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.

Resolution Road

img_6959-editI cannot believe how neglected my blog has been the last few months. I am changing that, starting NOW. For some reason it became less of a priority, which isn’t like me. Even when I am super busy, I alway make time for my blog. No excuses. I’m back at it.

It’s the time of the year when everyone is extremely busy with holiday parties, gift shopping and wrapping, baking, end of year work responsibilities, kids home from school for Winter Break, travel to see family – this time of the year is often one filled with love, laughter, and a whole lot of things on the calendar. It’s also the time of year many folks start thinking about the new year, and the new hopes, dreams and goals they see with it. And that’s where I come in.

I am a firm believer that we can all turn over a new leaf, set new goals, and choose to change habits TODAY. We don’t need a fresh month or new year to finally make ourselves do something, but that seems to be the trend. As you probably know, New Years brings with it more fitness, weight loss and physical goals and resolutions than anything else. Sure, there are people who set career goals, finance goals, travel goals, etc – but fitness is the overwhelming winner of resolutions.

It never fails that the first few weeks of the new year my email and my phone will be filled with inquiries from new people with big goals. I love those emails and calls. I am excited to meet new people, hear about their goals, and discuss how I can help them. It’s part of what I love about what I do – helping people achieve something for themselves that betters them and their quality of life. The excitement, motivation and energy each person brings with their call or email is something I wish I could bottle and save for them. It’s infectious. And yes, out of all the messages, calls, meetings and even a few weeks into training, a certain percent of those hopeful, motivated New Years Resolution clients fall of the face of the earth. The motivation and focus slip once they realize how much effort it takes to train or eat the way they need to, or they become impatient when the scale doesn’t show a magical number within the first week, and so on. The excuses start rolling in, and I know it’s a matter of time before they are off the Resolution Ride, and they will move off my roster. Look at the gym on January 1-5 compared to February 1-5 and you’ll see just how few people stuck with their plan for a month. One month. Thirty-one days, people.

I don’t think any less of the people who can’t commit to their training goals than the ones that do. I get it. It’s hard. It’s also really frustrating to continue that cycle of training/dieting and falling off the wagon. I want to hug and shake and give a pep-talk to the people who fall off. I know that progress takes time, and it takes WEEKS to form new habits, and a lot of work, focus and persistence to make the changes often necessary to achieve goals so momentous that they are saved for the New Year.

I know how hard change can be, but the hardest part is starting. I know I can help people who are willing and capable to make their health and goals a priority. I know anyone can make the changes they desire – but it takes a hell of a lot of willpower, support, knowledge and the acceptance that not every day will be easy for feel good. If say you don’t have time, I will call you out. Bull shit. You have no idea what I’ve made myself accomplish with VERY little time. You have no idea how many clients have succeeded with their goals while juggling an incredibly busy, stressful schedule. Yes, change often involves struggle and some setbacks, but again I will call you out. A setback or struggle doesn’t ruin all the progress or make you a weak person or a failure. It makes you human, silly. And if you find a trainer or gym hard to afford, I suggest you check out how much you are spending to eat out, have drinks with friends, and on medical bills. If you cut back on eating and drinking out, that’s money and calories saved. We almost always eat a better diet when preparing our own food. Cocktails with your girlfriends or with the guys at the bar add up pretty quickly. And if you get yourself healthier, in theory you’ll be spending less money on doctors appointments and medications.

So if you are looking to 2015 with fitness-related goals, be prepared to work hard and to also be in it for the long run. Look towards April, and what goals will be accomplished by then, not January 15th. A ton of progress can happen within four months, but very little will show for it the first two weeks. But the only way to get to April and those goals is to stick with the plan every day between January 1st and April 1st. I wish everyone with high hopes and big goals all the success in the world. There is no better gift to yourself than health, self-confidence and strength. And if you need help, there are tons of great trainers, gyms and programs out there in every city. The road to progress can be hard, but it is never impossible.

The F Word (Failure)

A snap shot of my Ultra. So ill at this point.

A snap shot of my Ultra. So ill at this point.

This week I want to talk about failure. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have experienced some sense of the word in our lives. In terms of fitness and weight loss, “failure” is the F word that plagues most of our minds. Many people are so scared of failing at a goal that they never start. Having failed many times at things, I can tell you that it’s not so scary once you embrace that little F word and make it into something positive.

The last week or so, I have referred to my Ultra on July 19/20th as a “failure.’ Why? Because it was. I didn’t achieve my goal of 100 miles. However, I also know I pushed further than before, and that “failure” is sometimes objective. I suppose when you fail at an Ultra, and still mange to run over 75 miles, everyone around you still thinks that’s super-human awesome. While I don’t really see it that way, I understand that my achievement was still something the average person cannot do. Therefore, I have taken that “failure” and somehow decided to own it as mine.

The same is true for past races, ones where I tanked during a race and a time goal slipped away. Weight loss failure a few years ago plagued me and defined my sense of self. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a fat, worthless failure, who couldn’t succeed at the simple task of dropping some body fat. Was I ever really fat or worthless? No, I don’t think so now. But then I did. Every time I “failed” at a diet or workout plan, I labeled myself as weak. When you tell yourself you are weak, you believe it. At some point, something snapped for me and I realized that I wasn’t weak, and my knowledge of nutrition, fitness and health were WAY off base. I was also too caught up in what I thought I needed to look like, thanks to time spent reading beauty magazines and watching too much E! News. Once I finally said “fuck it!” and made choices around my happiness, I stopped sweating my failure and started to see it as something else – BEING HUMAN.

Being human means we are capable of awesome things. Don’t believe me? Then you haven’t tried. Really, truly tried. Being human also means we fail. Why are we all so scared of failing and therefore being human? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be this ideal person? I don’t know about you, but that kind of pressure will make most of us crack.

So if you are sitting there, reading my blog and feeling incapable of getting off the couch and going for a walk, a run, to the gym, or to clean out your kitchen of all your junk “feel better” food, I have news for you – you are not alone. And here’s some more news – you will never succeed if you don’t try. True, you will also never fail, but aren’t you already failing by passively not being proactive in your life?

In college, I remember one of my choral directors told us to sing with confidence. It’s better to make a huge mistake and own it than to passively “sing” your part. Go big or go home. If you make a mistake, you’ll learn from it and realize that note needs to be corrected. But if you get it right, it will not only be the correct pitch, it will have your breath, diction and voice all working the way the composer intended – creating something beautiful.

Don’t be scared to fail. Failure makes us stronger. You’ll never know how strong, fast, smart, beautiful or fit you may be unless you try. That goes for everything in life.