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Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

How Running Makes Us Happy

“If you aren’t enjoying running, then you are doing it wrong.”  — P. Mark Taylor

My friend Von asked this question the other day:

“Why am I not as happy on the days I don’t run?
Even if I don’t run, I’m still working out.
So, why does it have to be running?”

I know that Von works out hard on his non-running days.  This just makes it crystal clear to him that something about running is unique.  It makes his whole day better.  Even though that other exercise is important and good for him, he doesn’t get that same full-day benefit from his non-running exercise.  Well, Von, here are some of the many ways that running makes us feel better.

A Simple, Soothing Break

Despite the beliefs of many, running actually relaxes you in some important ways.  One of the most important is simply getting your muscles AND the mind to relax.  The gentle rhythm of running in proper form provides a soothing beat.  With each step, gravity pulls on your muscles and loosens them up a little.  Much of the tension built up through the challenges that you face day-to-day seem to slip away gradually.  It is almost as if gravity is giving you a massage while you are working to get healthy.

Running is not just physically soothing, but also mentally soothing.  On a run, one can get lost in the sights and sounds around them.  Some people hear the rhythm of their feet.  Some tune in to the birds and the breeze.  Other choose to run through scenic landscape.  In this way, the sights, sounds, and smell of a run provide an escape from the world, a mini vacation.

You will not get this kind of soothing break from all kinds of workouts.  A high-intensity workout will not produce the same results.   While it may be highly productive for health, an intense workout lacks the soothing, rhythmic effect of a run.

Endorphins

Endorphins can be released through many different forms of strenuous exercise.  Technically, endorphins are “a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.”  Your body releases the endorphins to counter the stress created by the pain of  the exercise.  Beyond the time of the exercise, the endorphins hang around long enough for you to be a bit more relaxed.  This “endorphin rush” can set a positive tone for the rest of the day.  Running has the edge over most other exercises in that more endorphins tend to be produced, especially in people that run nearly every day.

Runner’s High

As wonderful as endorphins may be, they do not cause runner’s high.  This is a common misunderstanding.  Runner’s high is due to a completely different system with a very different effect.  Runner’s high is actually caused by anandamide.  Anandamide is another substance that is created by the body to guard against pain.  Both endorphins and anandamide serve the same purpose of allowing us to continue our efforts in the presence of pain.  The difference is in the timing.  A second line of defense, anandamide tends to be released after longer periods of ongoing exercise.

A second difference is the particular effect.  While endorphins impact your system in ways similar to morphine, anandamide acts more like HTC.  HTC is the chemical present in marajuana.  In this way, runner’s high really is high in exactly the same way as smoking marajuana.  While endorphins do not cross into the brain, this is where anandamide does its work.  Runner’s high is stronger and longer lasting than an endorphin rush.

Here again, it is possible to get runner’s high from other sports, but you are much more likely to find the “sweet-spot” for anadamide while you are running.  If you want to increase your likelihood of getting runner’s high, you should run at tempo pace, just a little faster than your 10K race pace.  This pace adds just enough stress to cause the body to produce anandamide but not so much stress as to overwhelm your body.  It is the “just right” pace for a great workout and a trip to La-La-Land.

Conclusion

Like many other sports, running can make you happy through setting & meeting goals, by helping us get healthy, and by being happy & proud of our consistent efforts.  Like other sports, there are things about running that help us relax.  As far as setting the tone for a happy day, however, running edges out the competition.

“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor

_____________

Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:

 

The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup

&

Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

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