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Runner’s high explained – what it is and how to reach it

New research helps explain the why behind runner’s high. We explore this elusive sensation and share eight simple steps to get you there.


What does a runner’s high feel like?


You can feel every muscle fiber, your pulse is thumping, your circulation is at full speed. But you can't stop now. You keep going further and further. And suddenly it happens. The fatigue you have felt before disappears. A wave of energy washes over you, growing with every step you take. Feeling pain turns into a feeling of euphoria. Your legs fly over the ground. Whether you’re running on damp forest soil or grey asphalt: a runner’s high makes you feel like a superhero.


From recreational athletes to ultra-marathon masters, most runners usually describe their runner’s high with sentences like these:


“Effortless running ... Your head is completely free from thoughts.”

“You’re literally running in your own world and enjoy every moment.”

“It’s too bad that happy feeling doesn't last forever after passing the finish line.”

“My run was really easy once I got into that elevated mood and euphoric state.”


Ok then, so it doesn’t just feel good, but great. But is it a tingling sensation? A state of complete mental clarity? Maybe even an inner place a runner reaches? The reward of a runner’s high is like a rush – a feeling of pure euphoria that releases new energy reserves. The intensity and duration of the high can’t be measured precisely – and it always depends on the situation and the runner.


In other words: your own performance limits stand between you and that elusive runner’s high and the sensation it makes you feel. It’s a challenging hurdle to overcome and a difficult barrier to break. It requires mental fortitude, determination, and of course a certain amount of confidence in yourself. But it will all be worth it.



How can you reach runner’s high and how long do you have to run to reach flow state?


You can run five kilometers, ten kilometers, even 15 and beyond. Keep pushing yourself until your muscles and your bones start to the strain from the effort. Giving up would feel natural at this point but now is the time to persevere*. It is exactly when you start experiencing these symptoms that you’re climbing towards the high if you can keep the rhythm.


Push a little longer and gravity will suddenly release its hold on those heavy legs. Running will almost feel like floating. You literally feel elevated. Welcome to the runner’s high club. After you’ve felt the reward of that extended effort, your perception changes. You’ll want to chase this feeling again and again.



What does the science say about runner’s high and what is it exactly?


So it feels awesome, but what exactly is happening in our bodies when we hit that high? The research is surprisingly divided over the exact cause, despite it being a phenomenon that millions of people claim to have experienced. Here begins “the science bit”:


For a long time, endorphin release was thought to be the trigger for runner's high. Ask why people work out and endorphins will often come back as the reason they dance with discomfort. But these natural pain-slaying hormones might not actually be the reason why working out feels good.


Endorphins are produced in the brain and released when you exercise. Even more endorphins are released when you are exposed to prolonged endurance exercise. They are chemically similar to opiates and have been known to cause numbness and a mental state of intoxication.


However, more recent research results show that endorphins don't cross the so-called blood-brain barrier – they are too big to cross into the brain for that mental high. Which leads us in a new direction...



Running on endocannabinoids


Various tests suggest it’s actually endocannabinoids that cause runner's high – the same ones that can be found in cannabis. These chemicals bind to the same receptors in your brain as THC – psychoactive compound in cannabis responsible for high. And your body has been proven to produce these while running, which helps you internally trigger a so-called high. The latest research says that it’s these chemical compounds, not endorphins, that are responsible for runner’s high. Talk of endorphins as the cause still remains rife among runners though. Probably not least because “endocannabinoids” is a real mouthful.


Either way, our bodies are made for this natural intoxication at the biochemical level. So, whatever’s causing the high, unleash that elevating energy on your next run.


Can a runner’s high be bad for you?


Getting and staying healthy through exercise not only feels good but is good for you. We all know that. Yet people who are physically active and exercise regularly sometimes wonder if reaching the resulting high-like state of euphoria could be a bad thing. The simple answer, we’re pleased to report, is no, because the feeling of getting high itself isn’t harmful in any way.


Having said that, there is a (comparatively low) risk that being under the influence of this euphoric feeling can distract you from risks in the same way you’d be less sharp if you were under the influence of drugs so, as always, take care out there.


There’s also the possibility of getting addicted to the high you experience while running, which can also be harmful – you can have too much even of a very good thing, so that’s something to be mindful of too.



Is runner’s high a myth?


No. But you do have to earn it with effort. So be patient. Different runners have different thresholds to cross before they experience their runner's high. You will probably test your physical and mental limits – or even overcome them – on the way.


Running longer distances increases the chances of reaching a state of euphoria. The feeling of intoxication sometimes also sets in on shorter distances and regular training increases your chances of experiencing it many times over. Ready to start your pursuit of the runner’s high? These eight steps will help you get there:


Eight steps to euphoria: how to experience runner’s high.


Taking the following steps into consideration before a run will increase your chances of reaching a runner’s high:


Step 1: Start in the right shoe

Pick a shoe that is light and supports a fluid transition so you can move how you were meant to. The all-new Cloudflow checks all these boxes. It’s known as the “shortcut to runner’s high” for a reason.



Step 2: Run sore

Do an intense workout the day before your runner’s high run. Muscles in recovery provoke neurotransmitters into action, priming them for next day’s run.


Step 3: Start early and cold

Endocannabinoid levels are three times higher after waking up, and a quick cold shower (one minute is enough) will activate them even more.


Step 4: Scream more

Stress hormones contribute to your high, so trick your body into producing them by yelling at the top of your lungs (again, one minute is enough – but probably 59 seconds too long for your neighbors).


Step 5: Speak less

Running at over 80% intensity is where you want to be – which means you can’t hold a normal conversation anymore.


Step 6: No distractions

Listen to your body and don’t worry about personal bests, times or tools. Focus solely on your surroundings, your route and most importantly, your rhythm.


Step 7: More discoveries

Run somewhere new – in the heart of the forest, on quiet backroads, along the seafront, anywhere that will sharpen your senses.


Step 8: Run rain or shine

Clear sunny days can result in a sensory overload while rain-running triggers the body’s immune system. Both lead to more endocannabinoids.



The shortcut to runner’s high?


However far you have to run to reach it, a runner’s high is your personal reward for your discipline and your courage. No shoe in the world will get you there on its own. But the Cloudflow is known as the shortcut to runner’s high for a reason. Big on cushioning, low on weight, it’s engineered for both high speed and comfort, in training and on race day. Designed to feel more like a sock than a cushioned performance running shoe, it’s so comfortable you can wear it right out of the box. 


The all-new Cloudflow
Discover the third generation of the podium-topping and record-breaking shoe loved by elite athletes. Now refined with their input and enhanced with Helion™ superfoam and faster than ever. For the smoothest rides, softest landings and most explosive take offs.
See all colors and details


*Note: Your health should always be your top priority. Never push your body to the extent that you endanger yourself or risk injury when running.


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