Friday, July 8, 2011

A Smiley Runner Tries to Get Serious

As my inaugural post in our little community, I'll talk about how I found my smile again while training for what I assume will be a tough race. The idea of running being fun again is inspiring to so many of us. I think the only thing I would like to inform people about is the notion that not only are running and fun not mutually exclusive, but also that having fun and running competitively* aren't mutually exclusive. Most of you know me, but for those that don't, I'll shine a little light on myself for a minute.

I'm an ultrarunner from western Michigan who recently became a transplant to Boulder, Colorado. Though my running and life experiences here have been great, I've left a lot behind- My family, my school(I left Western Michigan University and went straight to CO...with a little stop in NY for a 12 hour ultra), and more relevant to this post, my running support group. My running club at school has been a huge part of my relative success as a runner. The group I ran with had all kinds of backgrounds and motivations, but shared a love of training and racing. Somehow, they made track workouts feel like recess. We would put the books(and/or beer) down and do a track workout, tempo run, or just some easy miles.  Though I pride myself in my lackadaisical approach to training, I must admit the feeling of pushing hard is where the fun is.
Though I don't always smile when I'm pushing to the point of dizziness, I'm always beaming inside. Having not grown up an athlete, I now pride myself in the ability to search for my limits.

Now, back to what I was talking about. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, right.

Training in Colorado has been going well, but not as well as I had hoped. I showed up hobbling around from my 12 hour run at Mind the Ducks. I managed a win and had a ton of fun(I also got to meets some of our own RunSmiley folks in person), but left myself really beaten up and had to recover slowly with these beautiful trails beckoning me. The altitude and trail difficulty also dictated a slashing of mileage. Over the course of my 7 weeks leading up to now, I managed to get up to a 73ish mile week. This happened just in time to taper for my first ever mountain race, the Leadville Silver Rush 50 miler.

My taper isn't so much a taper as it is an abrupt stop to running. I've run 3 times this week, as opposed to my 10 times the week before. The strangest thing occurred to me. I don't care. The runs I've had this week have been great! I've felt strong I've been happy, and the runs have been a release of stress instead of an addition to it. While thinking about how good I felt on these recent runs, I can't help but ask, "Why don't I just do this all the time?" I wondered why I put myself through the rigors of training when I enjoy the easy runs so much. The answer, I decided, was pretty simple.

You can't have good without bad. You can't have hard without easy. You can't feel elation if you never know pain. The care free feeling of an easy run is amazing- you coast down the sidewalk or trail, floating under your own power, feeling like you could go on for hours. You smile at neighbors, stop to play with dogs, and take in the views. It also helps if you rock out to some bitchin' Tenacious D! On the other side, there's a joy in the hard run that is almost beyond words. Lungs burn, muscles ache, and the wind is blowing through your hair faster than it ever does on the easy runs. It reminds you that you're just a human. A human with limits that are made to be pushed. We adapt when we push. Again, some bitchin' Tenacious D helps when on pavement.

...and the adaptations, my fellow runners, are what can allow us to RUN SMILEY!

The gangly author, proving that intensity and a smile don't have to be too far apart.
Minutes after losing a battle for 1st place, comforted by a beer and a veggieburger.

* I put an asterisk here because I didn't know another word for competitive. I don't race in a competitive way, but have managed a few performances that have won some races. My favorite races have been those where the lead groups feels a sense of togetherness and camaraderie. I'll admit that my absolute favorite race to date is the North Country Trail 50 miler, where I ran the last 8 miles of the course in a battle for 1st place...and lost.


  1. Love it. Yep, sometimes you need to feel the joy of pushing the run hard to experience the joy of the easy run.

  2. So true. Appreciation is felt only in the presence of opposites. That's why beer tastes so good after a long, hard race! Ha!

  3. I LOVE this: "It reminds you that you're just a human. A human with limits that are made to be pushed." So, yes, humans seek comfort and joy (which many find on the couch), but the Run Smiley is about finding comfort and joy through kicking ass through limits. Because we can? I'm just teasing this out for myself: I also think Run Smiley is about me running *not* because I want to lose weight or because my Garmin tells me I should. It's about facing those limits and the pleasure found on the other side (and often during). I'm working on it. :)

  4. Hey there I'm in the Springs! I'm trying to learn to blend those two! It and when I ever train for a marathon again I'm not using a plan!

  5. I like the balance this brings to a lot of what we've been writing here -- smiling isn't just about fun. It can be, but getting serious can make you smile as well (even if its only on the inside, because its hard to smile sometimes when you're out of breath). Giving every last ounce of effort and holding nothing back, or taking it easy and relaxing, both can bring joy. I think our ethos is all about shaking off outside perceptions and preconceived notions of success, and you can do that whether you're breaking 24 hours in a 100 miler or skipping to the bus in the rain . . .