So it occurred to me. Richard Simmons has something. The guy’s a nut, but he always looks like he’s having the greatest time of his life. He runs around smiling and dancing, eyes wild, hair wild, rocking his infamous red-and-white candy-striped shorts. Sometimes they’re even bedazzled in rhinestones. The guy’s got moxie. He’s got pizzazz. He’s more animated than FOX on Sunday nights. When it comes to sustained enthusiasm, no one can hold a candle to the flame that is Richard Simmons. In fact, I am convinced that if we could only figure out a non-fatal conversion process, Richard Simmons could quite possibly be the answer to the global search for sustainable alternative energy.
Does that guy love his shorts or what?
Yes, Richard Simmons has gusto, and his undying vim and vigor stems from an uninhibited passion for something. In this case, it stems from an unbridled passion for sweating to the oldies. In really short shorts.
Hey. Whatever spins your disco ball.
Being passionate about something—like really, truly passionate about something—is fun. And, of course, the more ridiculous the display of affection, the more fun it is to engage in unrestrained enthusiasm.
Whales, for instance. I mean, sure, it’s great to save the whales. I’m all for it. I like whales. I think they should be saved. But how much more fun would it be to save the whales if whale activists acted less like PETA and more like, oh, football fans? Just think, they could paint their faces, wear giant plankton wigs and whale-shaped hats, don ten pounds of plastic bead necklaces, and slather in body paint a bunch of bare-chested, beer-bellied whale enthusiasts all strategically lined up to spell the phrase S-A-V-E-T-H-E-W-H-A-L-E-S in a glorious display of human typography. They could even create whale fantasy leagues, with teams competing to see who can save the most fantasy whales and score the most fantasy whale points.
Now that’s how you support a cause!
Perhaps that’s why as distance runners we take an especial delight in poking fun at our quirks. We are well aware of our oddities and idiosyncrasies. We know we’re crazy. We know we look ridiculous to the outside world because, let’s face it, we look ridiculous to ourselves. But we love it. In fact, the crazier we are, the more we love it. It’s like the people who run marathons in tutus or that guy in the banana suit. At some point, running 26.2 miles was no longer crazy enough. At some point, Banana Man thought to himself, “I’m not gonna just run 26.2 miles. I’m gonna run 26.2 miles while wearing a banana suit!”
I imagine it was a similar situation when Richard Simmons first decided to bedazzle his shorts.
Yes, being all-out, gung-ho crazy about something is a powerful state because it is a total buy-in precipitated not just by conviction, but by joy.
Having spent far, far too many hours playing sports, watching sports, and listening to sports radio, I can testify that a popular topic of debate is an athlete’s “drive.” What is it? How do you get it? Why do some athletes lose it? Where does it come from? It can’t be a self-perpetuating entity; like all forms of energy, it must have a source. Drive is the result of something. Drive itself is not the originator. Some say it’s wired into our DNA. Some say it comes from negative sources such as fear, anger, or a desire to prove something. Others say it’s simply a mystifying intangible that some people have and some people don’t.
I’m convinced the ultimate source of drive is joy. Yes, a chip on your shoulder can provide plenty of motivation to break physical, mental, and emotional limits. Many athletes have spurred great careers saddled with personal vendettas. But a grudge eventually maxes out. Anger can take you only so far. Fear becomes draining. And what was once a limited power source becomes an infinite source of fatigue.
But therein likes the crux of the matter: Strength comes from joy, not the other way around. And joy—true joy—is not merely an emotion. It is more than a fleeting infatuation or a schoolgirl crush. We can know joy even when we are sad. We can know joy even when we feel broken. We can know joy even when we experience defeat. Indeed, it is joy that enables us to get back up again. Because when everything else fades away, when all other sources of energy have been depleted, love remains.
There is much to be said for simply delighting in what you are doing. (Isn’t that a wonderful word? Delight? We should delight in things more.) It’s no coincidence that I can trace my best training runs and races to days when I was able to let go of pressure and expectation and simply run for the fun of it. Joy is light. Joy is freeing. Unfortunately, far too often, I forget the joy that brought me to running in the first place. Far too often, I start to look at running as a chore. And that’s a shame.
Distance runners are a lot of things, but they’re not apathetic. At some point, we all became Richard Simmons-esque in our love for the sport. Because, let’s face it, why else would we run 26.2 miles? For fun? In a banana suit? (Okay, maybe not the banana suit.) No, we may not have been as flashy and boisterous as good old Richard, but we definitely had the short shorts. And probably the crazed look in our eyes. Because having an unexplainable, uninhibited, unconventional love for something is fun, and we simply found joy in the miles.
Robert Frost once said, “No one ever worried himself into art.” He was speaking to one of his writing students, but the truth of his statement can be applied to running as well. No one ever worried his way into a world record performance. No one ever worried himself into a great run. The best races, the best workouts, the best runs are those fueled by joy, because joy doesn’t just help us carry on despite our burdens: joy carries those burdens for us. It lifts the weight of worry, erases doubt, and overcomes fatigue. Joy propels us to places we never thought possible. Joy is what drives us to achieve the extraordinary.
Sometimes we just have to pull on a pair of bedazzled short-shorts to remind ourselves.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner. Her second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story, will be released in 2014. Portions of "Like Richard Simmons Loves His Shorts" were excerpted from The Lola Papers blog, www.TheLolaPapers.com.