How to use brain chemicals to improve running and reduce anxiety


Running a half marathon is an exhilarating experience that challenges both the mind and body. While physical training and endurance play crucial roles in completing this feat, another critical factor often goes overlooked: neuroscience. The intricate network of neurotransmitters in our brain greatly influences our performance during long-distance running and helps reduce anxiety. Let’s explore the impact of neurotransmitters on running a half marathon and shed light on how understanding their functions can enhance our training and race-day experiences.

1) Endorphins – Our Natural Performance Enhancer:


Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and mood boosters, released during intense exercise such as running. These neurotransmitters not only reduce pain perception but also create a state of euphoria, commonly referred to as “runner’s high.” Increased endorphin levels have been associated with improved endurance, decreased fatigue, heightened motivation, and increased tolerance for discomfort.

2) Dopamine – Fueling Motivation:


Dopamine is known as the “reward” neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and motivation. During a half marathon run, dopamine helps maintain focus by rewarding small achievements along the way. By setting smaller goals throughout the race (such as reaching each mile marker), runners can trigger dopamine release to stay motivated mentally.

3) Serotonin – Regulating Mood & Confidence:


Serotonin plays an essential role in maintaining mood balance within our brain. As physical exertion increases during a half marathon, serotonin production is boosted significantly. My physical exertion was particularly high while pushing a double stroller in Vacation Race’s Grand Teton half marathon, but that race was the most rewarding to date. Higher serotonin levels contribute to elevated mood states that improve mental resilience against stress and fatigue while fostering self-confidence.

4) GABA – Reducing Anxiety & Stress:


Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for calming neural activity within our brains. During long-distance running events like marathons or half marathons, GABA helps reduce anxiety and stress levels, enabling runners to achieve a more relaxed and focused state of mind. This neurotransmitter aids in warding off negative thoughts or self-doubt, thus improving overall performance.

5) Norepinephrine – Boosting Alertness & Concentration:


Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter associated with focus, attention, and alertness. During a half marathon run, norepinephrine is released in response to the physical exertion, heightening mental clarity and focus. This heightened concentration reduces stress by allowing runners to make split-second decisions necessary for maintaining pace and navigating the racecourse effectively.

Understanding how neurotransmitters affect running performance can significantly enhance our approach to training for a half marathon. By tapping into the power of endorphins to boost endurance or utilizing dopamine as motivation fuel, athletes can optimize their mental state during training sessions and reduce anxiety on race day. Additionally, balancing serotonin levels helps maintain positive moods throughout the journey while GABA mitigates anxiety-inducing thoughts.

To succeed in running long-distance events like a half marathon requires not only physical strength but also mental fortitude. Harnessing the power of neurotransmitters through proper training techniques can help runners conquer challenges that may arise during races. As we deepen our understanding of how these brain chemicals influence our performance, we unlock new avenues for personal growth both within sports and beyond.

Next stop, Too cold to hold half marathon in Austin, TX!

we run the states

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