Sometimes referred to as a "runners high" there is a general feeling of bliss that can occur during any long intense cardiovascular training session. Personally when entering this state, my riding becomes very even or smooth. Everything has a natural rhythm to it, the sound of the wind running past my ears...even the trees and hills around me seem to flow together. It's kind of a meditative state with a high heart rate. At this moment, more than any other, you feel alive. This "state" is not something that just occurs to the beginning athlete or exerciser, it may take weeks or months, but eventually you start to have different experiences. Eventually you go places the untrained will never reach.
For the majority of the last two decades, scientists have struggled with defining the chemical reaction associated with the runner’s high. It was largely believed that the sensation was caused by endorphins, natural opiates in the body that are produced after trauma such as running for long periods of time. Just one problem – endorphins are too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier, making it impossible for this chemical reaction to be the sole cause. But in early 2004, Dr. Daniele Piomelli (UC Irvine) and Dr. Arne Deitrich (University of Beirut and Georgia Institute of Technology, also a marathoner) found another possibility – anandamide, a natural chemical that stimulates the brain in the same way marijuana does. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that can reduce feelings of pain, dilate blood vessels and bronchial tubes and induce tranquility. The Georgia Tech researchers believe that the ednocannabinoid system reacts to stress and pain experienced by the body during prolonged exercise. This could have been an evolutionary development, a method of keeping the body going when injured or overworked.
Piomelli and Deitrich, looking for the runner’s high connection, performed a study in early 2004 with two dozen college students who ran or bicycled for 40 minutes at 76 percent of their max heart rate, and then had blood samples drawn immediately after exercising. The results showed that both the runners and bicyclists had 80% more anandamide in their blood after exercising.
Whether we realize it or not we are training more than just our bodies.