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The Runner’s High

Fletch on a runner's high after a 10km run with two of his kids and Running Science dog.
Fletch on a runner’s high after a 10km run with two of his kids and Running Science dog.

There are many reasons to run. It strengthens bones and muscles, burns calories, improves cardiovascular fitness and lowers blood pressure. But one of the most intoxicating reasons to go for a run is the post-run mood boost known as the runner’s high.

For Running Science owner Jonathan Fletcher (Fletch) he first noticed the runner’s high over ten years ago during a 10 kilometre race in Olympic Park. “There were about 1,000 people there,” Fletch explains. “I remember crossing the line and feeling so elated. Everyone around me was really on a buzz and happy. They were all keen to talk and share their experiences.”

Happy hormones – a chemical romance

Enjoying fresh air outdoors in a group environment would make anyone feel happy. Weight loss, better posture, muscle definition are also going to increase your self-esteem. But all those euphoric feelings are actually due to chemical signals from the brain.

So why do we experience a mood boost? Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that relay information from the brain to the body. Happy hormones such as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released in greater quantities while we run. Until fairly recently there has been speculation around the existence of the runner’s high which has been described as “pleasantness,” “inner harmony,” “boundless energy,” or even drug-like “orgiastic” sensations.

In a 2008 article called The Runner’s High: Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain published by Cerebral Cortex, German neuroscientist Henning Boecker and his team confirmed there is a chemical reason why we feel so good after a run. Boecker conducted PET brain scans of Munich men from local running clubs both before and after a run and found, “The level of euphoria was significantly increased after running.”

How much do we need?

“The degree of exercise-induced mood change differs considerably between individuals,” says Boecker. So what does this mean for runners? Well, you might have to experiment with the time and vigour of the run before you reach your runner’s high. Some people experience the runner’s high after an intense five kilometre race while others won’t get it until after an hour of rhythmic, relaxed jogging.

“I always feel a runner’s high of some description after a running workout whether it’s short or long,” Fletch continues. “If I do a really slow run I won’t get it as much. If I do a 30 kilometre run I’ll be on a high for 48 hours.”

Fletch first became hooked on running in his late twenties. He decided to swap cigarettes and beers for triathlons and marathons. He completed an Ironman, a 100-kilometre ultramarathon and last year ditched the corporate world to follow his dream of owning running specialty store, Running Science.

“First time I ran I thought I bloody love this, I could do this all the time,” he says. “When I started running I didn’t realise why I liked it so much and now I know what triggered me into a lifestyle of exercise was this feeling, the runner’s high.”

“Running is very important for a healthy state of mind,” Fletch continues. “I ran 10 kilometres this morning, I’m in a great mood and that’s chemical. My relationships with my wife and kids and family are all much richer when I am running more regularly. It’s a really nice thing that happens to us when we run and it’s a result of doing something healthy and good for us. ”

Relevant links:

Journal article: The Runner’s High: Opioidergic Mechanisms in the Human Brain published by Cerebral Cortex