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by Darren Held

I had an email conversation with Anonymous Friend the other day about some stuff. Her premise was that running and improv have many of the same benefits. I pshaw’d her because, as everyone knows, improv is the best thing ever and running makes my toenails fall off.

It’s true. You should’ve heard the Vietnamese lady who did my pedicure with all my gross loose toenails after the 1/2 marathon last year. I couldn’t understand the words, but her expression was clear: this girl should stick with improv.

Anyway, when Anonymous Friend got over the ickiness of my toenails, she had this to say:

If you weren’t born a natural runner, there are a lot of mental hurdles to climb before you lace on your first pair of running shoes. If you didn’t participate in sports growing up, you think there’s no way you can become a runner. Or if you’re overweight, you’re afraid of embarrassing yourself at the gym or getting laughed at by the drivers in the cars that pass you. But eventually you decide to stop listening to the naysayers and just do it. (Srew you, Phil Knight. I’m not paying you royalties for that.) And even when it hurts and even when you suck, you still keep going. I can’t decide which is more beautiful: when a person hits the wall yet refuses to quit, or the moment when that person chose to take that first step to begin with.

Alas, running hasn’t given me the ability to run 6-minute miles or a resting heartrate below 60 bpm. But it has taught me a stick-with-it-through-the-sucky-parts-because-it-will-get-better-eventually attitude, along with a belief that I can do anything if I stop being afraid. (The stop-being-afraid part is a little tricky.) Sounds kinda like improv to me. 🙂

Those are some good points, AF. Obviously, there are many differences between running and improv, but the mental attitude AF is referring to is an important key. To succeed in improv or running, you have to let go of self-doubt and comparing yourself to others and worrying about what others think of you – in other words, stop being afraid. The classes that have been my worst have been the ones in which I felt intimidated by other students’ talent, ability, hair, intact toenails, whatever. AF helped me realize that my goal for every class should be what my goal would be if I was running: courage to stick with it and be MY best, even when I hit the wall. Period. My goal should never have anything to do with the other people in a class, or a show or whatever (other than in terms of giving them my best in every scene).

So thanks, AF! (FYI, I still think improv is better. Besides the fact that improv doesn’t harm my toenails, no one has ever said they’re a big fan of my running.)

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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