We’ve all read about the proverbial runner’s high, the cush euphoric feeling runners claim to achieve after miles of sweat, stride and tears. But is it real? Is there such a thing as crossing the plateau of struggle to bliss? And if so, what about us swimmers? Can we swim ourselves to an endurance Xanadu?
The rational side of my brain thinks it’s all malarkey, but still, the optimistic side finds myself wanting to believe. I mean who doesn’t want to be enthusiastic about practice given the amount of yardage swimming demands?
After all, doesn’t logic urge me to accept the possibility of such a thing? Why else would all those skinny fools keep drudging along, mile after mile? The entire pursuit bewilders me. Nobody loves to train- do they? Well, not me. I only ever knew practice to be one thing- a struggle. Some days worse than others.
But isn't practice supposed to be tough? No pain no gain? Climbing the mountain and coming out the other side? Certainly, not coasting through the last 1000 yards seeking some elusive euphoria.
But is it possible to meet those challenges while feeling positively giddy about it? What if runners got it right and all of us swimmers have just been doing it wrong? Could there be any truth to this myth? Is there actual quantifiable science behind achieving such bliss while working out? Are exergasms real?
In short, yes. It has long been believed that as your heart rate picks up, oxygenated blood moves throughout your body releasing a ever mysterious endorphin hormone cocktail.
What are endorphins?
According to Wikipedia, ‘Endorphins are endogenous opioid neuropeptides and peptide hormones found in humans and other animals. They are produced and stored in the pituitary gland.’ A bit of scientific word salad- but in layman's terms endorphins simply play a major role in repressing the body’s response to pain. That release of endorphins creates a euphoric utopia, similar to our body’s response to sex, music, and even certain foods, such as chocolate.
But there’s a recently uncovered monkey wrench to this theory- studies show not only that the proverbial runner high might be little more than a glass castle- because, in fact, a true runner's high is apparently quite rare- but they may not be triggered by the release of endorphin hormones at all. Nope. Apparently, you should instead credit your post workout relaxation on endocannabinoids.
What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of endocannabinoids? That’s okay. Most haven’t. Endocannabinoids are a biochemical substance naturally produced by the body. A neurotransmitter, if you will, just not a typical one. And while you might not be familiar with the term, you might undoubtedly be familiar with its effect. Believe it or not, if you’ve ever drank a glass of wine or partook in cannabis, that relaxed feeling is similar. It is endocannabinoids that trigger the warm fuzzy bliss you experience after that brutal workout. You see, exercise increases the production of these neurotransmitters.
Does that include swimmers?
You better believe it! We too can chase after the mythic runner’s high- only we can do it from the pool!