Welcome to Earth

What is The Runner's High?

WELCOME TO EARTH: Fartlek Training

Welcome to WELCOME TO EARTH, the bit in POSSESSED where we answer a question sent to us from somewhere far, far away in space. This month's letter comes from the noble and great intergalactic emperor Ross Ross Ross, who hails from SWEEPS-11, the furthest of the 5,521 known planets outside our solar system (no shit, that's how many planets we've identified outside our solar system):

Hello, POSSESSED. What is the runner's high? Is it real? Is it anywhere near as good as DMT? Will I encounter 'Machine Elves' as described by ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna?

Hugs, Ross Ross Ross.

PS: When are you gonna do a print version of this?

Thanks for your question, Ross Ross Ross!

Sadly, the Runner's High does not include Machine Elves. It would be cool if it did, but it doesn't. In fact, there's no hallucinating or interdimensional travel to be had with the Runner's High. That said, it's still a legit high and unlike any other. It's not like marijuana, it's not like LSD, it's different from heroin, and it's poles apart from huffing solvents through a brown paper bag under a bridge. The Runner's High is a clear, clean, euphoric state that occurs after and/or during a run. It is as elusive as it is pleasurable, and it can only be experienced through the act of running.

Most runners only ever experience the Runner's High after running for a very long time, at least 20 kilometers in some cases. Other people can run 5 kilometers and get a buzz, but for most runners, it's the longer runs that trigger the high, and the theory behind why it happens is actually super interesting.

Human beings (tramps like us) are born to run. Our bodies have evolved over eons to chase things and eat them. Before there was Sonic Drive-In, ye olde humans would pursue food (prey) on foot for days, and the chemicals (endorphins) released in the brain to create the Runner's High would make the experience of running forever to catch an antediluvian rabbit much less arduous. That's the theory. It's like when you smoke pot before cleaning your home: the job becomes less of a burden and more of a terrifically fun experience with the potential for song and makeshift puppetry. The Runner's High is theoretically like that. It makes something that should be tedious enjoyable. Another benefit of the Runner's High is pain relief. Running for a long time hurts (ask any of our pro athletes), but the analgesic qualities of the Runner's High dull the pain. So, I guess it's kinda like heroin after all. Let's just say it's exactly like heroin, except you won't have to rob old ladies or do unpleasant things with your mouth to get more of it.

The Runner's High doesn't stop with the release of heroin-like endorphins, though. Recently, scientists discovered that the R.H. also stimulates the endocannabinoid system, which is a network of receptors in your body that fire up when you smoke pot. It's common to feel calm, relaxed, and slightly goofy after a long run, and that's your endocannabinoid system activating. So, in a way, I guess the Runner's High is like smoking weed, only it won't make you dip cookie dough in mayonnaise while watching Koyaanisqatsi.

As I said, Ross Ross Ross, the best way to bring about the Runner's High is to go on a long run. You want to push yourself to the point where you feel uncomfortable, and you'd much rather slow down, thank you very much. That's not to say you should run at maximum effort—that'll just result in a shorter run. Your best bet is to run at that point where you can feel yourself pushing the peddle down, but you're not putting it to the metal, so to speak. You know what I'm talking about. The recommended effort is somewhere between 75 and 80% of your maximum heart rate. Again, the Runner's High exists (theoretically) to make running less painful and not so much of a drag; therefore, you should work towards having a reasonably stressful, discomfort-provoking run to make it happen. The endocannabinoid system is sparked off when your cortisol (stress hormone) levels spike, and endorphins are released when you are in pain. Bear in mind the Runner's High is not guaranteed. It's a wildly elusive phenomenon, and some runners never experience it. Sad. Apparently, you can improve your chances of encountering the Runner's High by setting out early. Studies have shown that morning runners get the high more often than afternoon or evening runners. Also, running to music can help trigger the Runner's High, as can getting a good sleep the night before.

Thanks again for your letter, Ross Ross Ross! Good luck catching that high!

P.s. Print is coming. Relax.