The Runners High

I feel great after a run but am not sure if that's the runners high.

I first asked myself about the runners high a couple of years ago when I was listening to questions pitched to New Zealand champion runner Allison Roe (who is a former winner of the New York and Boston Marathon.) She had humbly told us about some of her running anecdotes, world class times and records in a motivational keynote presentation. In finishing she asked for questions. My friend sitting next to me piped up. "Excuse me Allison," I was cringing already. "I have run over 150 marathons. I have run over 300 miles in an ultra race." A murmur from the crowd went up. Who was this upstart who couldn't control his ego, was gushing about his own running when he shouldn't have been and was hijacking question time. Sitting next to him I was feeling very awkward as he slowly tried to steal the limelight. He continued on. And on. "I have travelled all over the world with my running and actually competed in over 50 ultra races." I slid further and further down into my chair, hoping to remain shielded from the embarrassment and the now occasional heckle that was coming our way. Still he refused to stop and proudly stated, "I run almost everyday of my life, but..." There was a deathly silence as we all waited for the rant to continue. "I have never, never, never had the runners high. Never. Not even once. Can you please, please help me?" It was the perfect delivery of a joke and brought the house down. It also got me thinking. I'm not sure I have ever had the runners high either. In fact, what is it exactly?

What is the Runners High?

The runners high is hard to pinpoint. Scientist will tell us about endorphins and endocrine secretions. Psychologists about risk and reward and coaches about the pain and the gains. But I don't think anyone can really know about the runners high except for a runner. I guess it is a personal experience which is why it is hard to explain. When we run we forget our troubles. The freedom of the open sky, the fresh air in our lungs, the momentum in our hearts. It fills our being and is beyond science. 

"It’s about what you have in your core," said running legend Robert De Castella about the marathon, which he can complete in an outstanding 2:08. "You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things." De Castella's runners high sounds painful. So does Helsinki Olympic marathon champion Emil Zatopek's. "I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known."

Is the runners high that feeling of exhaustion after running faster or further than you have before? Wiping the sweat from our brow after a lung busting training session? Coming back from a pack run with friends? Putting through an entire load of washing of just running gear that takes up the entire clothes line? Jogging through a majestic forrest? Or that feeling of accomplishment when you finally manage to head out the door for a run when your mind and body really want to indulge in a sleep in.

Running is a journey. When we run we are all proceeding. Fast,slow, jogging, sprinting. It doesn't matter. Maybe the runners high is a quest or when we run we are travelling to the runners high. "There is only one perfect road," offered running guru Sri Chinmoy,"And that road is ahead of you, always ahead of you." After 15 years of running hopefully the runners high is coming to me!

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Motivational Speaker Grahak Cunningham is one of Australia's top conference speakers and keynote speakers. He is a four time finisher of the Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. An annual event and the world's longest ultra marathon. It involves running for 18 hours a day for 51 days.


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