" is when you are exercising for a long period of time and then you basically just feel awesome. What happens is after your body meets a certain point (based on your physical exertion), your body releases endorphins that appear like opiates and then somehow all of that makes you have an out-of-body sort of experience. (I don't know what all of that means...but that's what my thorough research said)

Scientists still debate whether or not the release of endorphins is actually the cause of one's heightened performance. According to ScienceDaily, a study was performed by scientists from fields of Nuclear Medicine, Neurology and Anaesthesia at the Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen (TUM) and the University of Bonn. They had ten athletes run for two hours and had scanned them with a positron emission tomography (PET) before and after. The article states that they used radioactive substance [18F]diprenorphine ([18F]FDPN), which binds to the opiate receptors in the brain and hence competes with endorphins. I have no idea what that means but the bottom line is, their performance was tested somehow.

Basically what they found out is that the Endorphin Hypothesis holds true- there is a connection between the release of endorphins and the emotional state of the athlete. For more details, see this blog post.

So now that we know (or we at least have a concrete example) that the Runner's High exists- and we know that in order to get one, you have to run for a long period of time- why the heck have I not gotten it in over a couple of years???? And only during the past year have I started to run a marathon regularly and only over the past 6 months have I started running ultras!!!
Which means that I got a runner's high from running 10-13 miles, not from my 26-65 miles. That does not make sense. If anything, I'd think I'd have a high every month from all of these races.
I'd like the scientists from all of those medical fields to do a study on me and see why I'm getting gypped.

It was so long ago that I can't remember my experiences that well- but I do know that runner's high are awesome but also scary. When you get the high, you feel like you're on top of the world. It's so great because your speed picks up and you seriously pass millions of people. However, the high's are very scary because you never know how long they're going to last. I remember getting the high one time at around 8 miles and I still had a couple miles to go. I wanted to take advantage of the high and go fast, but I didn't know if it'd stop after 30 seconds and I'd screw myself from wasting all of my energy. What a dilemma.

I know people say (and I've experience this) that during ultras people will get like 5 winds. They'll have low points and then high points and then back and forth. This is not what I'm referring to- that's different than the runner's high.

I'd like to hear from some of you (especially the ultra-runners) if you've had the high and if you did, what distance it was for.


Unknown said...

Hm. I got the high last night during a training run. It was short, only 8 miles, but I had done a triathlon in the morning so I was feeling a little beat.

I can feel mine coming and make them last a pretty long time. For me it's kind of like slowly pouring water over my head. It starts in the back of my head and kind of trickles outward, to the front of my head, down the sides, down the back of my neck. Then it keeps going down my back and out to the rest of my body. It's very weird, but it's totally real. At least it feels that way.

I don't use them as a pickup, I use them as relaxation. It kind of validates the work I'm putting into the run. Also, once I get one, I can kind of force a few more out during the same run. I just kind of have to think about it and focus on the initial feeling and they'll come. I don't know if that's strange or not.

As an ancillary to your article - there was some research done this year which showed that runners react to the high the same way drug (crack or coke I think) addicts react to the high they get from drugs. Running really is like a drug.

Clara said...

You're pretty lucky you got the high and that you get it often. That's not fair. I wonder if it's because you did the extra workout in the morning or if it's because you can run 100 miles, swim 200 and bike 300 all in one week.

That's good advice regarding how to deal with the high, once you get it. Too bad I never get it to put the advice into practice.

UncleT said...

In regards to the runners high,
I remember getting a bunch of runners high 5's in the mini a few years ago when we ran past one of the elementary schools. Is that what you are referring to as a runner's high?
I would say those people who run the Pikes Peak Marathon get the ultimate runners high - they must be at least 13,000 feet above sea level. That's what I call a high!

But you know, Clara, just because you have never experienced a runners high doesn't mean you are any less of a runner than those who run in the olympics. What it tells me is that you don't need something else to get you through - you have the "highest" with you all the time in the Holy Trinity. I don't mean to get all spiritual on you, but it's true. I am so proud to tell everyone my niece runs these incredible races! Cool!! That gives me a high and I am so proud of you!! I give you a HIGH 5 for that! Hope to see you soon!
Your favorite uncle - Uncle Tommy

Josh said...

There are plenty of times when I feel really really good while running, but I wouldn't classify it as a runners high. It mostly has to do with the mindset I'm in at the time. If I'm running with friends or thinking happy thoughts, or just am overjoyed with the fact that I'm able to run at all (which happens often.)

I guess the closest I've had to a runners high was mile 67-75 of my first 100 miler. I was in a bit of a rough patch from 60-67, then started feeling unbelievably good, ran WAY too fast, passed a ton of people, and crashed hard at 75 where I walked 25 miles in terrible pain to the finish line.

I think it's a general consensus that in order to have a runners high you need to be physically pushing your limits for a long period of time. The high might avoid ultrarunners because we have to pace ourselves for a long period of time and aren't constantly pushing to the limits. The high would probably be more common in a tempo run of 10-13 miles than in a marathon or ultra. All that said, it's probably like watching water boil: If your waiting for it, it'll never happen ;)

Anonymous said...

So that's why you're such a crazy runner... chasing that just-out-of-reach HIGH!!! :)

Whatever the reason, you're incredible.