Last week, I wrote about the bliss that occasionally joins me on any given run. That can-do feeling that sprints by my side like an overly pranceypants Clydesdale so happy to see me that he’s going to knock me over. The buzz of energy so electric that if you touched me, you’d be bound to get shocked like toaster in a bathtub. A force that pushes me out the door, urgently whispering everything is going to be alright. That bliss.
There is of course a name for this sort of vibe, this top of the carousel, swinging from the light-post, tap dancing in the kitchen to Kelly Clarkson feeling. It is a rumbling that all sorts of runners (and other athletes I would hope) find shaking up their workout from time to time. Since my elation was at drifting hot air balloon status at the time of that post, I believe I failed to mention this key phrase: Runner’s high.
Runner’s high is a real, documented sentiment felt around the fitness community. So documented, in fact, that scientists began getting all Bill Nye with it and proposed a hypothesis about the phenomenon. The New York Times states the hypothesis as such: “The runner’s-high hypothesis proposed that there were real biochemical effects of exercise on the brain. Chemicals were released that could change an athlete’s mood, and those chemicals were endorphins, the brain’s naturally occurring opiates.” Be this as it may, any intense exercise, such as a high-energy soccer game or cycling your own version of the Himalayas would induce this sort of pleasure.
When finally put to the test (due to probing questions being too advanced to answer with technology for a period of time), a group of German scientists discovered in a very Dr. Frankenstienesque way, via PET scans, fancy instruments, and measuring chemicals in the brain, that indeed there is a release of endorphins during running. The New York Times reports, “Running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain. The endorphins are associated with mood changes, and the more endorphins a runner’s body pumps out, the greater the effect.” Of course, how to get more endorphins more of the time is a vexing notion, and one I’d like to see tested in the near future.
But here’s my question, and I’ll throw it down in a two-parter. 1) When I began running, I used to feel the effects of a runner’s high more often. Though I do still typically feel calmer and more ready for what life has to hand me after a run, I often do not feel that sense of security, of unexpected joy, that I used to. Is this because I now wear an iPod? Because I am more in shape? Following that same thought process is comes this question: 2) You know how people who do ecstasy need time to recover their emotions afterwards, because it takes all those happy chemicals in their brains and uses them up faster than chocolate chip cookies are inhaled at a picnic? Well, is that same thing happening with running? Like, you lose the benefit of the high because each time you run, you need more and more time to recover what is left of your endorphins. Or is that an illogical conclusion?
I guess the bigger question is whether or not we have a finite set of endorphins, or whether they are regenerative. Only time will tell. And even though, perhaps only if a doctor reads this blog and gets curious himself.
The New York Times (because I get intellectual like that sometimes. Bring on the crossword)