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The power of the smile

Part of me felt like I was wimping out.

Yesterday wasn't just windy, it was down-right gusty. The mental chatter in my head included thoughts of, "Well, what if it's gusty during the Buffalo Marathon or Muskoka?" But it also included thoughts of "This is December."

So instead of doing my hour-long run outside with a group of friends, I went to the gym to do my run on the treadmill.

And I hated the first 15 minutes.

Of course, I generally dislike the first 15 to 20 minutes of a run. I think that's why I have trouble sprinting a 5K -- by the time I'm warmed up the race is over.

Plus over the weekend I had such a fabulous time running with a group of friends. I did my longest training run to date -- seven miles in about an hour and 15 minutes. And those first 20 minutes were tough. But Sue even noticed that while I looked strong for the entire run, I looked even stronger on the second half. At this point, it's not about changing my running style, but learning what fits me best and clearly slow starts and strong finishes are the base on which to build my races.

Afterward there was a mystery fun run with a group of Sue's friends which we started, but couldn't finish. We were pretty much whipped from our training run, but we joined the group back at one of the runner's homes for a great holiday breakfast -- waffles, eggs, bagels, juice and a bit of eggnog.

The camaraderie is the best part of sport. And despite the fact that I had to take a long afternoon nap (was it the extra long run or the carbohydrate food coma?) it was an amazing morning of running and new friendship.

Which made the treadmill contrast all the more apparent. I was there solo, with my iPod, trying to bring myself back to center as my mind would wander away. I'm starting to think about what it would be like to be running the Buffalo marathon and, more importantly, the Miami half marathon which I'm running next month. What will the race be like? What will crossing the finish line be like? Who of my family friends will be there greet me? And exactly how much will I cry?

It was during one of these bouts of focused daydreaming that I remembered Chrissie Wellington.

The two-time Ironman World Champion is kind of known for smiling during the race. In fact, after she got a flat tire at Kona this October, the NBC coverage showed two of her competitors talking about it and noting that she was probably still smiling.

Actually, when she passed for the lead, she had her game face on.

Which quickly turned into a smile.

I started to smile on the treadmill.

Once I did that, my body immediately felt lighter. Running felt easier. And any questions of whether or not I could do this disappeared rather quickly.

Sara, an overweight mom who decided to train for her first Ironman, sent me a link to her blog, IronmanMakeover. Her most recent post was about smiling during a race and the power a smile has on her.

Some athletes are serious or focused and don't smile in competition, either because they don't think about it or perhaps they are philosophically opposed.

I smile all the time. At times it's sheer joy (for instance, joy at finishing the swim), at other times it's to humor myself and still other times it's to encourage someone I see struggling.

But I have a bit of a new attitude toward the smile now. It helps me relax and it helps me focus. More importantly, it helps me stay in the moment.

Because in the end, whether your training, racing, going to the grocery store or reading this blog, all you have is this moment -- what's in front of you right now.

There are plenty of times life will make you frown.

I'll take all the smiles I can get when I can get them.

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