Thursday, June 2, 2011

My First Smiley Race

Last week, as I made preparations to run my first barefoot 10K, I coincidentally followed the formation of the Run Smiley Collective.

I’m 52, and have been running since high school. Running, with the exception of a few years when my kids were young, has always been part of my life. Why? Well, not because I’m fast. I never made the varsity cross country team. JV was my lot. Maybe to lose weight? Hardly. When I run more I tend to eat more, continuing to carry around about 5-7 pounds more than I’d like. For health reasons? Well, yes, but there are plenty of other activities I enjoy that keep me fit. For camaraderie? Nope, I almost always run alone, although I do enjoy the spectacle of organized races.

In short, I don’t think I’ve ever really completely answered that question for myself. Why DO I run?

So last week I did all the things I normally do before a race. Watched what I ate. Drank extra fluids. Gentle stretches. Tried to get enough sleep. Reviewed the race website about the course, the anticipated weather, parking access, etc. I charged up my Garmin GPS watch. I went on Saturday to pick up my number and t-shirt. I reviewed my previous 10K times. I got out two rubber bands to put around my ankle to hold the D-Tag timing chip (two in case one broke). My 10K PR was about 5 years ago. Since I was running this one barefoot I didn’t have any illusions that I’d come close to the PR, but hey, you never know…….

But as the race came closer, and I read and re-read the Run Smiley posts, I began to see this race, and perhaps all future races, and runs for that matter, differently.

I am generally a very happy, contented person. But it often doesn’t show on the outside. My parents used to tell (over and over again….) a story about taking me to an amusement park when I was little. After I rode the roller coaster they said I looked sad and asked me why I didn’t like it. I deadpanned back that I loved it, and rode it many more times that day, loving it each time.

For whatever reason, I’m not a smiley person. But as I thought about the Collective, I realized that running is one of the things in my life that I really should smile about. There are very few other activities I enjoy as much. It’s hard to find the right words. It’s fun. It’s exhilarating. It’s freeing. It makes me feel more alive. It reduces stress. It’s cheap (especially now that I run barefoot). The list goes on and on.

And most importantly, all of those things are true, whether I’m doing 6 miles at 9 minute pace, or a Sunday afternoon LSD at 11 minute pace, or ¼ mile repeats at 7 minute pace. It also doesn’t matter whether I’m running near my home in Jersey or in Lower Manhattan during lunch. And it doesn’t matter whether I’m the only person for miles or I’m one of 4,000 runners in race.

So like the other members of the Collective, I came to realize in a new way that racing, numbers, PRs, and the like are not bad in and of themselves, but they pale in comparison to the pure joy of just simply putting a smile on your face and moving down the road. Or trail. Or track. Or even, gasp, the dreadmill.

So when the gun went off Monday morning and I crossed the starting line you can bet there was a smile on my face. And while I’m sure that smile wasn’t there the whole 6.2 miles, I was certainly smiling on the inside the whole way, and when I finished, a full four minutes slower than my PR. I enjoyed this race perhaps more than any other. I laughed when a volunteer at a water station saw me and joked: “no shoes, no service”. I slowed to chat briefly with a wheelchair athlete that had been sidelined by a flat tire. I chatted with other runners that asked me about my unshod feet. And I even noticed a spectator that I hadn’t seen in about 10 years and said hello with a big smile, twice (once per loop). During most races I don’t even notice the spectators at all.

While I was running the race one thought that crossed my mind was that members of the Collective should be called something. I thought of two candidate terms:

“Smilers” - Get it? Mile? With an S and rs? Oh never mind….

“Funners” - I know, pretty cheesy. But true.

Anyway, as a member of the Run Smiley Alliance I will do my best to be a worthy ambassador to the running world. I’ll do it with the best outside smile I can find and always with an inner joy regardless of the situation. I'll report back here and on my blog Downtown Runner.


  1. Welcome Bob to the Collective. I read this post last night and I found it very moving. When I read how you stopped to talk to other runners, you joked with the volunteers and you noticed your friends in the crowd, I was a little chocked up..*Laugh* In a good way..:)

    To me this was a perfect race. A type of race I aim and hope to achieve every time I go out. (Sometimes it doesn't work, but I try). Not only were you having fun, but I am fairly sure that you brightened up the day of everyone you interacted with.

    Keep this up, because I think it's wonderful!

  2. Glad to be aboard!

  3. Nice to meet you, Bob -- good to see I've got a fellow New Yorker in this mix. At some point we'll need to have a NYC area smile run, and perhaps you'll have some ideas to add to my manifesto on "urban trail running." I'm working towards barefoot running in the city, but still hide behind the safety of my vibrams. I can relate to the "inner smile," because sometimes, when I'm the happiest, other people think I look "bored."

  4. Bob - LOVED your post! So glad The Collective was here for you to share your story. Although you may be more of a subtle smiler you totally got your fiyah on! Its amazing how it changes your experience. Thanks so much for sharing with us.