Smiling While Running

photo of person running on dirt road

In her Substack newsletter post entitled “Just Smile and Glide,” Jamie Currie discusses one of her running friends. She remarks on his beautiful running form, comparing it to that of the legendary Eluid Kipchoge. I’ve never been a runner myself, as I prefer brisk walks for my exercise. Still, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of long-distance running. That sort of endurance has always been beyond my reach with my physical limitations, made worse by my battle with cancer in 2015. According to Currie, the keys to having that endurance is more about having the right form and, also, smiling.

Smiling while running isn’t just something you do because you love running. There’s a much more practical reason to smile as you run, as Running World noted in their article about why Kipchoge runs while smiling. Smiling doesn’t just help you relax and lessen pain, it has a psychological effect, too. 

The article reads: “Studies have shown that when we enrich our workout with a smile, we feel that our perceived effort is far less than the effort we exert when we frown while exercising.

Research has shown that trial runners who smile while running versus those that don’t “used less oxygen, ran more economically, and had a lower perceived rate of exertion than those who frowned and those in the control group.” According to the results of the studies, the difference is that those who smiled were 2.8 percent more economical with their exertion.

What’s just short of three percent going to change? On a short run, that’s not much. But in a marathon, that’s a huge difference. That’s a 30 to 60 second difference in finishing time, which is highly significant. The effort of smiling is so minor, yet it actually saves you significant energy. 

So, how can the rest of us who don’t run marathons as our burning passion apply this information to our own lives? I think about the old adage that says to do your work with a smile, as it’s supposed to work wonders for lifting your co-workers spirits, as well as your own mood. I’ve never thought that people smiled while they worked to be annoying. I didn’t think smiling was to cover up holding back tears or harsh words, but I myself often used it that way.

During my office work years, I smiled when I was truly unhappy, or needed to hold myself back from chewing someone out for doing a poor job. Instead, I would cover for them, as if it were my place to make things go right even when it wasn’t specifically my responsibility. I stuck so long the “fake it until you make it” idea of forcing yourself to smile. It’s supposed to help you have a more positive outlook on what would otherwise be a drudgery. 

But for me, smiling didn’t help me. It actually made me feel like I was putting on a mask instead, one created to reach expectations and not to help any internal desire. During those years, I wrote bits about how I didn’t want to bother smiling any more. I wanted everyone to know how miserable I was. Clearly, I didn’t feel like it made much of a difference.

But, the truth is, just as with Kipchoge has taught us, smiling while running a marathon truly does make a difference. Of course, it has to be intentional and not forced for appearances to be effective. Even if the difference of smiling is only saving between 2 and 3 percent of energy, life is a marathon, not a sprint. It turns out I was misusing smiling for so much of my adult life. 

To overcome the bad habit of fake, unproductive smiling, we must think about what made us smile in our youth. If we learn once again to smile not to fake happiness, we can ourselves in a more positive space and reflect our desire to “glide.” As Currie suggests, smiling can have the same effect on our daily work, play, and relaxation. It’s incredible how much a 2 or 3 percent gain compounded daily over time adds up to a major change in our attitude.  

Naturally, the human body only has so much to give. I consistently gave people much more than I should’ve for little to no reward. This is someone I’ve observed with many others, and many of them eventually give out and give up. But, if you learn to smile genuinely while you go about your business, it can help more than just you. Those who interact and even just pass you by will pick up on your vibe. 

Some will be annoyed with your seemingly inexplicable smiling. Still, others will think, they must be getting something right. Sometimes, the only thing going right in your life is the very fact that you’re alive. If your heart is beating, your liver is… living, and your lungs are breathing air, you’re still in the running. Sometimes, when we face the “worst day of our life” on a regular basis, remembering those facts alone is worth smiling about. We’re still running the gauntlet, and we still have a chance to reach a satisfactory ending.

Do you ever find yourself smiling as you work? I honestly tend to be far too serious when I write. Should I smile more as I write? It might seem goofy — but, if it means writing three percent more words, maybe looking like a dumb idiot is worth it. After all, I work from home. So, who am I going to annoy?

Honestly, if you start smiling at work and it annoys people, maybe that alone is it’s own reward. No one can fire you for smiling, right? Right? Right?

Anyway, kudos to Jamie Currie on a great article! It’s a shame that she didn’t post much on Substack after this for awhile. But, she did come back in mid 2023 with a couple of posts, so she’s still smiling and running strong.

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.

2 thoughts on “Smiling While Running

  1. Dammit! I *knew* I was doing running wrong!

    I have a pretty serious RBF. My wife reminds me constantly to smile. “Smile with your eyes” is what she says. The funny thing is, I love running. It shouldn’t be too hard to conjure up a smile doing something I love. But man, it hurts!

    1. I used to run all the time, but after chemotherapy for cancer in my late twenties, my lung capacity is severely compromised. I also deal with mild neuropathy. So, while I can’t really run, or even jog, any more, this advice was useful to me because whenever I have a painful day with my neuropathy or issues with my breathing, I find that forcing a smile actually helps with the pain and stabilizing my mood. I always hated “forcing” a smile, but like you said, if you’re already doing something you love, it shouldn’t be that hard 🙂

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