Running on Purpose
(Side note: The purpose of this program was to get kids more active. Turns out it not only made me hate physical fitness, but also the president.)
I loudly protested this one mile torture until my teacher snapped, "Then just walk it, Erin!" And so I walked, full smirk, at the most leisurely pace possible, thinking I had won.
I've long since mostly gotten over my hatred for physical fitness and political figures, but I've continued to view running as a painful venture, and one that should be avoided at all costs. But then I somehow began spending time with a lot of people who valued running. When they'd wax poetic about their morning jog I was incredulous. "You run? ON PURPOSE!?"
(Full disclosure: They also happened to look amazing in skinny jeans, and I too found this alluring.)
I told myself I'd never be able to do what they were doing. It was just too hard. Then one day a voice in my head asked, "Why?" Labor had been hard, but I did that. Being an actor is hard, but I do that too. In fact, I've done a lot of challenging things in my life, so why was running supposedly impossible? I didn't have an answer, and so I began to run. And because I needed a goal to make me serious about it, I registered for a race.
On Thanksgiving morning I woke up early, put on my racing bib, and embarked on a 5-mile course around Prospect Park... and it was EXHILARATING!!! However, it was the training to run, more than the race itself that has been the most illuminating, and I want to share some things I've learned from running that I vow to now apply to my acting pursuit.
1.) Have a goal in mind to keep you on track and never lose sight of that goal. As soon as you reach it, make a new one. Continue to challenge yourself at a healthy pace so that boredom and stagnation never occur.
2.) Collect inspiration. I got myself excited about running by collecting stories of people like me who also run. I love hearing about women who run and mothers who run. It helps me to visualize myself in their shoes. Then I became fascinated with cancer patients who run and physically handicapped runners. Whenever I want to make excuses for why adding another mile is impossible for me, I think of the people who run in spite of great odds. This has helped me to train when I just don't feel like it.
3.) Negative thoughts will ground you. In acting, as in running, there has never been a more fitting quote than this:
"There are two kinds of people: those who think they can, and those who think they can't, and they're both right." (Henry Ford)
Whenever I focus on negative thoughts during a run, or tell myself that I'll stop at a certain marker, I usually stop running on the spot or shortly before said mark. A running buddy encouraged me to change my language, and develop a mantra. I'd love to say it was something profound, but it basically consisted of, "You got this." I say it to myself hundreds of times every run. Suddenly I found myself running up the hill I used to walk, going greater distances, and never even once considering stopping. My body was now responding to the new sheriff in my mind who had banished doubt. I told my body, "You got this." And it did. It could all along. It just needed to hear it from me.
4.) Ultimately, you pursue acting and running for no one but yourself. At the end of my race, I ached to see my family, but they'd been given incorrect directions to the finish line. I saw the finish line, sure they were waiting for me there, and tears flashed into my eyes. I dug deep for a strong finish, picturing myself sprinting like Flo Jo, but most likely resembling Phoebe from "Friends". When no one was shouting my name, I quickly realized that no one was there for me, and disappointment began to crowd my elation.
I could have allowed this moment to crush me, and ruin my achievement, but it was then that I realized probably the most crucial correlation between acting and running. It's fantastic to get the cheers and accolades from your friends and family, and it's amazing when audiences love what you do, but as a performer or an athlete, you rehearse and train a lot more than you perform/compete. And more often then not, you do these things without applause. In fact, you more often encounter sharp criticism in the rehearsal/training process. It must be enough to find yourself at the finish line, and to be proud of what you've done. If someone is there to embrace you, then you are blessed, but you must be able to embrace your own effort as well.
5. Finally, in fitting with the season, be thankful for your talents and abilities. Instead of beating yourself up that you don't have Meryl's range, Selma's beauty, or Flo Jo's athleticism, cherish what is yours. At the end of my race, when I realized I was about to accomplish my goal, I replaced my usual mantra with "Thank you." I'm not sure if I was directing this at a spiritual entity or myself, but I just kept thinking how grateful I was to have a body that could run. And likewise, we should be grateful every day for the talent to act, sing, dance, encourage others, negotiate, whatever it is that you do. Appreciate it. It is only yours.
On that note, I'll leave you with Phoebe:
(The photo is my own. The woman on the right is my friend, Sarah, who made me sign up for the Turkey Trot. Thanks Sarah!)