How to keep getting a runner's high?
October 26, 2013 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Is it normal that the more I exercise, the less great I feel afterward?

I've been running (usually about 20 mins, 3 times a week) for a couple years now. When I started doing Couch to 5K, I felt great afterwards the first month or so - basically euphoric. As I kept going I stopped getting such a boost in my mood but didn't think much of it, til I got injured and had to stop running for around two months this summer.
When I started up again I noticed a dramatic impact on my mood - I would feel so content and happy all day after working out. This lasted for maybe the first two weeks and then I stopped noticing a real effect, or at least a dramatic one.

I'm super busy and haven't run in a couple weeks, so I suspect that next time I run I'll feel great. I asked my dad about this (he also runs) and he said he feels great every time and hasn't ever noticed this lessening effect.

Is there any way I can stop the effects from diminishing over time? Do I need to be getting my heart up to a certain rate, or running for longer as my body acclimates, or what? Or does everyone experience this?

posted by queens86 to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm up to running marathons and essentially don't ever get this feeling. I used to think that people who talked about a "runner's high" had never really been high and didn't have anything to compare it to.

The science that I'm aware of on the phenomenon center on the release of endorphins and the resulting effect on your mood. It does appear that the amount of endorphins released is related to the duration and intensity of exercise, so you probably will need to run further and/or faster. T the extent that your body adapts to the demands of exercise and produces fewer of them, the only way to overcome that is to run faster or further.
posted by Lame_username at 5:46 PM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sprint your last half-mile, like you have to take a wicked shit. You'll get your high.

You'll also get faster.
posted by notsnot at 6:07 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Personally I get the exercise high by switching up workouts - running, spinning, kettlebell, yoga. When I've done just one thing, over time the high wears off. My advice would be trying a new workout for a bit.
posted by sweetkid at 6:11 PM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the high has something to do with breaking through some kind of barrier.

In my own case, I don't think I ever really had a runner's "high", but I have been in some kind of zone while running or doing physical labor. To me, it almost seems like a type of exhaustion, where so much of the body's resources are going into keeping moving and all the glycogen is used up, AND the mind is not in a place of stress (like running away from a tiger) so the mind sort of allows itself to go into a sleep mode.
posted by gjc at 6:31 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I started running about a year and a half ago - starting from nothing, just completed my first marathon. I have noticed this too to some extent. However, I still get that "runner's high" after hard workouts - speed work, intense hill workouts, etc. So my theory is that it arises when you're pushing your body hard, which you were doing at the start of Couch to 5K. I don't really get as much of a high from long slow distance days, so for me at least it's related more to intensity than distance.

I also just find tougher workouts more fun - have you thought about incorporating tempo runs?
posted by barnoley at 6:45 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it normal that the more I exercise, the less great I feel afterward?

I can't speak to whether this is normal or not, but I run most every day for a little more than an hour at a time and get that "exercise-stoned" feeling from it every time. I do find that if I run for a half an hour or less it doesn't provide much in the way of a "high" and I don't have much of a subsequent mood benefit either.
posted by killdevil at 7:26 PM on October 26, 2013

I actually get a runner's high from doing higher mileage. I feel kind of sluggish when I do 30 miles a week, and feel great doing 50+. Also, running during a great sunrise or sunset, during a heavy rain, snow, etc. The slog of day to day running can be less than thrilling, but I LIVE for the great moments.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:50 PM on October 26, 2013

Anecdotally- I have gotten this rarely from running, but much more consistently from lifting heavy weights.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:01 PM on October 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would always get it on the first long run or two every year and then it would fade. Don't think you can control it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:35 PM on October 26, 2013

I literally get depressed from running, to where I had to give it up. All kinds of strange things happen when we run, and what happens is really person-relative.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:43 AM on October 27, 2013

Yeah, if you're just repeating the same workout again and again you're gonna plateau. You need to mix it up and keep pushing yourself beyond your current ability level, just like you were on the C25K. Only now the challenges are increasing your speed, introducing sprints, hills, longer runs etc.
posted by penguin pie at 3:12 AM on October 27, 2013

Two things - firstly, is it that your expectation of a high isn't being satisfied, and if you pulled back on the expectation you may enjoy it more? My own experience running changes by even just doing a timed run vs a non-timed run. Perhaps have less pressure, go steady, look around yourself, you may enjoy it more. Secondly, maybe the novelty has left and you need to change route or distance or terrain to bring it back.
posted by 0 answers at 3:51 AM on October 27, 2013

It seems to come from pushing yourself a little beyond the comfort zone, not so much that you feel like you want to vomit when you are done working out, but well into the red zone. Interval training does it for me. Also, it is pretty hard to get there in a short 20 minute workout.
posted by caddis at 5:18 AM on October 27, 2013

Perhaps you should notice how you feel when you don't run instead. I workout - running and weights nearly every day. I don't always notice how great I feel during the workout but I do notice how shitty I feel when I haven't done anything for that day.
posted by lasamana at 6:14 AM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I personally find that I have to run somewhere between 10-15km to get my 'high' on. Sometimes the first couple km are even torturous (particularly if I am hungover), but there also seems to be a relationship between how hard it is for me to get into the zone and how good I feel.

On days where I slide right into it, I don't feel nearly as good as the days where I suffer first. No idea if that is normal or anything, but that's just me. Also, once I cross about the 13 mile distance I feel completely terrible, like shaking and vomiting bad, so- much like real drugs- you might not want to overdo it.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:16 AM on October 27, 2013

I'm a semi-professional triathlete.

You're going to have to train progressively harder to get and maintain your runner's high. After a year of cycling races, I had to switch to triathlons to maintain my high. Where I used to train an hour a day, I now train four to five hours a day.

That, or work on your speed and compete in more marathons.
posted by lotusmish at 5:32 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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