Runner’s High: Achievable For All?

I would definitely consider myself the black sheep in my family when it comes to athletic capability. My father played college hockey, my mom ran college track, and both of my brothers are three sport athletes. My youngest brother has followed in my mother’s footsteps and found a love for running, particularly long distances. For his cross country practices, he runs an average of 5-7 miles daily and loves every second of it. I’ve never understood this theory of a runner’s high. Every time I run, I feel the constant desire to stop, along with immense amounts of pain and discomfort.  I knew the essential basis of what a “runner’s high” really was, which was basically that endorphins are released during exercise, and this allegedly keeps you upbeat and seemingly pain free despite your high level of physical activity. I also knew that it was achievable. My brother spoke of it, I knew people who swore by its existence, but all of these people were skilled runners. I wanted to know if a runner’s high was a thing for those who don’t run regularly.


Here’s a more in depth breakdown of how a runner’s high works. Physical activity and stress, such as running, can trigger the release of Endorphins, which are a special chemical located in the brain. Something interesting about endorphins and their association with the Runner’s High is that the origin of endorphins wasn’t actually discovered until 2008, when a German scientists did an experiment on the brains of runners. When he scanned their brains after physical activity, endorphins were found by the plenty. Essentially, Endorphins act as pain relievers by blocking the message of pain from reaching your brain. Also contributing to this runner’s high is another chemical in the brain, called endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are more responsible for this unknown feeling of content and relaxation, while endorphins block the pain. Together, they create what we know to be the “runner’s high”.

But, if you’re looking for a runner’s high and only running 1-3 miles, or keeping the pace at that of a slow jog, you may have a hard time finding it.Endorphins are more likely to be released when you are running at ¾, or 75%, of your maximum heart rate. This is why we hear skilled runners and athletes speak of the runner’s high as opposed to the average joe that goes for a jog around his neighborhood for twenty minutes. Most people who are just beginning to engage in a workout regime are unlikely to reach this high level of physical activity. It takes someone who is an experienced runner, or at least in pretty decent shape, to be able to push themselves to that level.


There’s a few other things that contribute to a more enjoyable run. For instance, although you are supposed to push yourself and your body, pushing yourself too hard will make you feel worse and create potential injury or sickness – something that endorphins alone can’t fix. Additionally, your body is likely to feel better during a run if you are well hydrated and nourished. Listening to your favorite type of music and running with a partner or a group of friends also releases more endorphins.

So there you have it.  Runner’s highs aren’t something that you should expect to come to you any time you run. It actually requires effort. You know what they say, with risk comes reward. So next time I go for a run, looks like I need to push myself a little further and train a little longer if I’m looking to reach a runner’s high.

3 thoughts on “Runner’s High: Achievable For All?

  1. Christopher Joseph Kiefer

    In high school I was a basketball and lacrosse player. During my junior year I picked up cross country as a form of cross-training. at the beginning of the season, my coach always talked about reaching a state of runner’s high. Similar to many people I know, I hated running and thought that he was full of it. About half way through the season I was running during a regular practice and I felt it. It was almost like I had zoned out and my body was running on its own without any pain or fatigue. It’s one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever had and it was very interesting reading about the science behind it!

  2. Thomas Garvin

    I can really relate to this post, my father ran cross country here at Penn State and as you mention in the post, he swears by the “runners-high.” As a former football offensive lineman, I did not run much during the games. However, I feel I experienced something similar during and after the game. During games, my body felt invisible, probably because of an adrenaline high. Does adrenaline have the same effects that endorphins have on the body that you refer to in this article? I found an article that discusses their differences, enjoy!: .

  3. Joe Garrett

    I have never been a runner myself but I can relate to the “runner’s high”. I experience the same “high” when I am skateboarding and it is what keeps me going even when my body might be getting tired. I now know that endorphins are one of the reasons I am able to keep skateboarding despite taking a few falls onto the concrete. The good feeling I get from exercising is able to block the pain I feel from falling down. I notice the pain from a fall more later in the day after I am done skateboarding and the “runner’s high” has worn off. For those who don’t feel like running to get their “high” here is a post that gives other exercises to give you that “high” feeling –

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