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Finding a Runner’s High in Maine

Ben JumpingThe “Runner’s High” is an elusive thing. I sometimes think that non-runners believe that we all go out there in search of the high on every run. That running is some kind of addiction. Maybe it is, but I can honestly say that in the seven years that I’ve been running with purpose I’ve felt what I might describe as a runner’s high on only a few occasions. I can probably count them on one hand.

For me, a runner’s high is not so much a state of euphoria as it is a sense of strength and invincibility. You feel like you can tackle any obstacle placed in front of you. Big hill? No problem, just power up it. Steep downhill – let’s fly (kind of like my son in the photo at the top of this post)! Your legs have an energy that they don’t usually possess – hills that might reduce you to a slog one day feel like nothing when you are on a high, and you can run a minute or two per mile faster than your usual training pace and it feels like nothing.

Last Wednesday I experienced my first runner’s high in what feels like years. I was up in Maine for a final family fling before school starts back up (and my schedule normalizes again, something I need badly!). The day was pretty much a wash-out. I think it rained as much that day in some parts of the state as it had the rest of the summer combined. But I’m in the final stages of training for the VT 50K and I needed to get in some miles.

I headed out with a plan to run 5 miles – up to the top of a ridge and back down. I told my wife that if she heard thunder she should come pick me up (thankfully it held off). The first mile was a 9:00 slog, wasn’t feeling great and I wasn’t optimistic about the run ahead. But things started to click in mile two as I loosened up and the rain started to fall a little harder. I headed up a 250 foot climb to the ridge top where I was going to turn around, and I was feeling so good I decided to add a loop along the ridge to add some distance. That’s when it hit, I suddenly began to feel a strength in my legs that has been missing for most of the summer.

I clicked off mille three in 7:35, then mile four in 7:00 and I kept feeling stronger. The rain had soaked my shirt and I was starting to feel a bit of nipple chafe so I took it off (going shirtless a rarity for me, but I’ve dropped a bit over 10 pounds this year so I wasn’t too self-conscious!). There’s something about running with nothing more than a pair of shorts and shoes on that is freeing, and doing it in the rain feels even better. Mile five went by in 6:57, mile six in 6:52.

During mile seven I headed back down the ridge and clipped off a 6:35. And for the final 0.6 I headed back up a hill toward home at 6:44 pace. I don’t think I’ve strung together 3 consecutive sub 7:00 miles since my last 5K in May, and it felt great to do so on a training run. I was elated!

I’m not sure what precipitated my runner’s high on that day. Maybe it was the cool, wet weather that felt so different from many of the hot slogs I’ve dealt with over the past few months. It allowed me to realize that my training has been paying off even if it hasn’t felt like it for much of the summer. Maybe it was simply running in a different place than I’m used to. Maybe it’s just a flukey thing that happens from time to time and it’s not possible to predict when. Maybe it was the confluence of all of these things. Whatever it was, I wish I could bottle that feeling and uncork it on the day of the VT 50K – I’m going to need all the help I can get!

How about you – have you ever experienced a runner’s high? Any thoughts on what triggers one for you?

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. I find that my running highs happen when I’m able to block out distractions (work, errands, appointments, etc.) and really listen to my breathing and feel my feet strike the road.

    Doesn’t happen all the time but it’s kind of like lightening in a bottle when I do. Still hard to say what triggers a runner’s high but definitely happens when I least expect it – always a bonus.

    The best part is if I catch a runner’s high in the morning and can carry it all day – makes for great productivity!

  2. Yeah Pete,
    I agree they are rare and unpredictable. But I’ve noticed over 30+ years of running, two are what you toched on also! #1. Pretty well always in a build up phase, never when I’m over trained and needing rest. #2. Pretty well always on a cool day, and many times in light rain! I wonder if it is the negitive ions or there is slightly more o2 in the air, or both? I think that track in Helsinki? Finland is always fast-sea level, raining, cool-or used to be. Hum? Anyone else? :)

  3. Had to be because you crossed that northern border into Vacationland ;-)

    I find that I tend to find that elusive runner’s high when it is raining lightly and on a hillier course, Never seem to bottle for that next race though ;-)

    You will get your schedule back and be smiling about all the things you did this summer and suddenly realize it wasn’t the routine that made things interesting, it was the lack of a routine and spending time with the ones you love.


  4. Christian N. says:


    I really know what you mean.

    I also had this high, running through the rain, even screaming like I was a neanderthal :) Maybe its while the weather/nature is touching your body..and in this moment you’re feeling like its just you and the nature. No one else is crossing your way..and shirtless..yes ..I love it. I don’t care at such moments.

    Regards from Germany

  5. Love this post, Pete. First to read about a great run you had and how it pulled you out of that slogging start. Second to know that even experienced runners with a passion for it don’t have perfect runs and that runner’s high on every run.

    I’ve been running to work as much as I can (great way to get a good run in while not taking more time from my life). I find that I end feeling very sure of myself, good about what I’m doing, and clear-minded and charged for the day. I’ve never done drugs, so I can’t say if that’s a true high, but it feels great, sets me up for a good start to the day, and is definitely a feeling I long for on days I don’t run. The cool thing is that I get it even when my runs aren’t great (past couple have been slower and more labored feeling).

    One distinct time I felt it coming out while running, pushing me faster and longer was the first time I broke 5 miles. I was running along the Thames in London (fantastic place to run), and just got this building feeling of being able to go for ever. Each stride felt better, faster, more energizing. Fantastic. I did 6.1 that day, and 7 the next. If not for some massive blisters that developed at the end of that 7 miler and having to get to Heathrow for my flight home, I would have kept going.

  6. Greg Emerson says:

    A nagging calf injury has made training for the MDI half a struggle, so it was refreshing to read this recent post. The run this reminded me of occurred in 1983 when I was 24. I had run the Maine Coast Marathon in mid-May and had taken on my first and only triathlon in early July. My training partners were gearing up for the Paul Bunyan Marathon in Bangor, Maine for a week after my triathlon . Because I had done the training with them, I decided to enter also. Right from the start I knew it was going to be a rough outing. Although the marathon started at 6:30am, it was 88 degrees and was supposed to hit in the mid 90’s by the end of the race. Sure enough, my legs felt like lead and I quickly told my friends that I would not be with them today. Carol, a spouse, was riding a bike in support and she was trying to ride back and forth between us in encouragement, but after a while the gap was widening and she stayed with them. I figured I would try to hang on unit we reached the U of Maine campus in Orono (UMO) which was the 18 mile mark and the finish line also. (There was an 8 mile loop after the campus). I tried a strategy that I call “laddering” where I would focus on the next runner in front of me and try to catch them, run a few strides at their pace with them and then refocus on the next runner. In concentrating on laddering for 12 miles I finally reached Orono and realized that I had a a feeling of strength and euphoria and I decided to finish the marathon properly. I felt like I was riding on top of my legs and that I was flying like an elite! I was passing people like I was in a mile race. I spied ahead of me the Carol on her bike and she was shocked to see me because I pretty much told her I planned on dropping out. She rode beside me and reported that my friends were about a mile ahead. She checked her watch and told me that I was running a 6:15 per mile pace! For perspective realize that I used to run 10K’s at a 7:00 minute pace on my best days. I passed my friends at mile 25 and finish in 3 hours and 15 minutes. I ran right into the (UMO) field house locker room and under a stream of cold water where I stayed for 20 minutes. I still can’t explain what happened that day, but it was a gift from somewhere that even today, as a 55 year old I try to visualize during a tough run and it usually works to propel me 31 years ago and before I know it I am a mile down the trail. Thanks for activating this memory in your story.

  7. Way to go, Pete. Each run advances you forward whether you realize it or not.

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