If Thomas the Tank Engine Wore Running Shoes

by Morgan Belisle

This blog entry coming at you courtesy of my two-year-old’s obsession with all things Thomas & Friends. I can tend to be one of those moms that talks about her kids too much. Don’t worry though, this isn’t about kids at all. I actually want to write today about a concept that is pretty relatable for all of us; that is, happiness.

That thing that parents tell their children all the time, “I just want you to be happy!” - I think we all want that for ourselves and for those we love. I’m not trying to argue the meaning of life here. Without getting all philosophical, and obviously this could be argued, (and I’m no expert so don’t come at me, bro), but I think that happiness is really a byproduct of usefulness. So, to be happy, we first need to be useful.

This is where Thomas the Tank Engine comes in. If you know the show, you know that all the engines (you can quiz me, I know them all by name) just want to be useful. If you watch it enough, you know that this theme echos through like, allllll, the episodes. It’s even in the theme song, “♪♫…red and green and brown and blue, they’re the really useful crew ♪♫!” (…okay, we get it).

The engines spend their days shunting trucks, hauling freight, carrying passengers and doing the bidding of one, Sir Topham Hatt. These engines hate to be useless, and there’s no better compliment than to call a train a “useful engine.” The other day I was watching a Christmas episode (yes, it’s April) with my son where Emily the steam engine is stuck awaiting new piston rods until a snow storm has cleared. Although she remains cheery enough, it’s clear that girlfriend is hitting her patience limit saying, “…I really want to be useful again.” It was only the thirtieth time or so that I’d seen that particular episode, and I first rolled my eyes thinking, Okay, girl, we get it, you want to be useful. Then it struck me…she didn’t complain about boredom, ask for more money or “things”, or want people to do her job for her. She just wanted to be useful! And so, blog inspiration.

If you take a second to think about it, it’s makes total sense. Name one person that you know that is happy and useless. We all need to be useful in some way, and when we are, it makes us happy. Whether it’s doing a good job at work, taking good care of our homes and families, volunteering our time, energy, or money toward a deserving cause, being a good friend, or participating in a hobby that adds some value to the lives of those around us; usefulness leads to happiness.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Enter: Running. There are SO MANY ways to be a ‘useful runner’ and use our passion and hobby for good, even when we’re injured or sick and can’t be running ourselves. I have a feeling that if you are a ‘useful runner’, you’ll be a happy runner! How can you be a useful runner? Almost all the runners that I know in our community are already doing some or most of these things, they are not my original ideas…

·        Show up for yourself: There’s nothing more useful than being the healthiest version of yourself. When I don’t get enough sleep, don’t eat well, and don’t exercise, I’m in survival mode. That’s okay sometimes, (newborn + pneumonia? Yeah…) but it’s not the goal. Little steps. Get healthy, then stay healthy. You have to start by putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, then you can be way more useful to others.

·        Be a part of the community: Share your experience with others and build each other up. Ask other people about their stories and really listen. Join a running club, invite a friend to join, say hello to the new faces you see, try some group runs, join social media running groups. Hit “like” or leave a nice comment when someone you know shares something that they have accomplished. Volunteer at a race.

·        Encourage other runners:  Lessons from my toddler: He cheers on the runners at every race we drag him too. When I go out for a run from the house, my husband brings him to the front window when he sees me coming up the road, opens up the window, and I get to hear “Go, Mommy, Go!” over and over for the last steps of my run (it’s the best). When the little guy runs around the house yelling “Cheer for me!” – you can bet I do.  

·        Spend with purpose: Choose a race that benefits a cause that you believe in (and that’s fun, too, obviously!!!). Purchase your gear from companies with philosophies and business practices that align with your views. *Cough* shop small *cough* where your dollars stay local and support small businesses that, in turn, support your community.

·        Use your talents: You may not be the most social group runner, the best race photographer, the fastest runner, the most organized race registrar, or the loudest cheerer, but you are good at something! Figure out ways to be useful doing what you’re good at and what you enjoy.

For such a “solitary” sport, running offers up countless ways to make an impact on the world around us. As a newer runner, I’m so inspired by those around me who give of themselves to help our community in small and big ways. Runners are some of the most useful people I know…and they’re pretty happy, too.