What Runner’s High?

I used to run for exercise; though, toward the end, shuffling quickly would have been a better description of my movement. As a young adult, I read Dr. Kennet Cooper’s book, “Aerobics,” purchased running shoes, loaded up the dog and drove to the old railroad grade between Carson City and Virginia City, Nevada.

From Dr. Cooper’s research, I knew cardio conditioning requires continuous movement, so I decided I’d run for thirty minutes. Having no idea how to pace myself, I sprinted along the grade, then lurched along the grade, then vomited on the grade.

Miraculously, I didn’t give up, and though I added other cardio activities over the years, I always preferred running. I can’t brag about my speed or my distance, but I’m proud of my consistency: a minimum of thirty minutes, five days a week, year in and year out.

Like brushing my teeth, exercising is an engrained habit for me: I feel something’s amiss when I don’t do it. Dread keeps me moving as well. I’m afraid if I quit for any length of time, I could never make myself go through the agony of starting again.

Over the years, friends and family have teased me about my persistence. A brother told me he’d read an article about the impact of cardio exercise on longevity: consistent exercisers lived only a few months longer than non-exercisers. With ill-concealed glee, he said: “You drip sweat and jar your joints to  live eighty-five years and nine months instead of eighty-five years and seven months. Seems like a low return on your investment to me.”

Even my dad piled on, telling me he never saw runners with smiles on their faces and asking for my thoughts on why they look so grim. “Well, Dad, they’re concentrating on avoiding the old guy in the careening pickup who seems oblivious to traffic lanes and regulations.”

I love my family, but sometimes they try my patience.

I exercise not for longevity, but because I enjoy its day-to-day benefits  — increased energy, sound sleep, no dieting. But exercising has never been easy for me. Recently NPR aired a program on running. The panel discussed endorphins and the fabled runner’s high. I was cheered by a bit of research they shared: five to eight percent of runners experience no high —  other than a feeling of relief when they stop.

I identify.

One of my fondest memories of my dad involves running through an airport. Joel and I had flown with my eighty-eight-year-old father to Nashville to visit my brother. Our flight home had a close connection in Houston, where we arrived late.

While Joel ran ahead to try to hold our flight, I linked arms with Dad, and we scooted as quickly as possible, counting down gates. We were at twenty, on our way to twelve, when Dad reassured me, “Don’t worry, Janet; we’ll make it in plenty of time. I’m saving my kick for the finish.”

I remember our dash through the airport and Dad’s laughter at his own remark whenever I’m struggling through a fast, steep walk or a brisk workout. The memory helps me continue.

And some days, I need all the help I can get.

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87 thoughts on “What Runner’s High?

  1. Kudos to you, Janet, for persistence, stamina, and longevity. I admire that kind of commitment. A friend of mine who follows a daily exercise regimen proudly responds to my “How are you, John” greeting with the words, “Still kicking!”. 😜

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  2. Oh my…You have my high five.I much prefer to get out and work around the yard, but with crazy weather lately it has been almost no go. My #3 son runs, mostly on a treadmill, when he is out on the rig but is in training for a 25 mile run this summer in Fla. with one of his co-workers. Sounds crazy to me but what ever floats your boat.
    You go girl and we, your blog friends, will cheer you on.

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    • I loved this response, Barbara. I think everyone should find their way to movement that works for them, and working around the yard is about as good as it gets. I do love my morning walks, but I’m happy when spring happens and I cut them short so I can work in the yard. Thanks for your cheers! I’ll listen for them.

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  3. In my youth I was athletic, setting records in my region that stood for over 50 years. But I have never run for fun. I love to walk. The movement, the smells, the small details of life every changing along the way… my knees are gone now, so running would be out for me, but walking, I’m still able to manage. Who knows about longevity, theories abound, healthy lifestyles contribute surely, but I doubt there is a magic bullet anywhere out there.

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    • I am with you about the lack of magic bullets. In the post, I didn’t mention my increased enjoyment now I am walking for exercise. I love it for all the reasons you mention. I was never an athlete, but I have always admired those who are.

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  4. I love(d) to run. I ran for joy. I ran to get away from sorrow, grief, disappointment and heartache. It always worked. I ran to take in as much landscape as possible in the limited time I had. My best dreams (now that I cannot possibly run) are of running on trails. In my current hip replacement saga (the second such saga in my life) the surgeon persuaded me with ONE sentence, ‘You’ll be able to run.’ We’ll see how that pans out, but just hearing it brought tears to my eyes. Meanwhile I ride an Airdyne stationary bicycle, an old one, from the 70s. 🙂

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    • I knew that you found joy in running, Martha, and I enjoyed your explanation of why you run. It also touched my heart that you dream of running trails and that tears came to your eyes when the doctor said you’d be able to run again. Oh, how I hope the surgery works, if not well enough to make you a runner again, then well enough to make you a pain-free walker. (I bet your dogs would like that too! )

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  5. Ditto the entire message here. Nowadays my worn out joints creak as I shuffle along the trails at about 2 miles an hour. But, when I reach down into that bottom dresser drawer full of forty year old fun run tshirts I can hear the finish line applause. Afraid I’ll be treading slowly to that last finish line.

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    • Good for you, both for the strong running of your past and the shuffling of today. My joints have begun to creak as well, which is why I slowed to a walk, a decision I should have made sooner. But we’re both still moving. Your last sentence struck me with its power as I visualized myself doing the same thing.

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  6. I’m not as devoted to exercise as you. But I’ve been doing the following for years: Three or four times a week I climb (without stopping) the 130 steps in a parking garage near my home. Doesn’t take too long, which I like (because I’m lazy!)

    Till next time, Janet. See you —

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    • Thanks for finding my blog and taking the time to encourage me, John. While I know illnesses and accidents can happen at any time to anyone, I have long believed exercising increases my odds of living an enjoyable life as long as possible.

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    • You hit the nail on the head in your comment, Michele. One of the reasons I’ve always exercised is so I can enjoy guilt-free cake when I feel like it. And I do. I was quite sure you are a walker because anyone who loves and notices nature the way you do has to walk through it.

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    • I have a friend who describes her joints that same way; and I know they make exercising impossible for her. But she exercises her mind and talents to full capacity all the time. I think your ability to find joy in travel and share it with others does the same for you.

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  7. I was a runner till well into my 70’s. It was my favorite form of exercise, though I also loved the quietness of yoga. I also played tennis daily. Now though I use a walker and cane I do all kinds of exercise to keep the blood flowing! Also as I taught my kids while we all watched Jack LaLanne on TV years ago “If you don’t move, you rust.” Both my girls,now well into their 60’s work out every day. One is a horsewoman, the other a biker, both are golfers and one is a tennis player. Dr. A, at 92, doesn’t begin his day without exercise, and still walks a mile or two each day with the dog. So I am like you, a firm believer in keeping these bones moving. Good for you Janet!

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    • What a wonderful model you and Dr. A provided and provide for your daughters, and it paid off as they live an active life. I also found other, some more gentle, ways to exercise and keep my blood moving as my body ages. Thanks for reminding me of Jack LaLanne. I used to watch him and marvel at his feats.

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  8. Thanks for the post. I admire you. I, too, try to exercise daily with stretch and strengths. However, because of health issues aerobic is difficult. I have a water exercise on Tuesday a.m., I bicycle on Thursday a.m. and on the weekend I do stationery bicycling. That is the best I can do, and it is often in pain. Your post reminded me of the importance of just pushing through.

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    • You sound very active to me; even with the pain you endure you keep at it. I, too, do water exercise; other than walking, it is my favorite form of exercise because it is easy on my joints. I admire you, Laurel; I think the way you push through is marvelous.

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  9. I prefer walking briskly to running. My knees and hips are more important to me than saying that I run. I also have an elliptical machine in my house, so aerobics is not a problem. I also try to do strength training at least a couple of times a week. You go girl!

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    • I understand about your knees and hips, and I think you get a lot of exercise working around your place. We, too, have an elliptical machine for use in the winter when its too snowy and icy to get outside. It’s really a work out.

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  10. I always wondered about runners high, I enjoy running but I definitely don’t get a high from it. I admire your dedication to continued exercise, I seem to go through phases of consistency. I’m looking forward to getting back into exercise once my recovery is over though

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  11. I walk more now than run but this inspires me to pick up the pace a little a try and get back to running. I don’t know if I ever felt a runner’s high but I too like how I feel after and that I can mostly eat what I want …….

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    • The idea you expressed, “…I can mostly eat what I want …….” keeps me moving more than any other motivator. I don’t always eat what I want, but when I do, I neither worry nor feel guilty about it. How fun is that?!

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    • That is such a wonderful compliment, lbeth. Thank you. I could try posting ten times a day, but I think my marriage, exercise mania, sleep and sanity would all suffer. Could I just try sending funny or interesting thoughts to instead?

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  12. Running is a hell of a task, sometimes it’s just nice to run for the sake of it, running to catch a late flight is a close second though. It’s good to know that all the comments you received towards running didn’t make you stop.

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  13. So? Did you guys make the flight on time or did you hafta take another flight???? Or is this a two part-er???? Loved the last sentence of your 2nd paragraph…..”Having no idea how to pace myself……..then vomited on the grade”…..as usual, you deftly set us up and then expertly gave us the punch line……still smiling. Loved it. ;>) Hugs, Lucie

    PS I’m inclined to agree with your brothers….after 3 knee surgeries and endless back issues I gave it up and took up “strolling”. I never did get a “runner’s high”; was more like a “runner’s torture”. ;>)

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    • Yes, we got there just as they were issuing the last boarding call, and the three of us laughed when they asked if Dad would need help boarding. As always, I am happy when you enjoy my writing, Lucie. Also, running for you does sound like torture. I’d have stopped as well.

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  14. This is one of the most engaging, hilarious and heartwarming Runner’s Manifestos I’ve had the privilege to read!

    Unlike you, Janet, I am not good at keeping to routines, and I envy you in this. My desire to keep fit is slightly haphazard, although I like to think of myself as zen 🙂

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  15. Good for you!
    I’m not a runner, but I DO try to exercise T least 5 days a week. Zumba is my favorite—moving to music is relatively painless, and there is the social benefit. I’ve made friends with others in my class, and knowing I’ll be seeing them gives me that extra push to get out the door.

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    • I, too, have enjoyed different sorts of classes offering dance moves set to music and find them enjoyable. It is fun to moved to music and makes friends with with other participants. The music is another thing I love about water aerobics. but my mainstay year in and year out has been running, and now walking, because I can do it early in the morning, which is my preferred time to exercise.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You are right. Both walking and yoga are great as we age because they are easy on older joints. I’m also trying to become a better swimmer for that same reason; but I’m making slow progress because our only pool is an outdoor pool — Memorial Day to Labor Day sort of thing.

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  16. A life time avid walker, I have long avoided running. Our new elementary school was up a muddy back road, we had to run in P.E., with teacher in pristine white gym slip following behind in her car. We used to sneak off through the forest to Dairy Queen, and beg a cone from my cousin who worked there. And look how I turned out. Long may you run, my friend, great post.

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  17. I’ve never been into running, not even as a kid. Since my mobility has been limited, of course, I don’t run. My lack of balance would put me on my backside in no time. Still, when I discovered that exercise gives energy, I wanted to try something, anything so I wouldn’t be tired at 5pm every day. I started walking. I can’t walk outside however because the unevenness of the ground would do me in. So, I began walking the length of my house inside. I walk from the hall closet at one end to the end of the living room at the other and back again. I do 30 lapses most days. It does increase my energy level and I’ve lost a few pounds.

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    • I admire you for finding a way to exercise that accommodates your needs and doing it. I walk outside, but I have had to modify my walk because my balance is no longer what it used to be. I stick to sidewalks and smooth paths as much as possible; and I no longer hike on uneven terrain.

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  18. I just found your blog, and I love your writing style and quiet humor! I also admire your 30 minutes of exercise, because my exercise goal is often only 30 seconds! (I once blogged about that [https://mondaymorningrail.com/2017/01/23/a-sloths-guide-to-exercise/].) Thank you for your insights and I look forward to your bi-monthly posts!

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  19. Hello. Neil from Yeah Another Blogger sent me your way (so blame him). I like the guy, so when he recommends something (music/film) I’m all over it. I have a beautiful spring day where i dwell so it’s on with the new doggers and out the door for a nice stroll. You and that Neil guy inspired me. Back later to check out your takes. CB

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  20. Janet, I’ve admired your devotion to exercise, from afar, for many, many years. Memorable was an early, cold, foggy morning in San Francisco when you left in your jogging clothes for a run before we visited our friend Ernie at Letterman’s Hospital. When you returned I knew you’d had a more pleasant start to the day than me….just sitting and watching the news.
    I love this story about your Dad.

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    • I’m glad you liked the story about Dad, Mercy. It’s one of my favorite memories of my dad when he was older. I don’t remember the early morning run in San Francisco, but I remember our visit with Ernie and our hilarity at the airport over the direction arrow that made us both look heavenward, one of many times I laughed uncontrollably with you.

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  21. Like you, Janet, I exercise because I enjoy the daily benefits, and because I believe staying active will allow me to keep on enjoying all my favorite activities.
    Unlike you, I never took to running. It seems to be something I just can’t do. I admire you for sticking to your daily regimen for all these years.
    I’ll remember your Dad’s “airport quote” when I’m hiking a steep mountain trail this summer!

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  22. Time for a visit Aunt Beulah, knock knock are you home, it’s Annie from Australia, just popping in to say Hi and read your latest story.
    I read the first few lines and blow me down, we both loved to run. I started running after I had my first baby. I loved playing sport, netball, basketball, tennis and I had no idea that a nine month lay off and then giving birth to a bub would render me so useless and uncoordinated.
    I played my first game of basketball a couple of weeks after having the bub and I felt and looked like a baby camel or foal trying to find my feet and remain in an upright position for half the game. I told my coach to bench me for the rest of the season competition as in my own mind I clearly needed to go away and get fit and search for all my coordination, where did it go?
    So I started running until I slowly found some strength again. I returned to all the sports I loved, but now running was on the calender, every other day I ran 5 kilometres and did this for many years, in fact 2 of my Grandchildren were born and I was still running.
    Then at age 54 I got sick…I survived when doctors told me I wouldn’t, I have lived with chronic pain since as you know Aunt Beulah and I am still running, only now continuously into ill health. I am danged if I know , because I felt so fit and well before suddenly my body had other plans. Recently I had a 12 month window of reasonable health an functional pain, I returned to work and things were zipping along ok.
    My bloomin’ body said ” hang about, your havin’ too much fun “, I had surgery on 26th March and now have to have more surgery on 4th June.
    I thought I was bullet proof Aunt Beulah and like you I figured exercise whatever the form, it could only be good for me. I think it is all in the genes sometimes, our health is perhaps pre-determined long before we come to know it.
    Nevertheless I’m with you all the way Aunt Beulah, any form of exercising does excite the endorphins and I think we do get high on exercise, I know I did for sure.
    I love your father’s confidence and mindset whilst mustering all he could to get to that plane. I have an image that at gate 8 he hit his straps and it took all your resources to keep up with him Aunt Beulah for he had indeed strategically saved his runners high for the home stretch. Beautiful story you always tell, I just love them.
    Biggest hugs wrapped in love headed your way
    From
    Annie in Australia 🌴🌞🌊❤❤

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    • You are a courageous person, dear Annie, to muster the strength of your funny, positive personality even as your body plagues you with problems. i think a lesser person than you would have given in to those problems, but your running and your spirit strengthened you. I, too, have come to realize the major role our genes play, but I wouldn’t have missed a minute of the time I spent exercising, especially outdoors, because of the mental lift it gave me as well as day to day increased energy. I admire the way you took up running after giving birth and continued doing so as long as possible. From now on, I will think of you running, feeling happy and strong. In terms of your sunny personality and pluck, you remind me of my father. I think you’re saving your kick for the end as well. I love, love, love you, Annie. I was touched, became teary, as I read your comment. More hugs than you can imagine coming at you dear friend..

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