Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Runners high as motivation

After a couple of hard days of work I just went out to shake away the cobwebs and put in todays run early so I can get to a couple of appointments this afternoon. I've always had a theory that for every 10 runs you do, 1 or 2 will be stinkers that you just have to get through in order to be able to enjoy the next ones. We can't be happy bunnies all the time, so that thinking makes sense to this psychologist.


I've been enjoying my running and training in the last fortnight after finally shifting a cold that lingered from Christmas. I can feel the improvement and I've been having good banter with my clubmates at training. I knew I had to put some hill work in today and used Jutland Street behind Piccadilly to get the stamina in the legs. This picture of the hill shoes before and after gentrification but you can see 15 reps of this bad boy would test anyones mettle! Most runners in Manchester know it and you often see others putting themselves through the workout!

Maybe because I needed to let my brain sort out a few things from the last few days (and rarely for me I had music on), but I didn't face this run with the usual trepidation. Maybe due to also having some strength built up in my legs from the last month it wasn't so daunting. By the time I finished and was jogging back home, I did feel the elation I've come to associate with runners high. As a psychologist with an interest in the neuroscience of the brain, I'm curious about the conditions you need to experience this feeling. In my MSc I did explore the idea of trying to do a study to 'induce' runners high in people, but the practicalities of an experiment limited it. I was inspired by a study by Prof Hans Boecker that managed to locate where in the brain runners high was experienced by marathon runners. This was seen via positron emission tomography (PET) scans in an experiment three years ago. But it is very difficult to specify 'if you do x, then y will occur.'

What I can confirm is that I have experienced runners high on a number of occasions, and the feeling of euphoria probably keeps me running - chasing that high when you've had a good session and all the conditions are present to reward the effort exerted. I was quoted for an article by a friend, Monica Shaw, about the subject and I will definitely look to research this in more detail as my career progresses.

In line with what I was writing about motivation for runners during training, I had forgotten about this feeling, as I can get caught up with the chase of improving times and PBs, but as I tell clients/runners, fundamentally you should enjoy your sport/running first, and then it is more likely such experiences will occur and the times will follow. I don't think it is a coincidence that I experienced runners high for the first time in a while after eating good food and having had 10 hours sleep.

What about you? Can any readers cite examples and conditions of when they've properly experienced runners high? What conditions do you think you need in order to experience it? Is runners high a motivation to keep running? Please let me know, I'm interested to hear your experiences.

Overall, if you get a bit sick of running do remember the enjoyment factor! It's easy to forget!

2 comments:

Tony said...

Great article I love getting the runners high kick and not knowing when and if it is going to come is what makes me leave the house everytime not really sure what makes it happen but it seems to be when a good song comes on and I am not thinking about what I am doing running wise ie breathing and rhythm all I know is that it makes me feel like jumping out of my skin and at times it can almost be hard to control myself

Stu Holliday - The Focused Mind said...

Glad you like it Tony. I've been following up with more of the science behind runners high and today or tomorrow will post up about whats happening in our brains when we experience so that we can try and understand the conditions when it occurs/what makes it happen. Thanks for the feedback.