Welcome to the Club, Will Smith

Mar 30, 2019

For the first 5.41 (give or take) miles of my last 10-mile run, I was pissed at Will Smith. That morning I watched (parts of) a video of him attempting to run a half marathon after only 3 weeks of training. Somewhere in the middle of mile 10, after over an hour and fifty minutes of running, Will started to walk. He "failed" one (at least no one who has ever attempted a half marathon). Anyone who has ever laced up their shoes in preparation to run (or walk) a half marathon knew this only had 2 possible results:

  1. Will Smith's workout routine included enough aerobic exercise that he could run 8-10 miles at an easy pace before he started his "3-weeks of training". Or…
  2. He would fail.

This is why I was pissed off. I just had a hard time at getting past not only his ignorance, but also his arrogance. Even though he might not have known how much training was required, someone on his support team surely did. So, for those of us on the informed side of the distance running spectrum, this was even more of a publicity stunt than it already was for everyone else. So when Will Smith stopped running, I was happy. My first thought was, "I'm going to kick Will Smith's ass today."

But I got over it. You see, that is what running does. It is Jedi mind training. To be a Jedi, you must let go of your anger, and if you run long enough, you will. By the end of my run, I was no longer pissed off. I did kick his ass. My 10 miles in just under 94 minutes was at least 16 minutes faster than his and I had plenty of gas left in the tank. I also had several months of off-and-on running, probably 50-60 pounds less to carry, temperatures 10-15 degrees cooler, and most likely a much flatter course. So by the end of the run, my planned title of this post changed from "I Kicked Will Smith's Ass" to "Welcome to the Club, Will Smith".

Today I finally went back and watched the whole video. Full disclosure – I had previously skipped ahead to the part where he was starting the race. What I missed somewhat validated what I already knew – he hadn't been training since his "Will Smith's Bucket List" show had him traveling the world, eating a lot, and even drinking (something he mentioned he never did when he was building his acting career). He also mentioned he had never run 13.1 miles before and his goal pace was 2 hours and 10 minutes (just under 10 minutes a mile).

Unfortunately the rest of his training was a bit of a spectacle. He did a stress test with his cardiologist (not a bad idea before trying to run a half marathon), but then things got weird. He did some underwater training and heat and cold tolerance stuff with Laird Hamilton to apparently train his mind for the demands of the half marathon. Then he ran on some dunes. I hope that somewhere during those three weeks he also followed the type of training that running science tends to find effective.

He also had some cringe-worthy moments. There were a few times that he referred to his race as a "marathon" – something I clearly documented my distaste for already. Then when he got to the race, he jumped the barrier to start near the front of the race. In his defense, it isn't unusual for celebrities to get a preferential starting position. However, this was still bad form. In big races, runners (often by the thousands) are arranged at the start based on their expected finishing time. In most cases, "elite" runners start in their own group before even the fastest of the rest of us riffraff. The sorting of the rest of the runners is done mostly for courtesy of runners to keep slower traffic out of their way, but it is also for safety. You don't want someone walking and taking selfies at the start to get trampled by hundreds of runners all trying to PR.

Ultimately, it seemed to be a humbling experience for Mr. Smith. And to be fair, he didn't "fail". He completed the race without being picked up by the "sad wagon". As anyone who has ever entered a race will tell you, the only measurable failure is a DNF ("did not finish"). Even this is not always a failure, because a DNF almost always means you did everything your body and mind could handle on that particular day, and THAT is an ultimate form of success. So Will's race was a resounding success. He learned exactly what his mind and body were capable of on that day, for that race, in Havana. More importantly (in my opinion) he learned that his mind and body are capable of more. Maybe, given more training and better weather (i.e. better race selection), he finishes without breaking stride and within his pacing goal. Maybe with even more training he breaks 2 hours. Maybe he completes a full. Maybe he is competitive with other famous runners like Kevin Hart, Eddie Izzard, and Flea (to name just a few). Maybe he even qualifies for Boston.

Towards the end of the video, will said, "Ten years ago I would have been embarrassed. I would have been pissed…I'm really in a different place in my life…I don't feel the pressure of living up to the billboard image of myself." I'm glad that he was able to take this experience in stride. After a little research, it seems that Will has done some running in the past – just not this kind of distance. My hope is that, like so many of us, Will Smith has caught the bug. He now knows how therapeutic and downright enjoyable running longer distances can be. Perhaps more importantly, I hope Will learned how great it is to be part of the running community. As the saying goes, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. As a general rule, runners fall into one of those 2 modes – nice or nothing. The ones who talk are nice, friendly, positive people and the ones who don't probably are too. This is clearly a group that Will Smith deserves to be part of so we should welcome him with open arms – even if those arms are attached to a faster-running body. 😉

Welcome to the club, Will. We are glad to have you.