Maybe it's the frequent eschewal of a Sunday lunch in favour of a solitary run on a bitter winter's day, or the cliched image of the running-club know-it-all declaring: "Water from the tap, a dab of Vaseline – that's all the equipment I've ever needed!" Or even the smugness of race-time chat down the pub and, increasingly, via social networks. Whatever it is, things in running are beginning to change. Just as the community was starting to divide into those who continue to chase the highs of a new personal best and those who simply enjoy the head-clearing pleasures of a brisk jog around the park after a tedious desk-bound day, running events are seeking to unite the two. Running is no longer something we do instead of partying, it's becoming the party itself: we are witnessing the rise of the rave run.
Next month, on a dark night in east London, thousands of women will take to the streets and run 10K through the city, accompanied by a light show and music. We Own the Night, an after-hours event organised by Nike, will start in Victoria Park and end with a party. It has been described as "much less like a run and much more like a party, with lights, installations, smoke machines and music". Organised via Facebook and the Nike+ running app, it includes six-week training plans, regular training runs and "Train to Run" workout sessions in London, along with constant online support. The concept is similar to the Electric Run, a series of nighttime 5K and 10K runs with lights, lasers and music put together by lighting designers more usually to be found putting together shows in Vegas and for Dreamworks Animations.
The runs have attracted celebrities as diverse as Seth Rogen and Carmen Electra, and the tour is continuing throughout the year, from California to New York. The idea is catching on in the UK, with varying degrees of commitment. Art collective NVA took their Speed of Light performance to last year's Edinburgh festival and again to Salford Quays earlier this spring. The event has lofty-sounding aims: "A desire to elevate non-elite distance and endurance running to the realms of the extraordinary" and involves runners moving in formation – and silence – while wearing bespoke LED light suits which change colour, brightness, and flashing speed as they run. This month's Energizer Night Run was a more high-spirited affair, if a little commercial. The event was a valiant attempt to stage both a 5K, and 10K as well as an after-hours party in Battersea Park in south London: runners were given head lamps and glow sticks and encouraged to dress up. There were no brass bands or the pub with a sound system that London Marathon runners are more used to – instead, there was dance music and DJs from London-based running collective Run Dem Crew stationed around the park.
The presence of DJs with a bit of street style, armed with more than a few scratched copies of the Rocky theme tune, gave the event a party atmosphere, and runners were encouraged to dance once they'd crossed the finish line. The thinking seemed to be that if your non-running friends were going to be sweat-drenched and dancing by midnight, you may as well be too. It wasn't quite Coachella but it was more fun than a soggy turn around the park on a Sunday morning. The very concept of whooping in the dark with some like-minded women is intoxicating. After all, whether you're in the park or on the final few feet up the Mall, good old endorphins play a huge part in the running experience.
Ah, endorphins – nature's happy pills. No discussion of rave culture (even when applied to something as wholesome as running) can be complete without the attendant highs. As psychiatrist Noel Collins, who ran the London marathon last weekend, explains: "Exercise activates the same reward pathways in the brain as morphine, and the endorphin rush experienced during a runner's high is thought to mimic the rush experienced by heroin users."
Journalist and broadcaster Miranda Sawyer has just started running regularly, but never records her distance or time. "It's not about getting competitive for me. It's about getting off my head on the endorphins. It's amazing how great 20 minutes running not very quickly can make me feel. It's the cheapest and most reliable high I've ever had."
That high is more than endorphins at play, says Dr Collins. "An interesting study showed that naloxone (a drug that is an antidote to morphine and heroin) administered to people post-exercise failed to bring them down from their runner's high, suggesting that there must be other chemicals or factors involved. Exercise, like addiction, is a more complex behaviour than it initially seems."
I'm a firm believer that Ultimately, rave runs are as much about fun as they are about achievement. Running should be joyous, celebratory and a shared experience, rather than merely the pursuit of arbitrarily shifting personal goals. We shouldn't feel it's been an invalid exercise if its time is not recorded, and I love sharing the track with others who agree. When your body can no longer hack the after-effects of a laser-lit night seeking endorphin rushes chemically, it's time to try a rave run. It's more fun and a lot cheaper.
• This article was amended on 29 April 2013 to correct the spelling of Salford Quays, from Salford Keys.