Runner’s High: is it Real?

Sweat was falling in steady streams from underneath her baseball cap and past her ears. Her face was strained and she seemed to be limping. But as she crossed the finish line, instead of collapsing in pain or vowing to never run another marathon, she rejoiced, raising her fists in the air with renewed excitement.

How can someone who worked their body to its limits be excited and have more energy to spare?

It’s called a “runners high,” and there may actually be some biological reasons why it happens.

According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, neurotransmitters in the brain called endocannabinoids (eCBs) generate a rewarding feeling by activating cannabinoid receptors in the brain’s reward regions during and after exercise. The affect is similar to the affect experienced after using cannabis. Hence the name runner’s “high.”

Scott & White Chief Executive Office, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, and avid runner, John L. Boyd III, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAP, said that the release of endorphins in response to pain and stress on the body creates the “high” that some runners experience.

“Some runners have told me that they get to a point in their run where they feel like they’re drifting or floating.”


But Dr. Boyd’s runner’s high is more of a sense of accomplishment than an out-of-body experience.

“I have gotten to the point in the middle of a run where I don’t feel like I’m getting any more tired,” he said. “I’m just going at a good pace and comfort level and I feel like I’m going to be able to carry on for a long time.”

To the Scott & White physician, the feeling of honest fatigue is his reward at the end of his runs.

“It’s like, yep, I worked hard to get this, I’m tired and I feel really good about it,” he said.

But if the true runner’s “high” actually happens, then why do some people experience it and others don’t?

“It’s probably because of the varying amounts of endorphins that are released inside the individual’s body,” Dr. Boyd said. “Some runners may get [endorphins] slowly, while other runners get it in a burst.”

The physician said although not every runner experiences the “high,” anyone can learn to love running.

“I am convinced that if you pace yourself and do things in a run-walk way, that anybody can start to run and enjoy it,” he said. “The people I run with are all body types. I think it’s just a matter of getting in shape.”

If you are looking to start a running regimen as a hobby or to get in shape, Dr. Boyd offers some tips on how to be successful.

Get a Good Pair of Running Shoes

“The first thing I would recommend to someone who was going to start running is to go to a good running store and get fitted for a good running shoe,” he said. “You would be surprised at what your normal shoe size is compared to your running shoe size.”

Running experts at the running shoe store will watch you walk or jog lightly to see what type of shoe would work best for you.

“Don’t just take your old sneakers out of the closet that you’ve been cutting the grass in and decide you’re going to go jog,” Dr. Boyd said.

Join a Group

Joining a group will help hold you accountable and be consistent with your running.

“The group expects you to be there,” Dr. Boyd said. “When you haven’t been there for a while, the group will say, hey, where’ve you been?”

In the year and a half since the physician has been running regularly, he hasn’t been able to run more than eight miles without the camaraderie of his fellow running mates in his running group

Dr. Boyd is part of the Scott & White Galloway program that meets every Saturday at Lions Park in Temple and promotes an injury-free running experience.

“The Galloway method is a run-walk method. It’s where you run for a period of time and then walk briskly for a period of time,” he said. “This allows me to carry on conversations throughout my run with my co-runners. That’s been a really enjoyable part of my experience.”

Because of the mental distraction that occurs when Dr. Boyd is running with his group, he is able to run more miles than he would be able to alone.

“After a while, you become addicted to [running],” he said. “When you make it a part of your normal life, then you really start to miss it if you don’t do it.”

For more information about the Scott & White Galloway Training Program and how you can join, visit the program’s site.

Have you ever experienced a “runners high?” How would you describe it? Do you think anyone can experience it?

About the author

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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Runner’s High: is it Real?