Running and Creativity

Is There a Magic Connection Between Running and Art?

Someone recently prompted a discussion about the connection between running and creativity. Specifically, they were asking how running in my own life has impacted and continues to fuel my creative practice. Running is definitely a huge part of my life, and in many ways, it is connected to my work routine. My workday runs from 8 until 5, and it is within these hours that I do most of my weekly running.

I wish running was more directly related to my art. For starters, it would be a dream to collaborate with one of my favourite running and athletic brands, be that Nike, New Balance, Ciele, or Patagonia. It’s not that I’m not pursuing this to a certain degree. I have a whole Instagram account dedicated to my running exploits called The Running Illustrator. Of course I hope that it somehow sends a signal to the running brands I love (or might love) that I’m down for a collab. It is a deliberate attempt to pair these two loves, running and illustration—which is in my imagination culturally oxymoronic (though it shouldn’t be).

Hobby or Side-Hustle?

But in the meantime, running is mostly just a separate thing I happen to love. In his book, Keep Going, Austin Kleon writes about how pathological it is of our culture to assume that if we love something and are good at it, we must then turn that into something we earn money from. He argues that there is value in deliberately keeping hobbies and pastimes out of the marketplace. “We used to have hobbies. Now we have ‘side hustles’,” Kleon writes.

Even still, I would jump on the chance to illustrate more directly in the running space. But this relationship doesn’t really directly pair up the act of running to my career. It’s not like I am a sponsored athlete. I will never monetize my running in the way I have been able to monetize my art.

Beyond the hobby-to-hustle idea, though, is an assumption I think people have that somehow running will directly impact your ability to be creative. This could extend to any athletic or physical activity, such as walking, yoga, or working out. As far as I can tell, physical activity and exercise is good for you, full stop. Whatever you do for a living, be that illustration, engineering, or customer service, when you keep active, you are going to be more engaged and energetic. I don’t need to explain how moving our bodies is good for us, both for our bodies and our minds—we all know it.

Does Running Fuel Creativity?

Does running itself have an impact on my illustration career? Does it fuel it? Its impact is only in the sense that it makes me a physically and mentally stronger person in general. You do all things better as the result of keeping fit. There’s no story in that.

Maybe, if anything, running, like any physically or mentally demanding discipline, is just one big metaphor: doing hard things makes you better at doing other hard things. Getting out the door when it’s cold and rainy and you’d rather stay home and drink coffee in your gym jams is hard. But if you do it often, you’ll have more mental fortitude to voluntarily do other uncomfortable things, like taking on an intimidating illustration commission or showing up to write every morning.

Doing hard things makes you better at doing other hard things.

What might set running apart from other physical activities, in its relation to personal and professional creativity, is that it is a solo sport. Illustrators work alone. Runners run alone (mostly).We spend long hours in our studios. Runners spend long hours putting one foot in front of another. On weekends, I often run for 2 or 3 hours, no music, no podcasts. Just me and the road or trails. Perhaps the common link is neither illustration nor running, but me: I just like being alone, so I am naturally drawn to these solo activities.

Why Running Works for Me

I got into running quite late in life. I mean, I have been running all my life as a form of fitness, but nothing as intensive and intentional as the past three years. Before just a few years ago, the last time I had run 10 km (6.2 miles) was when I was around 9 years old! Today, in my peak training periods, I run over 100 km (62 miles) a week. What happened? I moved my studio into my home, and suddenly I had nowhere to go, and no commute. I needed a reason to get out of the house each day, and running became a logical routine to add. Thanks in large part to GPS technology and apps like Strava, I started tracking my distances and pace, and started to push myself a bit. Can I run just a little further? Or, can I run this route in just a minute less? There came a moment where the running inverted from something I had to do to get outside, out of obligation, to one of my favourite pastimes. There have even been moments when running became a huge distraction from real work, when all I wanted to do was run. I even entertained fantasies of quitting my job as an illustrator and somehow turning running into my job, if that were somehow possible!

Things really shifted for me, though, when I ran my first race—a half marathon. It wasn’t the race itself but the training that I loved. I’m a sucker for structure. Suddenly I wasn’t just running arbitrary routes or distances, but I had a training plan to tell me what kind of run to do when. I started learning the ins and outs of running, beyond the basics, such as running form, finding the right shoes, breathing techniques, and dealing with injuries. Running appeals to both my craving of structure and my interest in technical details and overcoming challenges.

There have even been moments when running became a huge distraction from real work, when all I wanted to do was run. I even entertained fantasies of quitting my job as an illustrator and somehow turning running into my job, if that were somehow possible!

I Am a Nobody Again

Running has opened me up to much. I could keep singing its praises, but I think that would go well beyond the scope of what I think I should be writing about today (running and creativity). I would sum it up like this: running makes me a more well-rounded person. It has given me something beyond creativity to be interested in, to be involved in, to connect to others about. Even though it’s a solo sport, there is a lot of community around running, both online and offline. I love going on Strava and keeping up with how others are training or progressing toward their goals. I love sharing my own runs and receiving kudos from my friends. It’s also been good for me to get out and meet new people through local running groups and races. In my illustration career, I have enjoyed the social aspect, getting to meet and connect to other fellow creatives in various ways. As creatives we need this sense of community to keep us inspired and motivated. As runners, it’s the same. We all cheer one another on. But what I really appreciate about the running community is that any accolades and accomplishments I have in the illustration world mean nothing. I am not known by most of the runners I meet, for anything I have done as an illustrator. This is always an aside, something that people might learn about later on. But whether I can draw or not means nothing to my fellow runners. And even when I try describing what I do, there’s a chance that they’d just say “neat” and move on. It’s good to be with people who don’t care about illustration, to learn to connect on other levels of life. I’ve enjoyed a lot of success and even recognition in my creative community (for which I am most thankful), but in the running community, I am just another sweaty, stinky body. It keeps me humble.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of success and even recognition in my creative community (for which I am most thankful), but in the running community, I am just another sweaty, stinky body.

Physical Activity: It’s Just Good For You

For me, there is no magic connection between running and art. Art is one thing and running is another. Really, the only reason either is in my life is because of the joy it brings. One I happen to be good enough at to do at the professional level. Its how I earn a living. The other I just enjoy as a way of staying healthy, getting outside, and connecting with other people.

Whether it’s running or cycling, or just walking the dog once a day, I highly recommend building some form of physical activity into your routine. Sure, it’ll help you think more clearly or be more on the ball, but ultimately, it’s just good for you as a human. People need to move their bodies, and when we do, we get better at moving our minds.

Illustrator. Creatively Empowering Teacher/Speaker. Represented by Making Pictures/UK & Dot Array/USA. Top Teacher on @skillshare. www.tomfroese.com/links