• Triathlete Sebastian Kienle runs on a narrow path, surrounded by trees in the background the Mercedes-Benz V-Class

    Top Triathlon Sports – Chasing the “runner’s high”.

    The “runner’s high” – a feeling of sheer euphoria and pure happiness not only our world-class triathletes Sebastian Kienle, Daniela Ryf and Anja Beranek know. But what’s behind it?

    Photos: Tobias Kuberski;
    Author: Marcel Schlegel
Triathlete Sebastian Kienle runs on a dirt road

Sebastian Kienle – top athlete with a clear focus.

The last meters are always the hardest. But Sebastian Kienle knows every turn, every detail of the course near Mühlacker, his hometown in southern Germany. In times of intense training he completes it several times a day. Muscles aching from the first lap, the professional triathlete turns towards the final straight. Looking into the distance, framed by trees the 34-year-old can already make out the shape of his black V-Class. Focusing his training partner on four wheels he approaches his imaginary finish line.

Achieving goals – step by step.

Wiping off the mix of sweat and rain from his face, Kienle passes the long straight on a rainy morning. Even though he prefers to train in the rain the course seems to be endless today. Breathing heavily the IRONMAN 2014 World Champion longs for the finish line. He feels his body’s weight on the hard ground, the vibration of his steps. He’s counting them – 155, 156, 157… He knows exactly how many there are to go to the site where his Mercedes-Benz van already awaits him. He has counted them many times.

Sebastian Kienle rests on a black Mercedes-Benz V-Class and laces his shoes.
IRONMAN Sebastian Kienle lifts his road bike into his black Mercedes-Benz V-Class

V-Class as a reliable training partner.

Just when the three-time IRONMAN European Champion is almost there a feeling of ease and motivation overwhelms him. Instead of slowly running out Kienle pushes through and turns into another lap which he apparently masters without effort.

Later, when Kienle has made himself comfortable in his parked V-Class, sunk deeply into the seat, his feet placed on the table, he tries to find the words to explain that he suddenly forgot the stabbing pain and felt a rush of energy.

First the pain, then the high.

“Runner's high” is what endurance athletes call this condition. Daniela Ryf knows what her triathlon colleague means when he explains it with terms like “trance” or “flow”. Ultimately, says the best triathlete in the world, this “runner’s high” is the only way to withstand the exertions of a competition like IRONMAN - with 3.8 kilometres of swimming, 180 kilometres of cycling and 42.2 kilometres of running. Like a wave, body and mind overflow with a feeling of happiness, says Ryf as she lifts her racing bike out of her Marco Polo. Suddenly running, cycling or swimming are no longer a burden, but rather a rushing feeling of happiness that can be addictive.

Sebastian Kienle, one of the best German triathletes, riding a road on a racing bike

Daniela Ryf – competitors astonished.

What almost sounds spiritual or meditative for laymen can be explained by science: The body emits the happiness hormone endorphin, which not only leads to a mental high feeling, but actually has pain-relieving and even anaesthetic effects. A borderline experience that only long-distance athletes like Ryf, Kienle or the exceptional German triathlete Anja Beranek can achieve. Daniela Ryf regularly manages to achieve this state while running, swimming or cycling.

Just recently at the IRONMAN European Championship in Frankfurt, where she dominated in June for the second time in the last few years. Her performance was exceptional! From the initial swim to the final run, the 31-year-old was in her own league, triumphant in 8 hours 38 minutes. A new course record, a demonstration of strength, only six men were faster. Ryf left stunned competitors behind. Once again.

Anja Beranek (right) and Daniela Ryf next to the Marco Polo, used as a transition area

Marco Polo as a transition area.

Even though the poster athlete from Feldbrunnen is a safe win to bet on for every race, she herself is still surprised by her performance in Frankfurt. She bet the current bike record at the European IRONMAN by almost five minutes – and at that time the bike course was exceptionally extended by five kilometres. When she parked her bike in the transition area, the three-time Hawaii winner was almost 28 minutes ahead of her competitor Sarah True. At the finish line, Ryf even had to wait for over half an hour for the American. Kienle and Beranek watched Ryf’s demonstration of power on television; they sat out in Frankfurt.

In one league with the men.

Sitting in her personal mobile transition area, in her Marco Polo, Daniela Ryf ties her cycling shoes and reflects on her exceptional performance. Probably, the “Angry Bird” suspects, she had internalized the will to go beyond her physical limits. When she had shaken off the competitors, Ryf was geared to the men. And the rest was done by the “runner's high”.

Daniela Ryf, three-time IRONMAN World Champion, races down a road on a racing bike

Anja Beranek – a bone to pick with Hawaii.

This October, Daniela Ryf could become the World Champion for the fourth time in a row. In 2014, Sebastian Kienle experienced the world’s toughest race – and the triumph of winning it. Can he claim the title once again? Anja Beranek still has a score to settle with Kona. 2016 the German sensationally finished fourth, but 2017 she gave up. Some had already written her off – giving up is a no-go in the scene.

She’s had a rough year, but got even more motivated by this. Over the long distance she always gets to this one moment thinking “I can’t get through it today”, the 33-year-old says. However, when she is passing the finish line of an IRONMAN she is so much euphoric. Her principle: “Don’t think, just enjoy.” Must have been the “runner’s high”.