I started a running program four weeks ago and I hate it. Running is terrible. The concept of slamming my feet repetitively into the pavement for 30 minutes just to return to the point at which I started is baffling. Why? Why did I do that? What did I just accomplish? I ran around in a circle!!! My svelte runner friends tell me tales of a mythical “runners high” that is going to come to me one day if I continue to be a diligent little runner. This story sounds like the Santa myth that we perpetuate in order to keep our kids behaving: Be a good little girl and Santa will bring you a pony! Be a good little runner and the Livestrong Fairy will bring you such an endorphin rush that you’ll feel like a neo-hippie on the last night of Burning Man!
I don’t buy it.
However, I keep dutifully trotting around in ever-increasing circles because, although I doubt that I’m going to get an exercise buzz, I acknowledge the science-fact that running is good for me. My body needs some cardiovascular exercise. I need to get out of the house and away from the Doctor Who reruns once in a while.
But it’s not my idea of fun. My idea of fun is sitting on my couch with my dogs watching Peter Jackson’s production vlog from The Hobbit set. No, scratch that, my idea of fun is playing the new Legend of Zelda on my Wii. No, scratch that yet again- my idea of fun is being onstage at an improv theater making things up with my friends and teammates. Creating scenes and characters out of thin air and trusting that your teammates are going to come along for the ride. Jumping center stage with no script, no character, no fancy set… just a small idea based on an audience suggestion and taking that idea and making it soar. THAT is my idea of fun.
And that scares the crap out of most people. There’s that statistic that keeps popping up about more people fear public speaking above death. (I could google that survey to make sure it is accurate, but I’m probably not gonna do that. I refuse to let fact checkers run my blog!) What? WHAT? You’d rather be DEAD than stand up in front of people and say words? I don’t get it. And that includes public speaking with a prepared speech that has been rehearsed and is written on notecards. Most people I know, and this includes seasoned theater performers, are terrified of improvisation.
I guess they are afraid of failing. Of looking stupid. Of being embarrassed. The same way I’m embarrassed that I run an 11-minute mile while a pack of skinny college students blow by me at an effortless million miles per hour.
But here’s the thing, guys: I’m not gonna step out of my apartment and instantly be Usain Bolt. And a beginning improviser isn’t going be step onstage and become Amy Poehler incarnate. My slow, pathetic little runs are the equivalent of a beginning improv class. I’m running for myself and my running buddy; you are doing improv exercises for yourself and your scene partner. I don’t expect cheers, you shouldn’t expect big laughs.
Maybe you’ll take an improv class and you’ll love it and you’ll continue on to the next level and the next and then start performing onstage, in front of a real, live audience. Or maybe you’ll get out of your Level One and decide improv isn’t for you, and you’ll hang up your where-work hat. But you know what? You’ll have changed. You’ll have learned something new about yourself and the world around you. Suddenly, you’ll be paying attention to the way your hands grip the refrigerator handle and how you wrap your fingers around that can of beer. You notice that you ask questions too much in your real life and you begin to make statements. Not just any statements, mind you, but “Yes, and” statements and suddenly you are a more positive, motivated person at work and at home.
Improv will change you.
Running is changing me. My shin splints stopped after the first week. I’ve stopped staring at the pitted concrete path directly in front of my sneakers and started noticing the beautiful public art as I run on the Cherry Creek path. I’ve been running for four weeks and my mile time is still super slow but I don’t care. I’m getting out of the house, I’m changing and I’m enjoying this beautiful life around me.
Look, I still don’t love running and I’m sure as hell not gonna win any marathons. And you might never perform onstage. But the journey is half the fun, right?
BTW, I’m signing up for my first 5K this fall. What are you gonna sign up for?
Feeling motivated to jump into an improv class? Check out The Yes Lab, The Improv Dojo or Justin Franzen’s Drop-In Class at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse.
Feeling motivated to run? Take one step out your door. Take another. You got this..
This blog was originally published on Jess’ blog over on Tumblr.