Howdy! I’m Diane Chesla and am Co-Race Director of the Niagara Falls International
Marathon (NFIM) exploring the mind-body connection of running & how lessons learned can
be applied to life. In my previous articles I talk a lot about “flow,” but, as runners, we can probably relate better to the term “runner’s high.” These terms both refer to states of mind when time seems to stand
still and we are deeply immersed in our activity at hand. After spending a fair bit of time researching and contemplating the importance of relaxation as a precursor to these fabulous states of mind, I’m going to share with you here an idea that might surprise you, as it did me. The question I asked myself for this article is: must one relax first in order to experience a runner’s high? The answer? Sometimes.
I actually don’t think it’s 100% necessary. There are other variables—in sport in particular—that affect our ability to reach these states of mind. Let me share with you an experience I had recently that led me to this thought. My dad passed away just over a year ago. Since then, it’s been a pretty awful year in terms of stress. To be honest, I’d been feeling like I was barely keeping my head above water for the better part of the year. Ironically, I lost my passion for running after my dad’s passing. No matter what I tried I couldn’t shake my state of mind. Then something magical happened. I ran.
I hadn’t even realized that my mind had “woken up” until I went to a shop and was talkative, giggly, and full of zest post run. The “old” me, full of vivaciousness had returned. It was the run. I must have really awoken my endorphins from their sleepy state. I felt FABULOUS!
Endorphins are one type of neurotransmitter that increase with exercise and are involved in runner’s high. Did I relax to enter this state? Heck no! I just went out and enjoyed every damn minute of that run. This brings me to a very important point. There are some key variables involved in entering a state of high from running. Relaxation is one. Focus is another and enjoyment is yet another. Are all necessary to experience runner’s high? The answer is probably “no.” And I was reminded of this after my rejuvenation run. That said, I’ll give you two different scenarios in running where relaxation may be key. If we think of “relaxation” as “letting go,” it might be easier to understand why it’s necessary to change our mood and enter that elusive state of high possible in running.
Consider this scenario: You have a really bad day at work. You come home to a leaking toilet. You grab your mail and some bills are marked “past due.” You head out for a run and grumble the whole way, frustrated at your situation and still obsessing over it. You trip, scrape your knee and call it a day. Mental state pre run: 1/10. Mental state post-run: 1.5/10. Consider this alternate scenario: Same bad luck as above, but your say to yourself “work is work, the leak can wait and so can the bills.” You start your run and notice the freshness of the air and the soft beauty of the night. You get in a groove, you trip, you giggle and carry on. Mental state pre run: 1/10. Mental state post-run: 9/10.
What was the difference? In the second scenario you relaxed into the run. You “let go” of thoughts and emotions from the past and enjoyed the current activity at hand. In doing so, you became more aware of experiencing your environment that you were immersed in. Hopefully these scenarios help paint a picture of the importance of relaxation—and how this can be used to experience runner’s high. But how much of scenario #2 was based on “letting go” and how much was based on “enjoyment?” Are they the same thing? In my next article, I’ll explore more of the idea of “enjoyment” as a key to runner’s high and how we can apply this to life outside of running. This will be interesting because let’s face it, running is usually damn hard and can down right suck when the weather is bad.