June 24, 2012.  It was a day that changed me.

I hadn’t run a full marathon in a number of years.  A month earlier I attempted a comeback, hell bent on running a blistering PR.  Fortunately, it came to an early conclusion with a mid-race cancellation due to heat.

So here I was, a month later, on the shores of Lake Michigan at a small first-year marathon in Manitowoc, WI – the inaugural HFM Maritime Marathon.

During my training I began regularly listening to a podcast called The Marathon Show.  This podcast, and its host Joe Taricani, kept me company on lonely, long runs.  Its theme slowly whittled away my insistence on always running with focus and intensity.  Following the May meltdown and inspired by Joe’s energy, the whittling finally reached my core.  I would try a new approach by replacing intensity with happiness.

As I toed the start line on that early summer day, I smiled.  I smiled authentically and widely at the prospect of just being there and being able to run.  It was easy to smile at the beginning.   I was determined to carry it through the entire race.  What would happen?

I was still smiling at mile 8 and catching the eye of a few spectators.  My grin contrasted with the determined scowls beginning to develop on those around me.  Intrigued by my naivety, and likely foreshadowing my later mental demise, the spectators pleasantly encouraged me to keep smiling.

The course hugged the beautiful lake for a 13.1 mile jaunt to the north. At a pizza joint tucked away in the rural wilderness, the course turned for home on the same route.

At the turnaround point, I was still feeling spry.  Running well.  Running happy.

Now heading south, there was ample opportunity for face-to-face interaction with the other runners heading north.  I began firing smiles and friendly words of encouragement.  Human energy…  I was giving, but receiving more.  Was this the secret of running happy?

“For it is in giving that we receive.”  ~ Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

At mile 16, I saw the same spectators that encouraged me earlier.  They shouted praise for flashing the pearly whites.  They were shocked.  I was increasingly amused.

Deteriorating legs and 10 miles to go…  This is not something to be smiling about!  It didn’t make any sense.

However, with each smile came a shot of mental adrenaline that battled the fatigue.  With each smile came more authentic kindness from spectators, volunteers, and fellow runners.  This WAS the secret of running happy!

As the miles piled up, smiling became more of a forced, yet still genuine effort.  The reward remained just as sweet – a jolt of confidence and energy.

Mile 22 beckoned.   My mind and quads questioned what I was doing and why.  Just then, I saw and heard the thing I needed most.   I mustered a bright smile and the “fan club” erupted.

I floated through the final miles and finished with a negative split (2nd half faster than the 1st half) and a nice PR.  But that meant little.

What I learned that day was the power of a core mindset of happiness and the tremendous reward of a mid-run smile.  I was rewired that day with a new default setting.  Happiness replaced stubborn intensity.

And guess what?  Success was still possible… and more enjoyable!

Believe me, I still have my moods.  I still have crabby, grumpy runs and days. But now instead of dwelling in this place, I quickly forgive and starve these attention sucking emotions.  In doing so, I gracefully return to my default setting.

Life is just a longer, more challenging version of the marathon.  Most times your best bet is to smile.

“There is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way.”  Attributed by many including Dr. Wayne Dyer

Happiness fuels my running.  Running fuels my happiness.  Happiness and running fuel my life.

Enjoy today!

A special thanks to Joe Taricani for inspiring me to change my outlook on running.  It spilled over to my attitude towards life.  Also, major kudos to the crew at the HFM Maritime Marathon for putting on a first-class event…my favorite marathon!  Looking forward to running fast and happy on the lakeshore again in June 2016. 

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