Smile through the aid stations

In a long enough running race, there are aid stations—places to pick up water and food and, in the long long races, a place to pick up drop bags with your own supplies. Endurance running aid stations are operated by volunteers—people who are just sitting at tables out in the woods for free handing out gummy bears all day and all night.

It's an insane arrangement by insane people for insane people. You might see one every five or six miles, and you're really looking forward to seeing those crazy people. The water and the pretzels and the candy are nice, sure, but you can pack those things in your bag and run with them if you want. Those are replaceable.

The people are a gift, and I would try to entertain them during my minute or two through the station—make it worth their time. There's not much I could give them because I left my wallet in the car, so why not give them a chuckle by asking for a ride to the next aid station, or some other lame joke that could be concocted out of the four brain cells that were still firing at mile 80.

There was always something extra received in return, and it wasn't from the volunteers who were already giving you what you wanted. There was a big mood lift in my own head from expressing a good mood outwardly—a mood that wasn't there 15 minutes ago while slogging towards the station. It didn't matter if the jokes didn't land and every time I answered "how are you doing?" with "great" was a crazy lie—every outward bound bit of positivity had its own positive effect where it started. I would get a few minutes of psychological glow that followed me down the trail, which is a killer advantage in races that test the endurance of your mind as much as, or even more than, the endurance of your body.

I don't think about it often, but it came to mind over the weekend while slogging 80-pound bags of mortar from the garage around to the basement door. After a few bags, I'd get near that door and the ugly face contortions would kick in, as if that's what was needed to go the last few feet.

And it hit me: smile through the aid stations. Avoid the exertion face, and just laugh at it all. Why not? Some of it will come back to where it started.

I think it's good advice, even if it's not advice I would take all the time. I'm not looking for positivity. Some humor, sure. But positivity and happiness, no. A little, however—that's fine by me.

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