Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Catching a Runner’s High

Friends often ask me about the infamous “running high” and if that really happens. It does but for me not all that often. But when it does, WOW, it sure is a fantastic feeling.

I don’t run for the high but they are some of my most vivid running/race memories. I've used my fair share of substances, both natural and manufactured, and the high from running is without a doubt more memorable that any other high I’ve experienced. Sure, part of it is the way you feel afterward-alive, no scrambled brain feeling, and reaping the benefits of physical activity.

My first runner’s high happened when I was about four to five months into running after about a 10 year hiatus. I was at my in-laws house in Reston, Virginia and they have this amazing network of paths. My goal was to run for 90 minutes. At the 90 minute mark I was feeling great so I decided to run another mile. After that mile I was still feeling strong so I decided to keep running while knowing that I had a new personal record for both time and distance. At about the 1:45:00 mark my legs were tiring but my body was pushing for more. NoFx was banging on my IPOD, I had a clear straight away alongside a park, and I began to yell out loud in complete joy. I was beyond myself that in 15 minutes I would have run for two hours (I ran for 2:01:00).

The second time was at the Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon in Hampton, New Hampshire. Somewhere around the 16 mile mark I climbed a small hill that left me on a flat straight-away lined on one side by rolling hills. This was my second marathon so I was still a little anxious about how I would feel after 15 miles and nearing 20. The light drizzle caused a majestic like fog that rose out of the rolling farm land. There were no other runners or spectators so it was very quiet and my mind was free to wonder. The scenery combined with the fact that I was alone on this stretch (this was my last race running without a sighted guide) left me in great spirits. So much so that I began to laugh out loud and even did a few skips in the air and began singing Michael Franti’s “Everyone Deserves Music” out loud. I felt strong, alive, and confident. I rode this high well past mile 20 and knew that I was going to finish with a better time than my first marathon.

I think a runner’s high is different than getting the proverbial second wind. For me, getting a second wind is much more about my overall energy level and feel of my legs. Although not always, a second wind is common after refueling on an energy bar or drink or knowing that you are close to finishing your run/race. It is also a direct beneficiary of solid training.
A runner’s high is more than energy. It is a feeling that takes over your mind and body and leaves you in complete sense of awareness. Almost a level of invincibility. It is often a result of your feeling in that moment and connects you to the landscape around you.

My third and most recent experience was this October at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon which also served as the U.S National Half Marathon Championships for Visually Impaired Athletes. I was still trying to adjust to post-ultra race training and dealing with a sore IT band. So I went into the race undertrained and not sure how I was going to run. Therefore, I started slow and held a 9:11 pace the first 5 miles and dropped that to 9:03 by mile 10.

At about the 10 mile mark we ran into the Old Town neighborhood of Alexandria and the number of spectators increased. For a small section we were also passing runners ahead of me going in the opposite way including my Team With A Vision friends. I also passed my in-laws and Steve Hendrickson, our group’s trusted pilot and Chief Cheering Officer. I was feeling strong and my legs felt surprisingly fresh. I told Ron Abramson, my capable sighted guide, that I would like to pick up the pace when we made the 180 degree turn back through Old Town.

All of a sudden I was swept up into the moment and really pushed the pace. I may or may not have told Ron that I was going to “drop the hammer.” Though drop it I did-my legs felt so light, my heart rate and breathing were so calm even when climbing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and I couldn’t pass people quick enough (Ron did some masterful guiding and yelling to get people out of my way). I felt like I was flying and for me I was. I averaged 8:03 for the last three miles!!! Outside of one 5K, I’ve never ran a mile that fast in ANY race never mind the last leg. I was rewarded with my first negative split.

This was much more than catching a second wind or banking energy for a strong finish. I caught a full blown runner’s high and rode it to the finish.

I don’t run to chase a runner’s high but I know one can happen at anytime-during a short sprint, long training run, or on race day. This always adds a nice level of excitement and anticipation to any run.

Do you believe in a runner’s high? What is your experience with runner’s high? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, I hope to see you soon on the streets.



  1. (cough)

  2. I had no idea. I need to read ALL of your articles.