Brittany Charboneau, “The Funny Runner,” is establishing herself as one of the top trail runners in the United States, but her lifestyle as an elite athlete isn’t as “serious” as you might expect. Since diving into the sport of trail running in 2019, she’s set an Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Maroon Bells Four Passes Loop, won the 2020 Pikes Peak Marathon, set a course record at the Moab Red Hot 33K, and recently secured a professional running sponsorship with The North Face.
On top of her trail running success, she’s also an accomplished road marathoner, with a 13th place finish at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials where she ran a personal best of 2:33:14. There’s no doubt running, and trail running in particular, is a large part of Charboneau’s life and identity, but it’s her “funny” side that has kept her professional running life enjoyable, balanced and successful.
Referring to herself as, “The Funny Runner,” Charboneau practices comedy and incorporates humor in her daily training in a way that deviates from the single-focused, “all about running” mindset that many of us might expect from elite runners. In this article, we dive into four key components of The Funny Runner’s humor: cookies, characters, colors and coins. These four “C’s” not only fill her life with joy and plenty of funny moments, but are also keys to her success in running.
PART I: Amateur “Cookier”
Cookies are an essential part of The Funny Runner’s life. This is largely due to her husband, Justin Charboneau’s (a.k.a “Jusband”) “cookie art” business, SugarTats Cookie Co., which he launched in 2019. Brittany shares her husband’s passion for cookies and recreates his professional cookie designs with her own creations known as “Rookie Cookies” (“Amateur Cookies Made By a Pro Athlete”). Rookie Cookies are included free in every order of SugarTats cookies to give customers a laugh and a little extra joy from free cookies!
In the Q&A below, I talk with Brittany about cookies to learn more about her passion for baking/designing these yummy treats!
[TAYTE] What is your favorite type of cookie?
[BRITTANY] Snickerdoodle! Jusband made a killer caramel and cheesecake-filled cookie for his first Food Network audition!
[TAYTE] Do you have a favorite cookie your husband has made?
[BRITTANY] One of Jusband’s first cookies he made were these unbelievable dream catchers with the most intricate line work I have ever seen. As you can imagine, my attempt to recreate it was dismal at best.
[TAYTE] Could you share some tips for “cookie baking newbs?”
[BRITTANY] Eat lots of dough for optimal fueling. Let your creativity run wild! Watch cookie making YouTube tutorials.
[TAYTE] How have you progressed as a cookie maker?
[BRITTANY] Unfortunately, I’m getting quite good at “cookieing”. So good, in fact, that we are needing to upgrade my branding to “semi-pro” cookier. Recently, we posted a picture of “Rookie or Real” and people couldn’t tell the difference between my Rookie Cookies and Jusband’s cookies.
[TAYTE] What do you consider to be your biggest cookie-baking fail?
[BRITTANY] My attempt to recreate a dinosaur cookie that Jusband made last August 2020. This was right around the time of the Pikes Peak Marathon. The night before the race, we burned a hole in my race shorts with a hotel iron in a last minute “do it yourself” branding attempt. We could have looked at both the dinosaur and branding attempts as complete fails, but instead remedied the situation by reminding ourselves to embrace the silliness!
[TAYTE] What cookies are you working on currently?
[BRITTANY] Jusband just made a set of The North Face Vectiv shoes and logos that were incredible and detailed. I’m up next to make them. I’m just hoping that you can somewhat tell that it’s a shoe.
[TAYTE] Do you prefer eating the cookie dough or cookies?
[BRITTANY] Luckily, Justin’s cookies are so soft that it’s the best of both worlds: a soft cookie minus the salmonella risk.
[TAYTE] What is your favorite way to eat cookies?
[BRITTANY] Jusband and I dip them in our coffee in the morning. It’s so good!
[TAYTE] What is the best Oreo variety?
[BRITTANY] Double or mega-stuffed Oreos!
PART II: Character Channeling
The Funny Runner draws on her past experiences in improv comedy to channel characters that help her train and race. Sometimes she becomes the character (and may even dress the part!), while other times she imagines the character by her side. These characters are superheroes, celebrities, historical figures, her own creations or anyone/anything that can help give her the “laugh” or motivation she’s looking for to make it through a tough workout, take on a challenge or make her runs more fun!
I asked Brittany, “The Funny Runner,” about her favorite characters and learn more about her character channeling process.
[TAYTE] How do you decide which character to channel for a particular run?
[BRITTANY] I absolutely love learning about new people and envisioning what they would be like if they were running. I also like to create new characters based on the particular vibe my coach is trying to bring to life in my training (confident, relaxed, smooth, etc).
[TAYTE] Who are your top three characters to channel on hard runs?
- I created an old lady who rides a Rascal scooter with an American flag off the back, wears pilot goggles, and tells me, “You can do it little girl, you’re amazing!”
- Gayle King and Oprah Winfrey . Whenever things get hard and I notice myself talking negatively to myself, I imagine what Oprah and her bestie Gayle would tell me. “You get a PR! You get a PR!”
- The Rock. Whether it’s his World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) studliness or his Maui confidence, I love how hard he works and that he is still joyful. I hear him singing “You’re welcome!” when I really need it!
[TAYTE] Describe a particularly tough time when you needed to channel a character?
[BRITTANY] When I started trail running last year! I was hilariously terrified of nature and found myself sure that behind every corner there was going to be a ferocious mountain lion ready to rip my throat out. I should have channeled the world’s best park ranger who would have helped me keep my cool!
[TAYTE] Are there characters you’ll never channel again?
[BRITTANY] Presidents James Buchanan and John Tyler. They’re some of the most incredibly boring presidents to channel. I love presidential history and know all of the presidents in order, plus fun facts about each of them. I made it a theme in my training one week to channel presidents. I was pulling from some of my favorites, Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, but when I channeled other presidents, many were slow-paced and dull.
[TAYTE] How do you decide when to become the character as opposed to just imagining them beside you?
[BRITTANY] It depends on the day. When I first started channeling characters, I needed to be that character because I couldn’t seem to think positively otherwise. It was easier to have a character take over. Nowadays, I can picture the characters running with me or even just think about their energy to help me connect back to the mission of the workout for the day.
[TAYTE] Who is a superhero you channel frequently?
[BRITTANY] Super Smash! I invented her when one of my weekly themes was superheroes. She was a badass, joyful blonde superhero who wore a pink suit and cape and kept telling me, “Smash it! Smash the finish!”
[TAYTE] Do you only channel humans or animals too?
[BRITTANY] I love channeling animals, especially when I’m coaching young athletes. One time, one of the girls I coach and I channeled dogs during a tempo run. I told her if she crushed the workout, I would howl her into the finish like a wolf. We received plenty of weird looks from folks at an adjacent golf course when we ran past it howling!
[TAYTE] Are there times when being characters can be distracting and you just need to yourself?
[BRITTANY] As I’m settling into myself as an elite runner, trusting myself and approaches and improving my positive self-talk, I find that I really enjoy running as just me. I’m playful on most of my runs and workouts, so I feel like I don’t have to lean on characters as much anymore, unless I’m looking to spice things up…then for sure I channel Sporty Spice of the Spice Girls!
PART III: Color Inspiration
Brittany is an artist who sees color everywhere in her life, including her running. Brittany applies her knowledge of “color theory,” a complex notion artists use to create “color harmony/balance,” and decide which colors to use in their art, to inspire her running goals and personal art projects. She has learned to use color to connect more deeply with her training goals, improve her mental focus, and perform better in races. She creates a weekly piece that recaps her training week and is inspired by her coaches goal for her that week. See examples of these weekly recaps on The Funny Runner website.
I asked Brittany, “The Funny Runner,” about how she understands “color” and applies it to her training and racing strategy.
[TAYTE] You incorporate colors into your training/racing attire and gear. Tell us a little more about this?
[BRITTANY] When I’m training, I wear colors that I’m trying to channel for that day. For example, if I’m trying to channel “joy,” I’ll wear lots of pink. If I’m feeling fast, I often wear black. At the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, I wore my favorite bright colors (pink, orange, and yellow), to remember to enjoy what I love to do!
[TAYTE] Take us through how you use color in your race preparation and strategy.
[BRITTANY] From my research into color theory, I learned that colors evoke emotions and feelings. My strategy for my most recent race, Moab’s Red Hot 33K, was to break my race down into four parts, based on colors. See my explanation of the four parts below.
- Mellow-blue, which reminded me to keep the pace “chill” at the beginning.
- Orange. I told myself “orange-you-glad” the climbs are early on! Orange is also a color reminiscent of heating up, which I planned to do in this second part of the race.
- Atomically positive. This phrase reminded me to stay in the powerful “red zone” in the most mentally challenging part of the race.
- Blast-off! I used this phrase to inspire me to speed up and give it my all at the end. I imagined my favorite color, pink, which would bring me joy at the finish line.
Also, notice that each color/phrase spells out “Moab” as a mini acrostic! It is always a part of my race strategy to be creative and find joy in everything I do.
[TAYTE] As someone who sees and finds meaning in color everywhere around you, I can’t help but wonder about your experience of things with many/vibrant colors? For fun, let’s imagine we’ve just opened a bag of Skittles. What do you see?
[BRITTANY] I’m thinking and praying, “Please don’t get orange or green, please don’t get orange or green!” Those colors are the worst flavors! As a color enthusiast, I appreciate a strong vibrancy of colors, so opening a bag of Skittles is like riding a rainbow rollercoaster! Add in the Sour Skittles and you’ve got an explosion of magic!
[TAYTE] How do you incorporate color in your personal art features?
[BRITTANY] I’ve become more strategic on how I try to use colors in my art. For example, the Pantone colors of 2021 are yellow and grey, so I recently made a piece in those colors. I’m working on mixing up my color choices and playing with what fits the particular vibe of the piece.
[TAYTE] Which colors mix well and which don’t?
[BRITTANY] Pink goes with everything. I stand very firm on that. I don’t enjoy mixing orange and green together. Maybe that’s my Skittle-brain talking?
[TAYTE] In your artwork, do you prefer using many colors or few?
[BRITTANY] I prefer lots of colors, especially bright colors. However, I’m also a fan of black and white art with one strong pop of color somewhere in the piece.
[TAYTE] Do you have a favorite holiday based on its colors?
[BRITTANY] You’d think it would be Valentine’s Day because of how much I love pink, but it’s actually Dia de los Muertos. I love the black and white skulls and the mix of colors incorporated into the festivities for the day. I hope at my funeral everyone paints their faces and wears colorful dresses!
[TAYTE] Do you have a favorite place to go to be inspired by colors?
[BRITTANY] My art room. It’s painted my favorite shades of pink, yellow and blue. I enjoy watching Disney movies or shows like Project Runway to see how other artists use colors together in ways that I never would have thought of. I get inspired by colors in weird ways. For example, I painted my art room based off of the colors used on a Bob Ross board game!
PART IV: Coin Collecting
The final of The Funny Runner’s four “C’s,” coins, involves a mid-run coin collecting ritual that I can safely say I’ve never heard of another professional runner attempting. Brittany has become obsessed with finding change, namely pennies, during her runs and will stop to pick them up wherever she is. Although this practice may seem silly for an elite athlete, finding coins is about more than just collecting an extra bit of change. Brittany’s coin collecting helps her find joy in the little things in life and appreciate the daily grind of training in ways she never had before. See her website’s page on “pennies” to view photos from her coin collecting adventures and read her top six lessons she’s learned from pennies.
[TAYTE] Do you only collect pennies or other coins as well?
[BRITTANY] I never discriminate against other coins. I’m an equal opportunity picker-upper.
[TAYTE] How do you carry the coins while you’re running?
[BRITTANY] If I’m carrying a running pack, I have a special zippered pocket that keeps them safe. Otherwise, they’ll go in my waistband pocket, side pants pocket, or if none of those are handy, I put them inside my mittens during winter months. One time at the start of a half marathon, I found a penny at the starting line. Obviously I had nowhere to put it, so I put it on my head, then put my hat on to secure it. True story, a video exists!
[TAYTE] Was there ever a coin you saw and didn’t take?
[BRITTANY] This is filthy to admit, but I’ve been known to pick up pennies off of port-o-potty floors and even barf. The latter was only one time!
[TAYTE] Are there special coins in your collection?
[BRITTANY] Oddly, I find a fair amount of wheat pennies. https://www.apmex.com/what-is-a-wheat-penny These have double the amount of affirmation to me. When I find one of these pennies, I often catch the thought I’m having and let that be a sign that whatever I’m thinking is helping me on my journey.
[TAYTE] What’s the craziest location you’ve ever found a penny?
[BRITTANY] I was in a meeting on the third floor of a building and when I looked down at the parking lot from the window, I spotted a penny. I ran down to get it after the meeting.
[TAYTE] What does it mean to you when you find a coin?
[BRITTANY] I think it’s not only the joy in receiving free money, but also in finding something that everyone else thinks is worthless. I love being able to spot coins when no one else sees them. It’s now a skill! Coins have become metaphors for getting through life and running. One penny is seemingly worthless, just like one second or one mile in training. Over time, each penny, second, and mile all add up if you give it time. I call the coins I find “coins from heaven” because they’re my affirmations that I’m on the right path, even when I’m feeling doubtful. Plus, Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president, so that’s a bonus when I find a penny!