Anatomy of a Runner’s High.

Anatomy of a Runner’s High.


Various events may trigger it, may start the chemical chain reaction. It may be a smile from a fellow runner, the sun streaming through pine needles gently swaying in a calming breeze, a breathtaking view of the distant hills or a fleeting glimpse of elusive wildlife. It may come 5ks into a training run or 50ks into an ultra-marathon, At the end of a hard effort up a long climb or while racing down undulating technical trails. Those who have experienced it crave it, chase it. Non-runners dismiss it or view it with scepticism.

I’m talking about the ‘runner’s high’.

I can only speak from personal experience and my account of this phenomenon, is most likely very different from the average trail-runner but for the sake of understanding for runners and non-runners alike I will dissect and describe a typical runner’s high for me.

It usually comes out of nowhere, but is often triggered by music or a particularly beautiful view or moment in nature.

The high is pure. It is not a hazy drug high, it is a total mental high not effecting your body at all.  Think back to a moment in your childhood of supreme surprise and happiness. Getting the toy you were hoping for at Christmas or seeing a long forgotten friend. Couple that with the most goose pimple inducing song or movie moment. Then double, triple that, then mix in a couple of espresso shots.

The feeling is powerful and profound, so much so that your mind races trying to find the cause of such a sensation. Is this simply chemical? A survival mechanism of a body trying to squeeze every ounce of effort out of a creature determined to run in absence of threat or conflict.

Your smile starts to crack, this begets a maniacal chuckle. The wonder and absurdity of all existence hits you. The force behind all endeavours of mankind, the ridiculous insignificance of your actions and the dance of complex fractal simplicity intertwining all life and matter bounce between your ears. Your eyes begin to well. The sadness of an infinite universal beauty expresses itself through every emotion and extrude through your skull.

You laugh again and shake your head but this time it’s because you think of how absurd you must look. A grinning, running monkey in the middle of the wilderness. But you don’t care, this is the best thing you have had, and you don’t want it to go away. You don’t know how long it will last so you just enjoy it. Your joker grin sits firmly on your face and you try to ease into the dwindling high, ride it out. Sensations of fatigue and feelings of doubt may come but for now you float in this euphoric flow.

Sometimes I get multiple highs in one run. Sometimes I don’t get it at all. It may last seconds or may linger for minutes but boosting me in its wake for hours. I know this description may seem extreme but this is an honest description of what I experience.

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