The Runners High Decoded

As a general rule, I am not a runner.  When I was younger I did complete a marathon and through this experience I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the sport.  To this day I meet many people who discuss the "runners high" or, more specifically, how they were never able to experience the runners high.  Through my studies, I believe I have found the key to unlocking the mystery surrounding this tranquil state.

When I was training for the marathon, I had several months where I was doing well.  I was able to focus on the long runs and get in the zone. When I say that, I mean I was able to clear my mind and just focus on my breath and my body.  I wasn't thinking about the chore of the sport or making plans for later in the day.  I was completely present and it felt pretty darn good.

About six months into my training I was in a small accident where I sustained a knee injury.  This injury derailed my training, but I was committed to completing the marathon as I planned. I knew I was under-prepared, but I decided to go slow and steady and finish the race.  To my surprise I had a great first ten miles.  My pace was faster than it should have been but the energy of the crowd was inspiring.  I was focused on my breath and my form.  When I hit the ten mile marker, I could hardly believe it, I felt great and was on top of the world. 

Shortly after mile marker ten, the course switched to a nature trail.  The ground was no longer even and there were tank tracks in the dried dirt making each step a potential sprained ankle.  I wondered when the trail would end and we would be back on a running path.  I wondered what mile we were at and how long it would take me to complete the race.  I lost the zone quickly and mile ten through twenty six point two were not a pleasant experience.  Through my studies in meditation, I now understand how I lost the state of runners high and how to intentionally recapture it whenever I want.

The runners high is a version of the meditative state.  It is when the body is being pushed and the runner is so intently focused on their breathing and movement that they have no energy for anything else.  In that moment, the mind is at peace.  There is no room for the stress of everyday concerns.  There is nothing else you can do but continue moving through the race.  This is a true reflection of living in the present moment.  Here the runner is in the zone and has achieved a state of peace of mind. This is the runners high that so many people are seeking.

I know this is true because I now actively meditate and, on occasion, I still run.  When I meditate, I can easily get into the zone.  It has taken me a decade to get to this place of discipline, but I can focus my mind on my breath sensation and soon achieve a state of bliss.  When I run, I have experienced reflections of this peace.  It is always when I am focusing on my breath and completely in the moment.  I am working my body hard and I am in a mentally focused place. As soon as I start thinking about how much further I have to run or what I need to accomplish after I am done with my work out, my peace is gone. Runners high destructed.  Just like what happened to me during that marathon.

To achieve the runners high, the runner just needs to intentionally focus on the breath and be in the moment.  Train the mind to use your time running as a time to improve the health of your body and the peace of your mind. By doing this the runners high can become accessible to everyone, just not the elite distance athletes.  Even better news might be that you can achieve a version of this runners high any time you concentrate your mind on your breath and stop the internal noise that is so disruptive to our inner peace.