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The Power of One Smile

Krissy Moehl is known as one of the greatest female Ultramarathon runners of all time (an Ultramarathon is anything over 26.2 miles but in most cases upwards of 50 or 100-plus miles). At 22 years old she began running trails for fun with her co-worker and eventual super-talent Scott Jurek. Moehl had been a collegiate 800-meter runner. The running she was used to was nerve-jarring before a race, short lived and not usually that enjoyable during or after. Long distance trail running was a whole new world. For the first time she was running just for herself with no pressure.

Krissy eventually decided that if she was going to race long distance that she would seek the joy in it. She made sure to take in each sunrise as it crept up the looming mountain climb ahead. She would greet every aid station attendee with an ear-to-ear smile. And the more she did so the likelier the most brutal climbs of each race became more gratifying.

What she found was race by race, joyful moment by moment, she became unstoppable. Here are the three rules Krissy followed that helped her crush race after race and that might help you in your own season of life (these are described in Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall, a book I highly recommend for any runners and adventure seekers out there):

1) Smile from gun to tape: The more joy you put out, the more you’ll see reflected back at you.

First, the obvious question − does smiling while you run actually help you perform better? The answer is...Yes. Recent studies show that runners who smiled outperformed both those who frowned or ran normally. In fact the smiling runners used 2.8% less energy than the frowners. [1] Have you ever noticed how much easier nearly all tasks are when you’re feeling joyful? Try blasting some Otis Redding (or for my wife Guns N' Roses) while you clean out the garage. Picture your family laughing around a fire or playing on a beach while you slug out miles training on the bike. Remember the moment you met your spouse when you work overtime to save for a getaway together. Smile and watch your performance increase along with the joy found in it.

2) Make Someone Else Smile: When you’re thinking about someone else, you forget how bad you feel.

There is something amazingly energizing in helping someone else feel joy. While it's not always easy to feel like making someone else smile, the best way to do so is to focus on what we are most grateful for. Theologian Henri J.M. Nouwen reminds us that by remembering our own blessedness we are more inclined to bless others:

“It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses. And people want to be blessed!” [2]

I know that when I spend time in prayer to thank God for my blessings I’m much more inclined to make others smile. You’ll find that when you bring others joy it’s the best medicine for a weary soul. Be the light for others and you’ll enjoy the warmth it brings in your own life as well.

3) Race like a demon: There’s no fun in just plodding along right?

While there are times for rest and Sabbath there is also a time to give your absolute best. Many who have competed in sports know there is something fundamentally life giving about leaving every last ounce of yourself out on the field for your teammates. As the Apostle Paul reminds us:

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!”

1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

[Side-note: The prize Paul describes is the eternal prize found in salvation through Jesus Christ - make sure you have your eyes set on the ultimate prize first and foremost.]

At one point Krissy changed the prize she was after. She saw a major opportunity ahead in the 2009 Western States 100 to become the first woman to win it all and got serious about her race day approach. No more smiling. No time to make others smile. She ran harder than she ever had and guess what? She ran slower.

It’s ok to go all out and run to win but remember what the ultimate prize is. You may want to coach your kid’s team to a championship but isn’t the ultimate prize that you grow closer together and help them become a better future adult? You may want to reach the next promotion and recognition trip but isn’t the ultimate prize that your colleagues see your selflessness and integrity as a Christ-follower in how you conduct yourself? Give it your best and run to win, but run for the ultimate prize and remember what others will see in how you are doing so.

The next time Krissy raced she went back to seeking the joy in it. Instead of hiring professional pace-setters she ran with her girlfriends and made sure to soak it in. Once again she crushed it and did so with a smile. So will you if you remember to 1) smile your way to the finish line 2) remember your blessings and bring joy to others and 3) run to win the ultimate prize. See you with a smile at the starting gun soon fellow life-racers!


[2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, pg. 82

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