Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
The Happy Runner (available now at this link) is the story of what we’ve learned coaching pro trail runners, beginners and everyone in between. We don’t have the wisdom to write a memoir, and a lot of our writing can admittedly be characterized as “Snapple Cap gains sentience and writes a book about running.” But through the stories of our athletes and the stories we have heard through writing for Trail Runner Magazine, maybe we can share some truths that speak to you.
The book features the principles that are important in supporting the development of a happy runner. These principles don’t unlock the answers to life and they won’t lead to puppy joy overnight. After all, everyone has different life situations and brain chemistries. There’s a whole chapter on complications to everything. For some people, this approach could be completely wrong, and that’s OK, too.
But others might find the tools to start their own happy runner mission. For some of you out there, by starting the process of thinking about life, love (of self and others) and mortality, before you know it, you may become a little happier and a little speedier. And the coolest part? You might find yourself not caring about your results much at all, starting a friendship with the insecurity monster between your ears.
You live, you love, you run and you die. The whole time, no matter what, you are enough, unconditionally. This book is about connecting those ideas.
Excerpt from page 30:
Have you ever been struck with a sense of wonder and joy when standing on top of a mountain? The answer is probably yes. Why do you think that is? Your answer can vary from the simple (“wow, that’s a big freaking mountain”) to the complex (“billions of stars had to live and die to create the raw materials for the mountain under my feet, and that thought activates dopamine release in the prefrontal cortex”). No matter what the reason, a mountain summit can feel magical.
For running, looking around means embracing the process, including the ups and downs on the way. It means the same thing for life. If the goal is just to connect summits, you’ll probably grow to be indifferent about all the time you aren’t on top of a mountain.
Now think of what happens when you run up the little hill outside your house. Do you get the same feeling? Probably not, unless you took a mountain-sized hit of something that releases a lot of dopamine before leaving the front door. It’s just an everyday, boring hill. It’s mundane.
The goal of a happy runner is developing a perspective that allows you to find the magic in the mundane. If you run enough to get anywhere close to your potential, the daily act of running becomes mundane by definition. There are some mountains along the way, but if you view the journey as just connecting summits, then you’ll miss out on the everyday beauty. In the moment, cherishing that everyday beauty brings purpose and contentedness. And later on, when faced with the fragility of your running life, you’ll look back with sadness and regret if you have to wonder how much magic you missed by failing to appreciate the journey.
In that way, running is just like life. Life is mundane as crap when you think about it. People talk about time being short, but it really isn’t in the moment. If you want proof, go get your car registered at the DMV. That is just a few hours of awareness of time passing—now multiply that by the hours in a day and the days in a lifetime. Life is long—it only flies by in retrospect.
And it’s usually full of regrets if you don’t learn to bottle up that daily, mundane magic. The ultimate scholar of the 1980s, Ferris Bueller, said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” For running, looking around means embracing the process, including the ups and downs on the way. It means the same thing for life. If the goal is just to connect summits, you’ll probably grow to be indifferent about all the time you aren’t on top of a mountain.
But Professor Bueller, someone might ask, how can you look around when you’re just trying to find out where you are going? This section of the book gets into a bit of that, all revolving around a theme from one of Kurt Vonnegut’s more famous quotes. “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” It’s about pausing along the way to appreciate the mundane.
So we know running and life are largely mundane. What about something that connects the two—love? In this case, love just means a deep emotional connection with someone or something. A number of philosophers throughout history posited that love is one of the purposes of life and one of the strongest emotions we can feel, and most people that have experienced it probably agree. But even the most affectionate, passionate love reaches an equilibrium point. That is where the universal rule of entropy comes in.
A closed system, like a long-term relationship or a running life, loses energy over time. Entropy is often summarized in the phrase “all things fall apart.” And that’s true, all things do fall apart . . . unless energy enters the system.
For love, it’s all about bringing energy into the bond that strengthens it even as everything else changes and falls apart around it. That’s why long-term relationships require a renewed daily commitment. It’s why a running life requires an evolving appreciation of the joy of each day. Heck, it might work for dogs, too.
When our dog Addie was a puppy, David noticed a strange experiment going on that would test this theory. Megan constantly told the kibblesaurus [Addie] how she felt about her. So one random Sunday, David got out his lab coat and tested his hypothesis. He had a love-counter in his brain, ringing up every time Megan said “I love you” or “You are the best” or “Thanks for being perfect” to that little fluff-ball. By noon, it had reached 50, and he gave up.
Now, that may be excessive, especially for creatures that have slightly longer memories. (“WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO FEED ME DINNER?!” “You got dinner 5 minutes ago.” “NOPE, DO NOT REMEMBER THAT.”) But we are constantly asked why Addie dog is so joyful and loving, and David’s answer is always to tell that story. When you are told anything 50 times in a few hours, maybe you start to believe it a bit. You definitely don’t risk taking it for granted.
The message here is not to repeat yourself over and over. It is simply that the warmest love becomes room temperature unless constantly reinforced. For relationships, that means that it may help to express your love and affection and admiration, enthusiastically and consistently, whenever and however you can.
In any relationship (whether it’s romantic, friendship, or doggo), love can be something that becomes boringly mundane. It’s easy for other things to take center stage, like who is taking out the trash or when you’ll find time to run. Petty grievances can feel huge in these settings, kind of like a guitar solo of annoyance getting all of the attention while the drumbeat of unconditional love and bass line of friendship gets ignored.
Sometimes, running sucks (just like there are moments where any relationship sucks). Sometimes, your mental health doesn’t let anything rise above room temperature. It’s really, really hard. But we’re all fighting entropy, one of the most powerful forces in the universe, so it’s okay for it to be hard.
On top of that, society often encourages us to “play it cool,” to hold in these thoughts and feelings. That’s some crazy stuff when you think about it. What makes you feel better in life, when your friend/partner tells you how great you are or when they express an ironic, detached witticism? It’s probably the simple expression of love. You can be the person that extends that joy to others and to yourself. Always be honest, but don’t be “cool.” Screw being cool.
So try your own experiment. Change your e-mail signature line from “Regards” to “You are great!” for people you care about. Tell your dogs they are the best dogs in the whole world. Let your loved ones know they are loved, deeply and personally, bringing a brilliant light to the world with their presence.
Or, at the very least, just count how many times you tell people how amazing they are (because they are). Try to tick that number up just a few notches. Watch what happens.
It might be nothing. But wait just a bit, and you could change everything in their world and how they perceive themselves in it, strengthening your bond in the meantime.
And perhaps even more importantly, do that in your own head too. Who is awesome? You are awesome! What do you love? The daily act of running! What do you want to be? A lifelong happy runner, bringing joy to the world with your presence, totally uncool and totally okay with it!
It’s more complicated than that, though. Sometimes, running sucks (just like there are moments where any relationship sucks). Sometimes, your mental health doesn’t let anything rise above room temperature. It’s really, really hard. But we’re all fighting entropy, one of the most powerful forces in the universe, so it’s okay for it to be hard. The next few chapters try to explain how you can push back against entropy and learn to love the mundane of a running life.
—For more from Happy Runner, purchase the book here.