New Year, New Attitude

AJWs TaproomOver the past few months I have come across several studies examining the impact of attitude on successful performance in academics, athletics, and the arts. These studies, from fields as varied as psychology, neuroscience, and sociology, point to the power of a positive attitude and its significant impact on emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

As a result of reading these studies I reflected on those things in my life that give me pleasure. Last week, with a little time on my hands, I considered those places of success and contentment that allow me to live life more fully and provide a positive sense of myself and of the world around me. A few days ago, on New Year’s Eve, in fact, while on a run, I made a short list of some of those things:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Camping
  • Writing
  • Hiking
  • Reading
  • Teaching
  • Eating
  • Running

I stopped my list at running. Not because I felt the list was complete nor that I thought it was a fruitless exercise, but, rather, that I have come to believe that through running I have found a path to contentment that is generative, constructive, and holistic. Certainly, all the other items on my list are important and meaningful to me in various ways, but somehow running has found a way into my soul in spite of itself.

You see, the truth is, I am not a natural runner nearly as much as I am a natural father, camper, or eater. In fact, in my early years as a runner, running was work for me. It felt much more like a means to an end than an identity-defining path to purpose and contentment. Only through time and slow accrual has running become the source of my generally positive attitude and given me the ability to view the world as a fundamentally good place in spite of all the challenges we face.

Interestingly enough, as much as running has profoundly impacted my attitude, my attitude has had an even more consistently positive impact on my running, particularly in times of great pain and hardship.

If you have spent any time at the latter stage aid stations in a 100-mile race, you have undoubtedly witnessed some serious pain and suffering. The misery that accompanies the last 30 miles of a 100-miler is about as acute as it gets. And, in many cases, negative attitudes are much more likely to bring runners down in these dire circumstances than are sour stomachs, trashed quads, or blistered feet. In these occasionally life-altering experiences, the buzzy excitement of the starting line and the heady whirlwind of the early miles gradually gives way to darker times later in the race. Times when we question why we do this in the first place and times when the sleeping bag by the campfire looks a heck of a lot more attractive than the darkness of the trail ahead. Here is where a positive attitude, developed and honed through running, can make you a better runner and, ultimately, a better person.

So, as we embark on another year of running, another aspirational year of challenges and opportunities, another year to find contentment in an increasingly divisive world, here’s hoping that when you come, literally or figuratively, to that dark aid station in the deep canyon of your life, the glasses are half full rather than half empty.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
The Achemist Heady Topper DIPA
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. The Alchemist is a small, fifteen-barrel brewery devoted solely producing and distributing a single beer, Heady Topper. Heady Topper is a delicious Double IPA that tips the scales at 8% ABV and is loaded with plenty of hops. Yet, it has a creamy mouth feel and smooth finish that is truly remarkable in a DIPA of any size.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • How do you cultivate a positive attitude in your life and in your running?
  • How has your running benefited from having a positive attitude?

There are 5 comments

  1. Flandria

    Positive energy and attitude comes from positive people I surround myself with everyday!

    I feel positive after reading this article! Thank you!

  2. Mic Medeska

    Bryon's call for comments asked how my running has benefited from having a positive attitude and I'd have to comment on the reverse, as I think my positive life attitude is a major result of my running. Running has helped me get more fit, acheive goals, find new goals, made me new friends, clears my head after a busy day, fills my head with ideas on boring days, and so much more. I think running helps keep you calm, which translate to your attitude outside of running. From there it all comes full circle and gives me a positive attitude about running. Blew your mind there didn't I?

  3. Andy

    Postive running attitude (PRA) epitomizes an old stress and coping model for successful adaptation: Perceive all obstacles — heat, rain, snow, wind, mud, mountains, miles — as challenges, not threats. You've got to frame things this way if you want to have a good run at ultras and at life.

  4. Juan Diego

    It's quite amazing how a warm smile or a hearty hug can brighten one's day and enrich one's life. It's too bad that in our modern society(outside the running community of course), these simple gestures of love and compassion seem to be in short supply. It's time we shift the current paradigm and aspire towards a higher plane of existence, or at least aspire towards more smiles and hugs.

  5. Marco

    How about when you do get to dark deep canyon in a latter aid station and the volunteers play a major role in helping you turn that attitude around or just enhance your already positive attitude. I've been in those situations where an aid station captain just would not let me sink into a defeated attitude (TRT 100 2008)and thanks to him I kept on going and finished.

    Sometimes volunteers can sway that pendulum and help you get out of that rut. Volunteering is awesome!

  6. Nick Goodall

    I couldn't agree more, our philosophy and attitude are the foundation with which we do everything, whether we smile about it or not. And I guarantee you'll almost never find a successful person with a poor philosophy or attitude, I'm most happy for you!

    May diligence be with you in 2013, and have a wonderful, happy year! :)

  7. Patrick

    I have been to the Alchemist Brewery and the brewers are as nice as they come. The beer is absolutely and insanely wonderful, but it sells out quick so call ahead if you are from out of town!

  8. KenZ

    Positive attitude always helps, but I find that simple reality and assessment of a situation when things look dire helps too. Late in the race when your quads feel trashed (but aren't really THAT trashed), your calf is cramping (but really, just slow your pace 0:10/mile and it'll be fine), and you're tire (but really, you CAN muster up the will to do the last 5-10 hours), just having objectivity can be a huge help. So when the battle is on, for me personally, I find a good solid HONEST assessment of the situation works best for me. And luckily, an honest assessment usually indicates that all systems are go.

    The glass is neither half empty of half full. The glass is silicon dioxide.

  9. Wyatt Hornsby

    This post really speaks to me. For many of us, running is a way of life. The word "holistic" perfectly describes how running has affected my very being. What we often don't talk about much is how running also affects our families–mostly in positive ways but occasionally in the way of sacrifices. The past few years have been challenging for me as I've been injured a lot and this year I'm trying to put it all behind me and stay positive and focused on fun. As always, great job, AJW! You are a tremendous ambassador of the sport and a voice for so many of us.


  10. Shelley

    So true!! And, as the great David Horton always says, "It doesn't always get worse." and "You can always do more that you think you can." I am so thankful each time I lace up my shoes and head out the door. It's the best therapy ever!!

  11. Timothy Mesyanzhinov

    It's wonderful that running works for you all to find the path of contentment, but in my case I'd have to say that things are quite different. Spending so much time running puts a stress on relationships with family and friends. Combined with some inborn misanthropy/introversion I then turn to running as I've found it to be the only consistent solution (or rather temporarily reliever) for this problem.

    I don't mean to rain on everyone's parade (I see the point being made by AJW and others), but I think not enough credit is given to the power of running (or other similar kinds of activities) to draw people away and into themselves.

    I find that some of my best running comes when I'm at my darkest moments, emotionally. The pain provides a particularly flammable fuel, unlike any other I know of.

    Lastly I'd also like to point out that some of my jolliest times have been spent with runners. Where this leaves me now, I'm not quite sure.

    1. Jason

      I know exactly what you mean. I began running ultras b/c I was running away (literally and figuratively) from a bad situation. It helped, and I keep going back "there" b/c it still relieves what are now relatively minor stresses. But it's equally true that running creates its own stresses – fomo, resentful spouses, missed opportunity for other forms of enjoyment. I enjoy these sort of columns, but also recognize we're in an echo chamber.

  12. Katrin Silva

    A great column! I agree with everything you say, Andy. Running is indeed the healthiest path to contentment and joy, especially for those of us with an ever so slight tendency toward OCD, i.e. most ultrarunners. A positive attitude is beneficial in any environment, and a little bit of positive energy tends to create a ripple effect, even in the academic world. Running creates most of the positive energy in my life, and once it's created, I am able to export it to teaching, writing, and relationships with others. I am not capable of meditation because I get too antsy sitting still, but while running, I often experience a sense of bliss, of understanding, of forgiveness, of thinking of everything and nothing all at once. During the first hour of my run, nagging worries rise to the surface of my mind, pop like bubbles, and disappear. The feeling of being connected to nature, life, and humanity is as close I have ever come to spiritual enlightenment. I finish most runs at peace with life, and radiating happiness. During the course of an ultra, that kind of enjoyment is, of course, not consistent. It comes ad goes, but I find it returns sooner if I accept the darker times, rathier than fight them.

  13. Viper

    anyone who follows me on twitter knows i struggle with attitude a bit – great to read this for me. helps me see a bit of further into the future as opposed of being so focused on "how many miles can i get in this week". great ready – thx AJW

  14. Anonymous

    I once had a psychologist tell me that I needed to run for my mental health…. and yes, I too,lean a bit toward OCD. I agree with the mind doc -running soothes my mind in ways that meds or anything else cannot.

  15. Andrea

    AJW'S, any chance you could post links to some of those articles on the benefits of a positive attitude? Some of us would enjoy reading the original articles….might be good fireside reading. ;-)

  16. John King

    I just stumbled upon this blog thanks to a fellow runner after I posted a beer article on our Facebook running group…

    I just spent 10 days up in Vermont and the state/beer geeks everywhere go crazy over Heady. I was lucky enough to pick up a few cases to bring back to my Kentucky friends, but it simply is a high quality DIPA. The fact that is is so hard to get due to demand being far greater than supply makes it almost mythical if you can get your hands on it. Solid choice.

    re: How to develop a positive attitude?

    It's something I preach, but I say to myself, it's just running. That's all, just one foot in front of the other. It doesn't make me a better person than the next guy who doesn't run because I am sure they are better at something else in comparison to me. My positive attitude comes from how running has defined my friendships, my lifestyles, and more importantly my frame of mind.

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