Unlocking the secret to running faster

If you've clicked on this, chances are you're motivated to kick off 2015 with some solid exercise goals. Me? I've got a goal, too, but this year it's a little different.

I'm already motivated about my fitness and have some triathlons marked into my diary over the next few months, so I'm kind of sorted in that department. Instead, I've used the arrival of the new year to drill down into different ways I can improve my performance.

There's the usual things to be done, like paying more attention to diet, injury prevention and managing rest and recovery. These require constant vigilance, especially alongside a full-time job, a family and um, an ageing body.

But recently I've been reminded of a really simple ingredient that's often missing from my training and racing routine and which could really impact performance. It might be the same for you. I'm determined - call it a resolution - to use it as much as possible, and especially when the going gets tough.

It's called smiling.

I've been reminded about the strength of a smile from three directions recently. In December as I  through some remote villages in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, I was struck by the genuine smiles that greeted me along the way. And if you were to use wealth and possessions as a gauge of happiness, these people were not entitled to be smiling. They had very, very little of either. They worked all day, every day, in a subsistence culture, but when our crazy little peloton rode past we only saw people waving at us or welcoming us into their homes.

So there's the smile of friendliness and keeping things simple. It's about paring back all the extraneous stuff and just appreciating what we've got - like the opportunity to pursue mad hobbies like running.

There's also the smile of distraction. We talk a lot about the post-exercise high that generates a smile and puts a spring in your step for hours afterwards. That's the effect of the exercise-induced release of brain chemicals called endorphins.


Tim Oberg, the director of  Australia, was blown away last November by the response to a Facebook post he wrote about the relationship between exercise and mental wellbeing. Hundreds of people emailed him with their stories of how parkrun - the free, timed, weekly 5km run that's held every week in 100 or so parks around Australia - had helped them beat, or at least manage, depression.

Another powerful sort of smiling - and the one I'm particularly keen to try - is smiling in the face of discomfort, during a training session or a race. Smiling when I feel like lying down, smiling when I feel like I should have stayed in bed on a dark morning like the rest of the world, smiling when my legs are screaming, or when I'm hot and generally suffering.

I was alerted to this via news that Australian performance sports brand  has this month signed an exclusive sponsorship with world champion Australian triathlete,  and his triathlon coaching company, .

"Crowie" is one of the fittest humans on the planet, a three-time Hawaii Ironman world championship winner and two-time Ironman 70.3 world champion. His Sansego triathlon coaching team is equally impressive.

One coach is Joanna Lawn, a Kiwi whose claims to fame include being a six-time top 10 Hawaii Ironman finisher. Lawn wrote a blog on the Sansego site about smiling that resonated with me.

After watching and participating in nearly 30 Ironman triathlons, she observed that the most successful athletes seemed able to smile when under extreme duress.

"The power of confidence one can take from a simple smile is priceless, something that I hear time and time again from world champions Natascha Badmann and Chrissie Wellington," Lawn writes. "They continuously say 'smile and everything will be wonderful'.

"How can that be? We are doing the same thing, we are doing the same distance, we are experiencing the same elements and the feeling the same pain. The difference is that they CHOOSE to ignore these signals, they CHOOSE to find positive thoughts, they simply take long deep breaths, smile and soldier on.

"I definitely believe there is a power of energy in this, and it is not just coincidence they both have won numerous world titles."

Lawn argues that smiling can be used as a training tool. "I believe if we could enjoy, stay focused and be happy in our workouts, race day 'should' be a very enjoyable experience. The road to success should be simple," she writes.

All of us could probably do with a reminder of the power of a positive thought and the action of a smile when the alternative is far more seductive. After all, your thoughts are what drive your actions.

So this year I'm resolved to try to take more long, deep breaths and soldier on with a view to finding a positive in any situation I find myself in. Whilst wearing a smile. And with any luck I might notice an improvement in my performance, too.

What are your 2015 exercise resolutions?