Endorphins are generally a runner's best friend because they make us continue to do something that is extremely healthy and worthwhile, but just like other 'highs,' they can cause us to use poor judgment, and if that happens, they can be our worst enemy.
If you are a runner, you know about endorphins. In fact, they are what gets you out the door day after day. They are what makes you love running. It is difficult to explain their effect to anyone who has not experienced it, but if you have, you fully understand.Technically, endorphins are hormones that your body releases during exercise. They make you feel good, even, dare I use the word, high. In addition, of course, once you have experienced that feeling, you will yearn for it again. Hence, your motivation to run miles and miles, day in and day out, year in and year out. Running keeps you healthy, so if endorphins keep you running, then endorphins can only be good, right?
Well, in the big picture, since endorphins are what keep you running, they have to be considered good, even wonderful. Still, use them with caution. Here's why:Once in a while, they may cause you to use poor judgment, and that can have drastic results. Like any other chemical that makes us feel good, sometimes endorphins make us do foolish things.
This is how it happens. You go for a run or maybe you participate in a race, and you feel good. You feel great when you finish. That's when they can become a problem. Sometimes they cause you to ignore your better judgment and do something you shouldn't do. It's not likely to be as problematic as deciding to drive drunk, but it happens the same way. While endorphins are raging in your veins, you may make a decision to run a few more miles or to do another race, or to continue with more training or cross training.
I told this story once before in a podcast, so if it sounds familiar, that's why. Feel free to skip over it. A few years ago, I did a 5k race on the 4th of July. I had an excellent time and felt great afterwards. Oh yes, the endorphins were surging. Afterwards I went out to breakfast with my friends; then I felt even better. The camaraderie of my running buddies always enhances my mood.
When I left the restaurant I thought about the fact that I hadn't worked out at the gym in a couple of days, and happened that the gym was right across the street; so I went over and worked out my upper and lower body.
By then, the endorphins were surging even more. I felt like Super Woman.The exercise room in that gym is two stories. The cardio machines are on the second level overlooking the workout floor.
Well, I decided to do some sprints up and down the stairs to the second level. I did this about four times. Then, I decided to do a quick brick. If you've never heard that term, it refers to doing two parts of a triathlon back to back, usually biking followed by running. I got on the stationary bike and spun for 15 minutes, keeping my rpm above 90. Then, I immediately got on the treadmill and did two miles with periodic leg turnover drills. That's when you work on getting 180 foot strikes a minute.
I must have been looney toons to do all that in one morning, after a race. Oh, I felt great when I was finished, but by that evening, I felt dreadful. I felt dreadful for the next 48 hours, and I was not feeling like myself again for several days. I even had trouble sleeping. It's hard to explain how I felt. I would describe it as excited and anxious. I felt like I just couldn't relax.
I did NOT feel like Super Woman. I felt like STUPID woman. I had allowed endorphins to dictate my behavior. Rather than benefiting from that workout, rather than moving closer to my long-term goals, rather than making me fitter and faster, it interrupted my training and necessitated my taking it easy for about a week.
More importantly, while I was feeling lousy, I had to listen to that little voice in my head telling me how foolish I had been. I was very fortunate that I didn't injure myself.
Never let endorphins influence your thinking.
Here is another endorphin related problem I have seen and personally experienced. You do a race, and it's a great race. Afterwards, you're hanging out with your friends, and everyone is talking about what race they plan to do next. When they encourage you to do a race that you hadn't planned on doing, one that is only a couple of weeks away from another race that you plan to do, you can't resist and you hear yourself saying, "Yeah, I think I'll do that." And, once committed, even after the endorphins wear off, you feel you should stick to your word.
The moral of the story is that you should respect endorphins, recognize your well-earned endorphin high for what it is, and enjoy it, revel in it, but don't make any rash decisions. Always stick to your training plan. Wait a few hours until you come back down to earth. In the meantime, never continue training unless those other physical activities were on your prescribed, carefully planned training schedule.
The thing is that you don't ever want endorphins to influence your judgement and cause you to do something that might result in an injury that might derail your running. If that happens, endorphins will be your worst enemy, at least for a while.