Fact: Running can be addicting — in the best kind of way. If you’ve ever considered taking up the endurance-building, individualized exercise, you might start to feel frustrated when it feels like all work and no visible benefit (other than carb-loading the night before). But don’t give up. That runner’s high is in sight!
You’ve heard about it, but what is that infamous runner’s high, and how do you get there?
You can thank a giant boost of endorphins for that euphoric feeling you get somewhere during or after a run. While timing is different for everyone, anyone can achieve the high that comes from really pushing yourself. But if you’ve yet to experience it along your running path, hold on tight.
What is a runner’s high?
A runner’s high is the name of a feeling that runner’s typically experience during or after a run. This feeling – often described as a feeling of elation or euphoria – is caused by the endorphins released in the brain. This massive endorphin rush activates the part of your brain that releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical.
The combination of the dopamine and endorphin release is what causes a runner’s high.
What does a runner’s high feel like?
A runner’s high typically feels like an overwhelming sense of euphoria. It can also include a sense of optimism, a sense of achievement or increased confidence.
Runner’s high examples, from real runners
We spoke with 10 runners to get their take on what a runner’s high feels like. They told us when they feel the runner’s high and what it’s like for each of them. These stories will inspire you and help you discover how to achieve the ultimate runner’s high.
Matt from New York City, NY
Average pace per mile: 8:15 mph
Races completed: 1 marathon, 3 half-marathons
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: It’s really run-specific for me. Lately, during my training, it’s occurring at random times throughout my runs where I remember the feeling of achievement of past runs. This past weekend, I was at mile 7 of 10 as I remembered the success of running the NYC marathon.
What it’s like: It’s an endorphin rush of accomplishment. It’s the moment where the pain of training transitions to a euphoria. Sometimes it’s brief, sometimes it lasts for a mile or two, but it’s the best part of the run.
Carri from Marietta, GA
Average pace per mile: 9-9:30 mph
Races completed: 10 half-marathons, 4 marathons and training for another one
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: Six miles
What it’s like: There’s something magical about the six-mile mark for me. Whether I’m running 10 miles or 18, something kicks in at mile six. I relax, stop thinking (or obsessing) about every little thing going on in my life as a mom of three. I start to feel the rhythm of the run, my heartbeat, shoes on the pavement, and the music or podcast in my ears. I don’t believe in “easy'” miles. Every mile is tough, every mile is earned. But after six, something clicks and I’m in that happy place.
Jennifer from Portland, OR
Average pace per mile: 8:30 mph
Races completed: 1 ultramarathon, 3 marathons, 1 Olympic distance triathlon, 2 spring triathlons and too-many-to-count half-marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks
How long it took to get the runner’s high: It took a whole season of track in high school to finally find my first runner’s high. I started as a sprinter, which didn’t go well, but as soon as I switched to the longer distances and got acclimated to the mileage, I had moments and runs where it felt amazing! Even now when I’m training, that feeling comes and goes.
What it’s like: A feeling of complete effortlessness. You’re in your groove, and it’s almost easier to keep running rather than stop. I forget about my body and any discomfort disappears because I’m totally in my head, lost in my thoughts. It’s almost an out-of-body experience, and the closest I’ve come to it is in meditation class. You’re aware of what’s going on around you, but so present, so in the moment, that you’re just appreciating everything surrounding you and hoping it’ll last.
Carissa from Honolulu, HI
Average pace per mile: 8:30 mph
Races completed: 3 half-marathons
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: In a shorter race, I get the runner’s high after the race is completed. In longer races, like half-marathons, I get the runner’s high about halfway through when I find my groove and can enjoy the race.
What it’s like: Prior to moving to Hawaii, I disliked running quite a bit. Being from Boston, I couldn’t stand the idea of running and training outside in the cold, and racing was not introduced to me until I left the Northeast. The appeal of running came when I moved to Hawaii and had the gorgeous landscapes of ocean, mountains and the availability of trail running. I have butterflies at the beginning of every race, and in the first few miles I struggle with setting my pace. Once I find my rhythm, I feel an overwhelming sense of energy, strength, power and accomplishment. I feel as though I can run forever with the Hawaiian setting, my favorite playlist and a tremendous sense of happiness. That’s a runner’s high to me.
Jen from Boston, MA
Average pace per mile: For me, it really depends on distance, but on my usual daily runs of around 4-5 miles, I stay at 9 mph.
Races completed: 1 marathon and 5 half-marathons
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: It takes me about 25 minutes of continuous running to start feeling the effects of the runner’s high.
What it’s like: It’s that euphoric feeling where my mind is all of a sudden significantly clearer. I feel a lot lighter emotionally — all of my worries and anxieties start to subside — and I feel instantly lighter on a physical level. It’s almost like feeling sluggish and gross, and then hitting a giant reset button. All my problems are fixed (at least until the next run!).
Jennifer from San Diego, CA
Average pace per mile: 9-10 mph
Races completed: 12 marathons and 1 Ironman
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: It takes me about 40 minutes to start to get a runner’s high.
What it’s like: I have more energy after running than I do when I start. I come home from half-marathons with more energy, and it’s almost like I’m hyped on caffeine. I run all my errands, clean my house and can barely relax (in a good way!). It doesn’t make sense that after running 13.1 miles, I feel so alive. Marathons are harder and I’m usually so sore, but I keep my running high until around mile 20 and then it’s all endurance.
David from New York City, NY
Average pace per mile: 7 mph
Races completed: 1 marathon
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: Usually between 50-60 minutes.
What it’s like: To me, it invoked a feeling that made one feel limitless. I’d come to a point where I would no longer put a focus on my tempo of breathing or think about how fast I was going. Natural elements, like temperature or terrain, no longer felt like factors that would prevent you from continuing on your run. It’s a powerful feeling that can make time move faster, yet also stand still.
Emma from Nashville, TN
Average pace per mile: 9:30 mph
Races completed: 2 half-marathons
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: It takes until about the third mile for me. Sometimes, a quick two-mile run will be harder than a 10-mile run, since I never actually reach the point of clear-headedness and focus. Once I get in my groove by mile three, it seems like time (and the miles) slip away.
What it’s like: It took me until I was 23 and in really good physical shape to get into running. I’m a teacher, so I started working out regularly with a group of women at my school. One day, I had a terrible day at work and no one could work out with me, so I went for a run. It cleared my head completely, and after that, I couldn’t get enough of running. It’s been two years now of consistent running, and almost every run I go on, I have a clear mind and extreme energy. I feel empowered and strong, and I know that’s my runner’s high — that feeling that I am driven, in control, energetic and making my body and mind stronger with each step.
Christina from New York City, NY
Average pace per mile: Around 5.5 mph
Races completed: 2 half-marathons
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: As soon as the run is over I start feeling it.
What it’s like: Before a run, I’m typically dreading the physical challenge before me and honestly can’t wait until it’s over. But after any run — whether it’s 10 minutes or three hours — I feel incredibly energetic and optimistic. After my last half-marathon, which involved training in the snow, my running partners and I immediately disregarded all complaints and decided we wanted to sign up for another race. Running, more so than any other workout I do, makes me feel really accomplished, since it’s only you and your mind once you start.
Susan from Swampscott, MA
Average pace per mile: 8 mph
Races completed: 15 half-marathons
How long it takes to get the runner’s high: I usually begin to feel great at mile three. If I’m really turning up the heat, it gets more difficult but also more satisfying.
What it’s like: Running for me is what I like to call my “drug of choice.” It offers me great euphoria and a pleasant feeling of accomplishment that motivates me throughout my day. On the days that I cannot get my run in early, I become tired and cranky, often leading to somewhat of a withdrawal feeling. I usually get a solid run in at some point during the day, as it’s truly become somewhat of an obsession because I’m addicted to the change in mood I get from completing my run. It’s the one thing I can honestly say that I do solely for myself, however, my family members also benefit because I am easier to live with once I have gotten my run in that day.