Running is one activity that has been a constant part of my life for the last 4 years. Through running I meet new people, visit new places, and most importantly it boosts my overall confidence and keeps my mind in control. Through this post, my intention is not to talk about the benefits of running. It’s the next stage – once you do understand the benefits and have made running a part of your lifestyle, what about it makes you happy?
The topic is incomplete without a mention of runner’s high i.e. the sense of euphoria (sense of extreme joy and delight) after completing a run of a certain difficulty/ duration. This can make the runner feel relaxed and calm and also help shield some pain. For decades, endorphins released in the blood were thought to be the causing this, until recent researches found the cause to be another molecule – endocannabinoids. These molecules act on your endocannabinoid system, the same system that’s affected by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active compound in cannabis. You can read more about runner’s high here.
So what is your trigger for a happy run? Which of these runs is a happy run for you?
These triggers are not mutually exclusive. It generally is a combination but one of these is generally the key trigger.
1. A Fast Run
For most runners, being able to run fast leads to happiness. Lots of bragging rights are associated with this. All interval trainings, tempo runs fall under this category. The first question asked after a race is the timing and the question mostly carries the expectation of it being a personal best. This very expectation leads to the fast run triggering the happiness. The running ecosystem is built around this trigger so this will remain the dominant trigger in the times to come. If you don’t know what “BQ” is, there might be some raised eyebrows. “Personal best” by default roams around speed.
2. A Long Run
The next largest happy run group is the one where runners get happiness with a long run i.e. the test of endurance more than speed. The concept of “personal best” is for distance or time on feet instead of speed. Once the runner has a marathon in the bag, next eyes are on an ultra distance (any distance more than the marathon distance 42.195 KMs/ 26 mi 385 yd, the shortest race distance generally being 50 KMs). Someone who just completed a 10 KM run and is eagerly looking to run 15 KM irrespective of the speed. To cater to these runners, 12h/ 24h stadium runs are becoming mainstream. There is a substantial level of boredom and repetition associated with long runs. A part of being happy comes from successfully overcoming these mental barriers.
3. A Comfortable Run
The trigger is to be able to run at a particular speed and distance “more comfortably” than before. Comfort can be defined by a) Heart rate comfort b) Physical comfort. If the runner is able to sustain an aerobic heart rate for a 10K in 60 minutes run when the last similar run was in the threshold HR zone, it will be a “happy run”. It’s when an effort run moves into a chit chat run.
You can read about the heart rate zones here. These are used for Garmin devices but will be similar for other brands as well.
4. A Run That Makes You “Worked-Out”
This is a super interesting one. The trigger comes from the fact that you have moved your butt giving you that feeling that you have worked out. The person particularly might not be too keen on the activity of running, could have been swimming, HIIT or a gym workout. The feeling of sore glutes and hamstrings, the feeling of being dehydrated gives you happiness!
“I had an amazing sweaty 10K run this morning and am all pumped up for the rest of the day!” .. kind of feelings come with this bucket of runners.
5. A “Social Media Run”
This might be the fastest growing trigger that makes a runner happy. Being able to share running accolades and activities to the social network is a big trigger. Correlation doesn’t mean causation and this is definitely not my way to become a better runner, but there is a study done in 2018 that inferred that posting about running on social media makes you a better runner!
Last 36 months has seen a surge in the number of influencers and running is no exception.
Here are the number of posts for these hashtags on Instagram
- #running – 82M
- #run – 57M (was 31M in June 2018)
- #runner – 26M
- #runners – 12M
- #runnersofinstagram – 10M
- #runnerslife – 3M
6. A Run To Escape/ Meditate
For meditation, you don’t need flute music, candles or incense sticks. A happy run is when the runner is successfully able to meditate. How can a runner reach that state is not in the scope of this post but there is a lot of content online like this one – “Why You Should Try Meditating While Running (and How to Do It)“. Runners generally find a focus point that helps in staying in the meditative state – it can be the feeling of air in and out of your nose, your footsteps or any thing else in your mind. The runner’s eyes are open, the runner is alert of his/ her surroundings and yet is in a state of meditation.
7. A Scenic Run
The trigger of happiness comes while running in a scenic location. It can be a beautiful trail in the mountains or an asphalt road running next to the ocean. Speed, distance are secondary. Running holidays are on a rise and this particular trigger is driving that change.
A few scenic runs picked from the gram!
8. A Technical Run
Most runners start either on grass, asphalt or dirt tracks. It gets difficult or “technical” on rocky trails, on snow, running barefoot or running in extreme climates – strong winds, high altitude, heavy rains, slippery track etc. Overcoming these difficulties while running often is the trigger for a happy run. These require specific focussed training over and above what you would do for a normal run.
If you fall in this bucket, do check out the runs organised by Hell Race!
9. A Run to Help Someone Reach Their Goals
This is a special one! How do you feel helping a run buddy (or a random stranger!) cross the finish line in a race or help them smash their interval runs? Happy and satisfying? You are part of this! Dushyant (a good friend you see in the image below) very nicely put it as “PRs (personal record) happiness is momentarily…. No one can deny it makes one happy….. but the long term joy is missing in it”
Unlike what some people may think, running is a team sport and you become a better runner running with a group that challenges you, helps you when needed and is always ready for banter when you slog those super long runs.
There is no particular trigger that is better or worse than the other. It’s your run and it’s your trigger what will make you happy. As I mentioned at the beginning, for most people although there is a dominating trigger, a happy run comprises of a combination of triggers. I also feel the conversation should move towards more aspects than just speed and timing.
What’s my happy run? Maybe a comfortable scenic run with some meditation.
What’s yours? Share it in the comments!
If you feel I missed out on a happiness trigger from my list, I would love to know about it.
Note: The content is not backed by scientific studies and is based on my own experience, research and talking to other runners over the last 36 months.