Fall 2013

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A Well-Run Life

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Nat Chandler (GBSM83) is an actor and singer who lives in New York City.

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Actor has learned to run with whatever life presents him.

by Nat Chandler

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t run. Anecdotal reports from the time I could walk have me escaping my happy home whenever a door to the outside was unlatched. Soon my athletic parents would find their chip off the block running down Main Street of my small South Carolina town, barely out of diapers.

I inherited my Dad’s singing voice too and have enjoyed a career in theater, opera and concert performance while living in New York City. Shortly after I moved to New York from Chicago, I began my running life in the city parks and streets of Manhattan.

One day my acting class scene partner asked me, “What are you running from?” (Such an actor’s question, I thought.) I kept running while pondering this.

I never felt I inhabited a perfect runner’s body, though at 55 I have run thus far without significant injury. I always thought skinny is better for running, yet I fit squarely into the mesomorph category. I am grateful for good running health, and reflecting on a lifetime of it, think perhaps my straight-waisted body is not so bad for running after all.

My favorite thing I’ve ever read about running is that your body is “exquisitely lazy” and will find the easiest way to run. That is a good thing. It is apparent that people naturally find the running form that is most efficient for their bodies. Just look at great runners striking the pavement differently, with all parts of the foot. In his book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall wrote about a tribe in northwestern Mexico called the Tarahumara whose members run great distances in sandals. They eat badly, chain-smoke and regularly get intoxicated, yet they all run long distances throughout their long lifetimes. In the early ’90s a member of this tribe, age 55, showed up at the high-altitude 100-mile ultramarathon in Leadville, Colo. He won, running in sandals made from old tires. Born to run? I’d say yes.

I enjoy enjoying my run. I have friends who like to run for time and are serious about it, but I run without a watch. The only occasion I wear a timepiece is when I’m running in unknown territory and want to have an adequate idea of how far I’m going. More often than not, I have very consistent time. If my body is tired I run a little slower. I don’t like not enjoying my run. That’s key. It’s why I keep getting out there.

My work as a singer and actor has taken me all over the globe. It’s swell to check into a hotel in an unfamiliar city, throw on your running shoes and head out for a little tour. It’s such a convenient and efficient form of exercise. I’ve taken in a lot of cities and countryside this way, both amazingly beautiful and sometimes scary. There’s nothing like the adrenaline-fueled run when you’re lost or frightened.

On the other hand, there’s nothing that makes you feel as euphoric as an outdoor run. I’ve discovered such spectacular runs over the years that it’s difficult to point to a favorite. Boston’s Charles River run is just ideal, as is the tree-canopied canal path run along the Potomac River in Georgetown. Running along A1A in Florida is mindless and wonderful, staring out into the Atlantic, and running up Lake Shore Drive in Chicago is another favorite of mine. While doing my graduate work in music at Northwestern, I completed the Chicago Marathon in 3 hours, 20 minutes. I remember starting the race slow and steady, pacing myself, gradually gaining momentum. I definitely “hit the wall” late in the race, but I finished strong. These days I’m satisfied with the 26ish miles a week I run in my beloved Central Park in Manhattan. I know that most of the runs I’ve mentioned are flat, but my default 6-mile loop around Central Park is as hilly, vast and varied as an aerobics master could dream of. And it’s pretty dreamy for a runner too.

I can’t imagine my life without running. I love the quality of life it brings. The need to run is as much a part of me as is my need to sing. It sustains me, and I am deeply grateful for every step.

I also remember that question from my scene partner, “What are you running from?” That question bothered me for years. I finally have an answer.

I am running from complacent mediocrity, attempting to achieve a life less ordinary. And runners in the ­middle of that god-like perfect cosmos run know what I’m talking about.