I can remember many instances when I’ve been in the middle of a race, working hard to stay on pace, and a smiling face in the crowd gave me a mental and physical boost.
Until recently, I haven’t really thought about what would happen if I was the one smiling.
There is evidence that making yourself smile, even when you don’t feel like it, can help influence happiness. Here is one article on the topic: New York Times. And here is an article specifically about smiling while running: Competitor.
Traditionally I haven’t been a smiling runner. You can see evidence of that from my photo in this post: Kansas City Marathon.
What better place to test this theory than during my August half marathon in Dallas? So on Sunday, starting at the turn around point of the out-and-back course, I made a point to smile.
I didn’t just slap a goofy grin on my face for the final 6.55 miles, however. I looked specifically for people who were suffering. And there were a lot of those.
That’s the beauty in smiling at others on an out-and-back race. With people running right at you, there are so many opportunities to try to encourage.
Here’s what I noticed: I definitely felt better, and other runners almost always reacted to me. There were a few people, headphones in and eyes focused straight at the ground, who didn’t acknowledge a single word I said or expression I made. But others either smiled back, gave me a quizzical look, or reacted negatively.
Only a few seemed upset that I was smiling and encouraging (I lofted many “good job” and “looking strong” compliments to the other side of the running path. The ones who frowned back seemed to say “how dare you? It’s hot, and I’m embracing the misery.”
The overwhelming response, though, was a return smile along with a thumbs up or a return compliment.
Each time someone smiled back, I felt better about the fact that I was running in Dallas with the sun beating down on me. The few frowns had a similar effect. I don’t know if the positive surges I felt were a result of the experiment working, or if it was psychological. Maybe I expected to get a boost, so I did.
Whatever the case, I’m glad I tried smiling out. I even had enough energy that I thanked every single volunteer and police officer in the final miles.
So, if you see me on the street running in the blasting sun or through a monsoon and I have a big smile, I haven’t lost my mind, at least not completely.
Please don’t call the police or try to have me committed.
I’m simply trying to convince myself that I’m having a grand time.