Eric Hustles for Smiles All Day
As a Director of Grants Management at Smile Train, Eric Rosenheim-Patton helps ensure that the money our donors raise is equitably distributed to our 1,100+ local medical partners around the world. Outside of work, he helps raise those funds himself by running half marathons with Team EMPOWER, Smile Train’s endurance athletics team. In April 2022, he ran the New York Half Marathon with Team EMPOWER, his first race in more than two years. We caught up with him just after he finished to learn more about what keeps him going.
When did you start running? What kinds of events do you look for?
I like running just because it relaxes me, it burns off a lot of excess adrenaline. I like the feeling that you get after you do a good run.
I've only run half marathons; I like the challenge of halves but I don't think I think I will ever do a full marathon in my life. I’ve been running half marathons since around grad school — and I'm 52 now, so that was a while ago. I ran my first half marathon in 2008 or 2009. And then I tore my meniscus and didn’t run another one until the fall of 2018. That was in Savannah, GA. Then I did the New York Half with Team EMPOWER in 2019 and signed up to do it again in 2020, but I tore my other meniscus. Then it was canceled, anyway.
This was my first half marathon since that injury. And I won’t get into it, but I had an unfortunate, cascading series of new injuries the week before the event, so I was pretty nervous about it, to be honest. But I then finished, and only three minutes slower than three years ago. I’m very happy with that.
As a member of our Grants Management team, you are one of the key people ensuring that our partners around the world have the resources they need to save children’s lives. So when you do tear your meniscus and have all these other injuries, does knowing that you really are running to help children who need you motivate you to push through and finish?
Yeah. Honestly, in my day-to-day work, of course I know that I’m making that kind of impact, but it’s easy to lose sight of it. This was a fun way to get connected to Team EMPOWER members who are very passionate about what we do. They keep me motivated and remind me why I’m here.
I also don't get to talk to my colleagues in communications and PR and fundraising every day, so this was also a good opportunity to better connect with my peers here at Smile Train.
How did you train for this half marathon?
My normal runs are around six miles, so I was trying to do my regular runs, even through the setbacks I had, then increase them a little bit, too. I ran eight miles once and accidentally did nine once, too. In 23-degree weather. That was only a few months ago, but I was slightly less falling apart then and can’t imagine doing that now.
It’s harder for me to train over the winter because running on a treadmill is extremely boring. So I took advantage of our remote working policy and went to a fair number of warm places this winter.
In general, I don't have any super-exciting training secrets or anything like that. I generally tend to run a little bit faster than I ought to; I like to keep up a slightly higher pace than someone my age should. I know that sounds like a weird humblebrag, but it's also something I need to learn to moderate because it’s how I injured my hip this summer.
How do you focus in the heat of the half marathon? How do you stay energized?
I’ve found that a big part of running is psychological. There's like a mind-body link that’s very strong. That’s why I always just keep looking ahead; I don’t look at people while I run because if you look at people who are dropping out, your mind will want to do that, too.
And if things are not going well, then I follow the advice of an endurance athlete I follow who says that, when that happens, you need to get into a mindset where you just remind yourself, I'm doing a really hard thing. And I'm going to make it through this hard thing. For me, that works better in the moment than telling yourself this is a fun thing that I'm doing. Because then your mind will want to stop once it’s no longer fun.
I also like listening to music while I run. It sort of feels like cheating and the guy I follow disapproves of it, but it really helps me a lot.
In the end, you just have to stay positive and focus on finishing.
Do you do other athletics besides running?
I’ve never thought of myself as just a runner. I also like doing CrossFit-style exercises because you really feel like you’ve accomplished something afterward and it’s a full-body workout. I also lift weights and kettle bells and try to do 2,000m on the rowing machine as often as I can.
With a lot of these things, you start to do them and they seem really hard. And then your body kind of adjusts and figures out shortcuts that make it easier. So you're not just getting better, you’re learning a new skill.
You already work to support Smile Train all day. Why is it so meaningful for you to continue to support Smile Train outside of work?
As a father myself, I can’t imagine anything more worthwhile than giving smiles to children in need. It’s a privilege to do that for a living, but as long as I’m living, this is something that will be my privilege to do in any way that I can.