Acting and Racing Parallels

Corky_Fitness-2829finalflatwebDuring my assessment meetings, new clients usually ask how I became a coach and how that journey progressed. It’s no secret that I fell into running “later in life” (not until after college), and that until 2012, I made most of my income and spent most of my time focused on work and training as an actor. While that “career” is on the back burner (I still pick up auditions ¬†and bookings here and there but I would say I am not actively pursuing it or paying my bills with my acting chops), there are a lot of tools, lessons learned, and industry similarities between acting and running/coaching. So today I thought I’d share how some of those skills cross over. You may find that perhaps your jobs, interests and hobbies also cross over a bit – and maybe this blog will even shed some light on that.

  • Runners obviously rely on their bodies to run and race. The skills developed while training for a race are similar to the rehearsals an actor would be in while learning choreography for a musical. While every race is different (weather, terrain, distance, goals), shows will vary in style, the size of the stage, athleticism and skills required, and obviously muscle memory. Like a marathoner out there knocking out 20 milers in preparation for race day, a dancer may spend hours per day learning and perfecting the choreography. With years of wearing the dancer and sometimes choreographer hat, I always think of my long runs as “dress rehearsals” for race day.
  • A bad rehearsal can make for a great opening night – and a bad long run can prepare you for a great race! Bad long runs can be extremely frustrating, but it’s better to iron out any kinks in practice and not on race day, and to learn from mistakes. Actors learn this lesson and don’t let it shake them.
  • Improvisation sometimes happens on the race course. Even an actor who is not improv-trained has had to improvise on stage at some point. When you need to go off script, it is perhaps the most spine-tingling, raw and risky moment you can have on stage. If you are a stage actor, you’ve done it and survived to tell the tale. Though we never want to improvise on race day, run races long enough and it will happen to you. Maybe your Garmin will decide to reset itself in the middle of a marathon, or something in your tummy suddenly feels terrible. Being able to stay mentally cool and improvise your original plan can save your race. Thankfully, us actors usually make really good improvisers in every other aspect of life – including races. I always tell my athletes that if/when something doesn’t go according to plan on race day, DO NOT PANIC.
  • Unlike acting, you usually get when you put into training. Things can certainly go wrong on race day, but there are few factors out of a runner’s control. As an actor, when you walk into a casting, all you can control is how you look that day, feel, and how prepared you are to sing, dance or act. Unfortunately, there are many more factors than talent that go into being cast. Costume size, height, age, how do you physically fit with the other cast members, voice, head shot, do you remind that casting director of an ex-girlfriend, do they happen to hate your wardrobe choice or song choice – being “prepared” only takes you so far. But in running, being prepared is so much of the success.
  • An actor’s body is her instrument. Her voice and body is the vessel in which characters come to life. When injured or ill, the performance or audition suffers. Having attended a music conservatory (one of the best in the country, actually!), vocal health was extremely important. Like that performer, a runner’s body is their instrument. Caring for it and tending to minor and major issues needs to be something the athlete is proactive about. I’d like to think that much of what I learned and was instilled in me as a vocalist and dancer has made me a wiser runner than I’d be without those years of becoming very physically self-aware.
  • Actors and athletes are both judged by appearance. In an audition, you’ll often feel eyes on you in the holding room, as your competition sizes you up. To be fair, we all know that looks are one of the factors in the casting process (as mentioned above). I’ve also found runners and their potential is often judged by how fit they are, or what they are wearing in a race. I’d be the first to admit that if a gal shows up in racing briefs, I expect her to be FAST. Personally, I don’t think I have any business wearing racing briefs – I stick to short racing shorts – as racing briefs, in my opinion, are for the folks out their smoking the competition. Then again, I have been smoked by gals in loose and long running shorts, and have left gals in racing briefs in my dust – so it goes to show that appearance can mean nothing. Sadly though, many runners are frequently told by other folks that “they don’t look like runners.” I hate that. I won’t rant on the topic here (I have a past blog dedicated to the topic), but I will say that runners are frequently judged by appearance.
  • As an actor, tech week is followed by performances. At some point, those performances come to an end. There may sometimes be some relief when a show closes, but there is almost always some sense of loss. A chapter (and paid gig!) has ended, and so the actor is often left saying “okay, no what?!” Runners experience something similar. Unlike the zaniness of tech week, we get a taper – though mentally the taper can feel like a mind fuck. Then race morning arrives, you are ready to rumble and finally put all that hard work on the line. Once you cross the finish line, that race is gone. Whether elated over a huge success or defeated by the race, there is usually that sense of loss and directionless wander.
  • Rejection is a huge part of acting. I’d guess that most actors have to attend 50-100 castings for every booking. That’s a lot of “no’s.” Actors either find a way to develop tough skin and embrace every audition, or they perhaps take it personally or begin to resent the process. There’s a reason why so many actors abuse substances or are in therapy – it’s tough! As a runner, the higher you set your goals, the greater the risk you’ll fail. While I can’t say I love rejection or failure, the rejection from acting has somehow made failure as an athlete easier to swallow. I don’t let it define me. Though it does definitely still sting.
  • Being an actor is quite possibly one of the hardest jobs out there. Not because you need to be a genius, or the greatest gift to mankind, but because so much of your “work” offers no or little reward. You are constantly in training and honing your craft (not cheap!), preparing and attending multiple auditions per day, all while finding a way to afford living in an expensive city, looking your best, and staying marketable. Training for an ambitious race goal, usually while juggling work, family/friends, and probably a half-dozen other things isn’t unlike being an actor. And the more seriously you take it, the more challenging it is. It takes a strong work ethic to be a competitive runners.
  • Sometimes you simply need a break. Acting can be exhausting. Luckily, there are usually “seasons” in the casting world. In theatre, for example, Spring is always really busy. Autumn can be really busy, too. A stage actor may get a little break from the grind in Summer and Winter – which are good times to hop into intensive classes or take a break and travel. Television actors deal with pilot seasons, commercials work in seasons with advertisers, and films shoot year round. Yes, as an actor, you could dabble in all fields and never get a break. The same is true for the runner. A runner may hop from cross-country season to into track, to marathon training or trail running – there is always something you can be training for. However, an “off-season” of some kind is always a good thing. It helps recharge the body, brain and focus. Don’t be scared to take an off-season – even if it’s just a few weeks.
  • Actors get to play all different kinds of roles, which is really fun and exciting. Runners get to train for and race all different kinds of races, varying in distance, terrain and goals. Both acting and running gives me the opportunity to constantly mix things up.

You may find that perhaps your hobbies and career have many similarities to your training, goals, and relationship with running. If you are in a running rut, looking at perhaps how you attack your job or hobbies and perhaps that will help.

When Did You Become a Runner?

For many of us, there was a defining moment, experience, or year when we became “runners.” This isn’t to say that there is a rule in my book as to what makes someone a runner or not, and it certainly doesn’t have to do with speed, races, or how seriously you take running as a sport or hobby. To me, someone becomes a “runner” when it becomes a fluid part of their life and routine. It becomes part of their day and who they are just like brushing one’s teeth, reading a book, or something else you do without thinking much about. It’s part of you and your day or week.

Sometimes that transition to “runner” is so natural, you can’t remember what your life was like before it. Other times it’s a huge change. Last week I went back to Southwest Michigan for the first time in eight years, to a small town where I worked for 4 months at a theatre. I didn’t realize it until I went back, but that location and time in my life was when I’d say I became a “runner.” I ran before Michigan, but I don’t think I was a runner. For one thing, before Michigan, I ran out of fear of gaining weight. Being an actor can mess with your head and view on body image. And while I liked running, I wouldn’t say I did it consistently. When I ran I enjoyed it and felt great after, but it was still more of a chore and something I did out of insecurity than anything else.

In Michigan, running became a part of almost every day. It began out of the usual place – don’t gain weight while working a stressful job. But from there, it quickly became my favorite part of my day. While most everyone else went out to party at night or slept in for as long as possible, my alarm went off every morning at 7:45am, I’d toss on my running clothes, and be out the door for a run by 8am. I’d get home around 9am, quickly eat a small breakfast, shower, and arrive the theatre by 10am – where I’d usually work until midnight or 1am. I didn’t know how fast or slow I was, and I always ran an out-and-back, turning around about 30 minutes into the run. Some days I’d make it farther than others. I usually carried my iPod (an archaic model by today’s standards), and let my mind wander as I sweat out my stress and felt strong. And while it took me years after my time in Michigan to enter a race, this was when I became a runner.

If you don’t consider yourself a runner yet, but someone who sometimes runs, you may find that changes over time – perhaps undetected under your nose. Until going back to Michigan, I don’t think I could have pinpointed what I became a “runner.” Or perhaps it will be a defining day, experience, or decision. If you consider yourself a runner, when do you think that happened? It’s fun to travel down memory lane, and reexamine when that shift happened. And if you are not a runner, well…never say never! Happy running!