The Practice of Happiness

Photo Cred: Katie Spratford

Marathon training can be scary. But for me, it’s not for the reasons you might think.

In college, I was obsessive about my training. I’d agonize over every second that I ran over the times my coach gave me, and relish in every second that I was under. I had to run sub-17 minutes in a 3-mile tempo on a bike path by myself in trainers in order to prove to myself that I could actually run sub-17 for 5,000m in spikes on a track against competition.

In fact, it didn’t just stop at workouts. I assessed every single run, and if I couldn’t run under 6:30 pace on any given day, I saw it as weakness and lack of fitness. I thought it meant I had lost my mysterious gift as quickly as it seemed to appear.

I needed a good workout like I needed air.

I’ve gotten better in that regard. I grade my recovery runs on completion and don’t put too much stock in any of my workouts with regards to what they might mean come race day. But the feedback we get from training and even racing can totally mess with all of us.

In a sport where initial progress is often linear, this is a trap that we tend to fall into. We get used to seeing the progress week by week and month by month, and then we start to draw out imaginary trajectories reliant on that progression.

I’m sure you know people like this. Sally ran 22:00 for 5k her freshman year and 20:30 her sophomore year, so naturally Sally’s going to win the State meet with a sub-18 by senior year, right?? It royally screws us.


Head Coach Bob Hamer at Rider kept this posted on the wall by his desk and used it often.


I love this article from Tim Urban and the Huffington Post about my generation and why we are unhappy. My favorite part about this article is the truth that lies in this very simple but telling equation that is true for so many of us:


Expectations are something I’ve always struggled with. They scare the bejeezus out of me. I think it’s because some part of me always assumed that the above equation is true and always will be true. The greater the expectations, the greater the reality of the outcome has to be in order for me to be happy, and thus, the smaller the expectations, the greater my happiness, regardless of how great reality ends up being.


So back to the point. Why is marathon training scary? It’s not how terrible I feel or how nervous I get about being able to run well when it really counts. It’s not the recovery runs when I can’t dip under 9:00 pace to save my life.

What terrifies me in marathon training is feeling awesome. It’s the knock-out workouts and flying recovery days.

That’s kind of how I was feeling last week, and it was so much scarier than this week when things were back to normal.

Photo Cred: Katie Spratford

Photo Cred: Katie Spratford

I guess it’s kind of like the stock market. When stocks are super high (you’re fit and ready to roll), there’s a joy, but also a sense of impending doom. The likelihood is that they are going to drop soon, and the good days will be over.

When the market is mid-range, they can go either way, but history says that they will eventually go up, so there’s a lot more hope in that situation.

And when stocks are super low, yeah, you just lost a bunch of money on your previous investments so that sucks, but at least you’re fairly confident that it can’t get much worse, and that’s when it’s time to hope and invest again.


I’m scared because I know I’m fit and I have no excuse not to run my heart out in 2.5 weeks. And when things are perfect, that means that at the end of the day, whatever you do on race day is the best you could have done. We just don’t like to face those glass ceilings.

We love to give excuses for why our PRs don’t reflect how good we know we are.

  • The weather was awful.
  • I had to lead the whole race.
  • I was sick the whole week before.

But the truth is, those excuses are exactly why so many of us run our PRs on those days. We often perform our best when the circumstances are “compromised.” It’s because those same circumstances force us to lower our own expectations enough that they don’t get in the way of our happiness in that moment.

So this is me rejecting that equation above. The one I’ve accepted my whole life. My happiness is not contingent upon reality, expectation, or any other factor. Happiness is not a pursuit. It’s a practice. So on February 13th, I vow to practice happiness, regardless of anyone’s expectations, especially my own.

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