Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What Really Causes The Runner's High? (NY Times)

This weekend, this blog had an abnormal spike in traffic for a 7-year-old post called "Understanding the Runner's High", something I had written when reading about early research that linked the runner's high to the endocannabinoid system (rather than the oft-quoted source of endorphins). It turns out that the New York Times ran an article this weekend with some updated findings.

 The article is an interesting read. I found the following quote particularly fascinating:
"But perhaps the most telling experiment was published last year by researchers in France who had bred mice with no functioning endocannabinoid receptors. Mice usually love to run, but the genetically modified animals, given free access to running wheels, ran about half as much as usual. Although the full intricacies of the endocannabinoid system’s role in motivating and rewarding exercise is not yet understood, it seems obvious, the researchers say, that the cannabinoid-deprived mice were not getting some necessary internal message. Typically, the endocannabinoid system “is well known to impact onto central reward networks,” the authors write. Without it, exercise seemed to provide less buzz, and the animals didn’t indulge as much."
Man, it sucks to be that mouse! But it's intriguing that a fundamental love of running could be genetically built into all of us. I've been feeling rather mouse-like on my treadmill lately and smiling the whole time. ;-)


  1. Haven't really read about the endocannibinoid angle before, but I have definitely experienced that runners high! My next run will be the Kern River Trail Run 10-miler, lots of steep climbing with plenty of opportunity for 'the high'


  2. Greetings Scott,
    Thanks taking the time to read this note.

    I see that you have run a course that I too have done (Tahoe 50miler) and one I will attempt (Wasatch 100). Obviously you have run many others….you also met my wife Helen last year at the conclusion of Tahoe – she said you are just a great and friendly guy - I guess you guys shared a burrito or something – she did the 50K (her first) – she had the brace on her calf….We will be back at Tahoe this year – that is such a beautiful course. At any rate I am hitting you up for your thoughts, comments or advice.

    Last year I did the Tahoe rim 50 miler as my second 50 (my first 50 was Pocatello 50 in 2009) and I did the Tahoe in a nice and easy 14 hours – felt fine and had plenty of gas left in the tank. This year I will attempt my first 100 – Wasatch. Some local friends – whom you may know - Jared Campbell and Ryan McDermott told me “Eh you did two tough 50 milers and Ross you should just dive into Wasatch” and, “as long as I keep moving I can finish the Wasatch.”

    Scott, as you have run both the Tahoe 50 (2010 – I guess they changed the course from previous years) and the Wasatch, how do they compare? Is the Tahoe 50 a good prep for Wasatch? My memory of Tahoe is that the trail seemed really soft, not too rocky, and somewhat easier than what we have around here (I actually liked the climb out of Diamond peak and passed a bunch of folks –granted I only had to climb it once). I will run as much of Wasatch course as possible before September – especially those sections that I will be on in the night. Am I crazy for diving into Wasatch as a first 100? My goal is anything less than 35 hr, 59 min, 59 sec (finish it)!

    By the way I too will be running Boston in April – my first Boston – I am not sure if I want to run it for “time” or just have fun and not worry about my time.

    Thanks again for reading this note. Any insight and or advice will be greatly appreciated – and I would love to touch base -if possible in Boston.

    Be well,



  3. Ross -

    That's awesome you are signed up for Wasatch! I haven't done it (yet – I'm in for this year too), but given the feedback I've received it's a much more difficult course than TRT. You have greater temperature extremes (40-90+), some very technical sections and steep/loose climbs, and apparently the last 13 miles are incredibly brutal. But I agree with Ryan – if you pace yourself correctly and have a reasonable expectation of finish time, there's no reason it can't be your first. Particularly if you have Jared and Ryan to help get you set up.

    Definitely tackle TRT50 and/or a 100k in preparation, the steeper the better. Do strength/balance training with your core, ankles, and hips to be ready for the off-kilter trails and loose rocks. Be sure to try some night runs on the Wasatch course so you can get your equipment dialed in. And then just go for it! Super-psyched for you. I love it when runners just man up like that. ;-)

    Let me know your Boston number when you get it so I can keep an eye out for you. I'm doing a quick visit this year – flying in Sunday, run Monday, flying out Monday night – since we will have a newborn at home. But I plan to run with some friends in a 3:40'ish pace. And I will certainly hit a Beantown Pub afterwards!

    Cheers, SD

  4. Hello Scott-
    A mutual acquaintance referred me to your blog. It is ironic how our paths have paralleled or crossed, but we haven't (yet) met (e.g., Oregon Ducks; Netscape; LoudCloud to name a few x-points). Although I'm not an ultra-type myself (3K/5K Track actually with a couple of marathons years ago that taught me to stay on the track), I have really enjoyed perusing this blog for a couple of days and admiring the ultra-runners; amazing fortitude. We should connect. Cheers Greg (Go Ducks!) gam1357@gmail.com

  5. Greg-

    All those connections AND you like Thievery Corporation?!? It's like we are bizarro brothers or something. Perhaps that's why we haven't met - if we shook hands, it would negate all of existence! ;-)



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