Smile Training to Run Happier

Thank you to Brooks for inspiring and sponsoring this #runhappy post.

runhappier
Darn it. I was late leaving the house again, but I had to get my tempo in. I hurriedly laced up my Brooks Ravennas and then started my watch, but I was nowhere near the zone; monkey mind would be an understatement.

I have to get back to finish that assignment. 

I think I forgot to put the wet laundry in the dryer.

I can’t believe the nerve of some people.

Just as I was swirling further down the deep hole of negative thoughts and approaching the end of the first mile of my warm-up, I was jarred back into reality:

“It’s a beautiful day! Smile!” said a stranger as I hurried past.

If said in a lecherous way, it would have made matters worse, but this dude, in his borderline obnoxiously optimistic tone, had a point.

Running makes us our best selves, as any hardcore runner will tell you. Running makes us feel strong, alive, amaaaaaaaazing! Through running, we can accomplish so much more than we ever thought possible. But how often do you see yourself smiling in candid race photos? Do you look like someone who’s enjoying herself, let alone someone who’s maximizing her potential? Do you look happy?

We hate to break it to you, but what you and I likely see staring off into the distance in our running photos is a steely look of concentration. Some have even coined it RBF (in this case, substitute “running” for “resting”). Sure, RBF often accompanies the look of someone who’s focused and determined; we are serious about our running, after all. But if we love running so much, why do we often look angry while we’re doing it? Why do we so rarely seem to be smiling?

As we train our aerobic threshold, our fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers and our turnover, what would happen if we trained our smile too? Sure, smiling won’t change how late we are to start our tempos or the annoying things that happen to us during the day, but maybe, just maybe, training ourselves to smile more can help us run happier. I decided to find out.

I started my quest on an easy trail run and, as I often do, quickly became lost in thought about day-to-day obligations and annoyances. I’m sure the look on my face matched the tone in my brain. Quit that! I scolded myself, Smile, woman! So I did. Or rather, I tried to.

Have you ever forced a smile … alone in the woods? Yeah. It was like that.

I felt dumb, but I committed to my experiment. And then I caught myself LOL’ing for real as I ran through the woods alone. I was genuinely laughing and smiling now because I was running alone in the woods with a fake smile. And then I was smiling because the sunlight shining through the trees was gorgeous and because the chipmunk scampering across the trail was cute and because I was strong, alive, and being my best self. I forgot about my miles-long to-do list, that thing my mom said, and how many more miles I still needed to run before I could be done and move on to the next thing in my busy day.

Instead of stewing over the past and worrying over the future, smiling made me feel in the moment, something I so rarely feel. I wasn’t worried about the next big race. I wasn’t worried about mistakes I’ve made in past training. I was enjoying this run, in this place, right now.

What helps you run happier?

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Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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30 comments

  1. I’m LOL’ing at the thought of you smiling by yourself running in the woods 🙂 I’m going to try it on my next run though.

    1. Haha! I might have talked to myself too. Don’t tell anyone! But it’s crazy how well it works. I even use the technique while driving now so I don’t swear as much when I’m running late everywhere I go 🙂

  2. I think about the smiling/non-smiling when running thing, too. Yesterday was a tough Fartlek workout, no smiles for sure. Then I realized that ultimately why I’m doing all this training, cross-training, the dreaded weights, etc. is to find the joy in running. The journey may be hard but smiling and laughing should definitely be part of
    the equation. Next run, by myself, on the trail, smile!

  3. I just recently heard of the term ‘RBF’ and couldn’t stop laughing. I know several culprits who always have a scowl and I hope not be one of them, but when I’m running…I’m sure I have one! Thanks for the reminder that we are in control of our emotions….and if we consciously smile, it might just trigger the extra boost we nned.

    1. YES. I get this a lot, men telling me to smile (it used to happen at work, and now I work elsewhere). This just makes me angry. I’m just sitting here, why do I need to be smiling to myself if I don’t feel like doing anything with my face? And what the hell business is it of theirs! Good grief!

    2. Totally with you. Only reason I said he wasn’t lecherous was to explain why he didn’t send me further into a negative thought spiral. A case of inspiration from the unlikeliest of places.

  4. Humor therapists argue that the body doesn’t know the difference between real laughter and fake laughter; that the mere act of laughing can provide the same health enhancing benefits. The trick is that fake laughter is often so silly, it turns into real laughs. I’d think the same follows suit for smiling. Although, I wouldn’t have any experience trying out this smiling thing 😉

  5. I laughed so hard at you telling yourself “smile woman” ?? while in the woods alone. I have tried this and I feel … Silly or like I look creepy, you know jack Nicholson creepy from the Shining. So I stop smiling.

  6. There’s no unhappy in #runhappy! Oh…wait….
    I definitely have RBF*, or at least resting brow furrow, or Running (I Mean) Business Face. I’m with Cardamom on this, but thanks for the non-running laughs! 🙂

    1. Resting brow furrow! Ha! Is it even a debatable point that men should not say that to women? Other than that dude who, while seemingly very well meaning, missed the memo?

      1. Seriously! It doesn’t go over well when people tell other people to smile, but try telling yourself to smile and you’ll probably carry less tension in the jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, all the way down…or just crack yourself up. (Works for me.)

  7. I can’t stand when guys at work tell me to smile, like I should just walk around all day grinning like an idiot. However, I have thought a lot about looking pleasant while running and doing something I enjoy. I’ve tried smiling when I’m by myself, but I feel it may be over the top and then I look like a lunatic, so I’m working on just looking pleasant. I do try and smile and wave or nod and say hello when I pass fellow runners, bikers and hikers. I like to try to spread some happiness when out on the trails!

  8. I’ve had that same experience! I forced myself to smile because I heard it was good for tricking your body into feeling good (as opposed to feeling like crap, which was what I felt at the time). I ended up feeling ridiculous and then laughing at how ridiculous I felt, and then REALLY laughing, like giddy with delight, this is so silly but so fun….. Definitely works. If running is therapy and laughter is the best medicine, then laughing while running is probably the cure for EVERYTHING!!

    1. I concur! I think a great “C” goal for any race is to finish with a smile because if you can do that, no matter how miserably you executed your actual race plan, it’s a good day!

    1. I’ve worn them for 6 years and they’re the one shoe I can always go to even when Brooks changes it up. I do have my favorite iterations, though 😉

  9. There is a couple who work out on Saturdays at Edgewater Park (Cleveland). They have remembered me time after time at North Coast 24 thanks to my smile – and, they do inquire after it if it’s gone missing. It cracks me up because I am otherwise the queen of RestingBF (apparently not RunningBF). Go figure…

    1. I think that could be a chicken and the egg thing: do you smile because you’re racing better or racing better because you’re smiling? Either way, faking a smile in a race might help you race better or turn an otherwise shitty race into a good one!