You Are What You Celebrate: High-fives, community and fast times
by Colin Vincent, MSW, RSW
Two runners approach the finish line at the 2014 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon, their arms linked together in solidarity. One limps in obvious discomfort, the other acts as a support, chanting words of encouragement in the injured runner’s ear. Mississippis of sweat gush down their faces. Calf muscles twitch and seize in protest. Spectators clap and cheer each hard-fought step.
As they cross the finish line together, grimaces of pain are transformed into ear-to-ear grins. They lift their arms over their heads together in triumph, still holding hands – a spontaneous celebration of this monumental journey’s end.
Similar acts of celebration are repeated thousands of times all over the city during the course of the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. From kids high-fiving runners on Fairmount to fist pumps along Elgin to crowds going wild at the finish, all those positive celebratory vibes help create the weekend’s awesome atmosphere.
But celebration does more than that.
It builds community
Celebrating doesn’t just feel good, it helps define who we are both as individuals and as a member of a group, or what I like to think of as a very large team (working together even as we compete individually). As sports psychologist Martin Perry writes, celebration “brings the team together for a highly charged emotional moment and helps bond the players.”
Rituals of celebration – from holiday meals to seasonal festivals to crossing the finish line with hands held high – are part of our identity, part of our collective DNA. They help us recognize not only our individual achievements, but to express who we are as members of a community—whether that’s in the National Capital Region or around the world as part of the larger running community.
Celebrating together brings us together. But there’s more.
It just might boost performance
In addition to helping us define who we are, there’s growing evidence that celebrating (and being celebrated) can help us to increase internal states like good will, self-confidence and optimism, which are conducive to high performance over time. Basically, celebrating feels good and when we feel good (e.g. confident, optimistic), it’s easier to muster and maintain the internal motivation we need to stay on top of regular training.
Building on that theme, sport research suggests that team celebration corresponds to successful team performance. Indeed, researchers found that basketball teams that practiced high-touch celebration (e.g., high-fives, fist bumps, hugs, huddles, etc.) cooperated better and out-performed teams that did not. Which led psychologist Christopher Peterson to conclude that “even small acts of celebration, as they accumulate, can have large effects on team performance.”
Three tips for celebrating:
- Celebrate each step. Make room for “micro” celebrations along the way to your big race. After all, it’s the months of unglamorous and generally unheralded training runs that allow you to cross the finish line in record time.
- Reflect on celebration. While it might break the spontaneous mood, take a moment to reflect on the good feelings that arise from celebration and the hard work it took to get there. You can return to those feelings the next time you’re facing a tough challenge.
- Adopt a ritual. Whether it’s a high-five and coffee with your group after a long-run or Rob Watson’s beer and cookies after each marathon, a celebration ritual will keep you coming back for more.
So, as you start new training plans or look ahead to future races, go ahead and celebrate your running milestones with whoever happens to be on your “team”: fellow runners, family members, friends, co-workers. Not only will it increase your sense of connection with the wider running community, it might also give you the boost you need to keep on keeping on, or set a new PB.
Colin Vincent, MSW, RSW, is a Social Worker with Lanark County Mental Health and a fitness enthusiast who can often be seen running the rural side roads of Lanark County on his lunch hour. He will run his first 10K at the Jim Howe Memorial Cross-Country in October.
 For example, See E. Scott Geller on Positive Reinforcement, Reward, and Recognition with regard to workplace safety.