Running and improv

I keep finding parallels between running and improv. I haven’t been doing either one long enough to be particularly proficient, but I have a three-year head start with running.

Running has given me heartbreaking injuries and heart-bursting awards; I’ve been incomprehensibly frustrated and ecstatically giddy and everything in between; after three and a half years of semi-serious pursuit, I feel like I have settled into a good groove. And almost every time I run into a mental block with improv, I realize I’ve already figured how to deal with an analogous problem in running.

  • There will be good days and off days. The off days will make you want to quit, especially for the first year or two. Power through those days (gently).
  • Even when the hour or two you dedicate to the session is totally miserable, remember that you’ll feel better later. Short term, you are producing all kinds of delicious neurochemicals (e.g. endorphins and adrenaline), and long term you are slowly establishing new and better cellular pathways, which will eventually make you a stronger person.
  • If your warmup sucked, and 20 minutes later you still feel shitty, just go easy on yourself that day. It’s okay. There will be other days.
  • Just building volume is important at the beginning, and simply doing it, whether the session is good or bad, will let you have more opportunities for good days. And the joy of the good days is why you do this, right? Remember that joy.
  • Everyone does this for a different reason. No reason is better or worse than the others. Don’t judge or feel judged.
  • Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Everyone picks things up at different speeds, and for all you know, they’ve been doing this a lot longer.
  • Be patient with yourself. Nobody is 100% successful 100% of the time when they’re learning a new skill. (And if they are, they’re a freak.)
  • If you hate it, constantly, always, don’t fucking do it.

Running is gross

When you run, you hock loogies. I don’t know why. There’s just all this mucus and it needs to go somewhere. Polite runners aim for the harmless patches of grass.

Last week, I missed the snow-covered grass and accidentally hit a lamppost. Ew.

This week, seven days later, I ran past the lamppost again… and my loogie is still frozen to it.

EW EW EW. I sincerely apologize, New York, that’s fuckin’ disgusting.

Runner’s World – Three steps to cope with a bad performance

1. Scream and Shout

This initial grieving stage may last a few hours or a few days, but it’s not helpful if it lingers. “Prolonged grieving lowers self-confidence and motivation,” Balague says. “When you are unable to constructively evaluate what happened and point to a solution, it may signal some underlying emotional issues.”

2. Dissect the Disaster

Instead of analyzing all of this in your own head, Nyamora recommends going over the details of your [performance] with someone else—ideally an experienced [improviser] or coach. Writing about the experience in a journal or blog can also be helpful. “Your internal thoughts can be overly critical, but when you write about an experience, you tend to be less negative and more objective,” he says.

3. Move Forward

You also need to consider the emotional toll the bad [show] took on you. “If you’re feeling desperate to prove something to yourself or others, or you’re still angry about the last [show], wait,” Nyamora says. “It might be best to take a break from [performing] until you feel emotionally recovered and really miss it.”

Hah! How do I recover emotionally from a bad improv scene, I asked? I like this answer, mostly because it’s basically exactly what I’m doing. Thank you Runner’s World.

Still— this is more of a long-term solution. I still need tips for the short term— like when you’re at Mile 7, and you just fucked up your last 3 splits, and the race might still be salvageable, but your psyche is just like “AW FUCK, GO HOME.”

Sports psychology as applied to improv psychology! I wonder what else I can find in this vein.

Justifying an unpopular opinion

“SO— Robin— what’s with you not taking Level 2, huh?” Pete asked as a few of us walked over to Walter’s ($5 for two PBRs!) after our first practice group. Of the six people who showed up, I was the only Magnet Improv Level 1 graduate who wasn’t enrolled in the next class.

“I kind of don’t ever want to go on stage again,” I answered.

“You can’t just give up after one bad show!” he said. “You’ve got to give it a chance! Do it for a while before you throw in the towel!”

“I’m not throwing in the towel! Did I not organize tonight’s practice group?”

“Then why aren’t you taking Level 2?!”

“I’m giving myself some time to improve on my basic skills, so the NEXT time I get on a stage, I’ll be better prepared.”

“Improve your skills by taking Level 2!” Graham piped in.

“Look,” I said, exasperated and apparently in need of a metaphor, “I run. I enjoy running. Running is fun for me. I run because I like the runner’s high, because I like fresh air, because I like passing people, because I like gradually getting better, because it’s a challenge.”

“Okay,” said Pete.

“I do not run because I want to win a marathon. That is not my end goal. I don’t have an end goal. I am just running because it’s fun.”

“Okay,” said Pete.

“That’s how I am with improv, too.”

“Oh,” said Graham. (Cue lightbulb.) “That makes sense.”

“No it doesn’t!” said Pete, determined to persuade me. “Classes are fun, playing is fun, learning is fun. Classes are a safe environment, and you have a fun experience at the end where you can face your fears! Don’t let the fear control you!”

“Dude, I’m not saying I will never take Level 2. I am saying not right now. I am doing practice groups and drop-in classes and mixers and watching shows. I am not disappearing from the community. I just don’t want to take Level 2 right now.”

“Look— hasn’t improv improved your life outside of class?”

“Yes! No doubt! But I don’t need to take an ‘Intro to Long Form’ class to continue benefitting from improv principles!”




I’m not in any hurry. I’m not doing this to be a professional comedian, or improviser, or entertainer. I’m doing this because it seems like it might be a fun skill to learn. I will go at my pace, you can go at yours, and maybe we will find ourselves at the same marathon some years from now.

Chad Stafko – OK, You’re a Runner, Get Over It.

The article is just a rant on “damn runners, forcing me to look at you bein’ all healthy and shit,” which is a dumb point, but I totally get where he’s coming from. I’ve been running seriously-ish for about three years, and I still get irrationally annoyed at runners who run for reasons that don’t fit with my personal philosophy of exercise, which is best described as “fuck yeah endorphins.”

Weight-loss runners? Shut the hell up, nobody cares, you look fine.
Novice runners who decide to take on marathons? You’re doing it wrong, I hope you hurt yourself.
New-Year-resolution runners who went out and bought expensive Lululemon gear that they’ll stop using and eventually throw away after their resolutions fall by the wayside in February? As long as you look cute, that’s the important part.

A small non-story.

I run. I’m not great at it. Mostly I love the runner’s high.

I decided to run my first 10K on Sunday, and to drag my friend who’s sort-of-but-not-really into running with me. I spent a couple months nudging my training focus from 5K to 10K, and persuading my reluctant friend to actually show up (and run the simultaneous 5K) so we could be terrible together.

Of course I woke up at 5am, hours before the race, with a vice-gripping charley horse in my left calf. I freaked. My only experience in the spontaneous-leg-cramp department was limited to one during a run, once, some years ago, that kept me from running for a week (and turned out to be a precursor to a more serious tendon injury that sidelined me for two months).

Panic-stricken and groggy, as soon as the main pain passed, I texted my buddy to give him a heads-up that I might have to drop the race. It seemed vitally important to tell him. (In retrospect, yeah, okay, I was half asleep, it made sense at the time.)

Of course I texted the wrong person at 5am, and didn’t mention “race” or “running” anywhere, so this was followed by a brief explanation of why I’d expect this wrong person to give a fuck about the state of my left calf before the ass-crack of dawn.



Epilogue to this non-story: The race itself went fine— couple thousand people, biggest race I’ve ever done— with no other excitement. Lots of volunteers, very well organized, very few opportunities for anything to go wrong. Because I didn’t have a 10K time, and because my buddy didn’t have a 5K time, it was automatically a PR for both of us, wahoo.