Does Running Actually Help Creativity?
An article by Sydney Allen-Ash
Where does creativity come from? It’s a question that we all ask at one point or another — especially when there’s a looming project deadline and all your ideas have suddenly evaporated.
Most of the time, creativity seems out of our control. In her Ted Talk titled “Your elusive creative genius,” Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) explains that your creative spirit is a separate entity with a mind of its own. A good explanation for why a great idea strikes when you least expect it.
But as Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” It takes hard work to turn a creative moment into a completed project. For creative professionals that run, the relationship between smarts and sweat couldn’t be more clear. It’s a physical practise that allows for meditation and rewards perseverance.
Hitting the pavement for a long run is an essential part of the process for many creative professionals including visual communications director Nanna Munnecke, designer/illustrator Julie Hyld, creative director Mark Fleming and artist Jeff Garcia aka Mango Peeler.
We spoke to these four creative professionals to find out how if running actually helps creativity. They told us about the benefits of clearing your mind, pushing boundaries and why it’s good to be bored sometimes.
“I always tell people that art comes natural to me, it’s my practice. Running is my discipline. It’s a lot easier to make-something-out-of nothing once I have had my first run of the day in the morning before going to the studio. Running sets my creative flow and helps me actual see colours and texture clearer and conceptualize more fluidly. My art process deeply involves the collecting, sorting and patterning of found ephemera so running inspires me to see the world and nature from a different perspective.
“My art is more about the process and the endurance, consistency, longevity of my craft. Since high school I have always obsessively kept sketchbooks or journals to collect visual cues to help decipher my next piece or just to give everything I collect a place to go. So I took that practice into my running. My training logs are a lot like my art books, it gives me a place to put all my insanity, daily detritus that I find or discover that I think might be helpful later. The dirt. The art I just have to get out of my system, or documentation of bombed workouts. Gutter shit.
“The art of training can be very repetitive and boring, and that’s what I kind of like about it. It helps me stay experimental and explosive in the studio. My art can be so intuitive and spontaneous so running provides the structure in my life and helps me plan my trajectory months or even years ahead, by looking backwards. Running gives me a clear sense of time passing through the change of seasons and that keeps me conceptually fresh. Running has taught me patience and in a funny way, to slow down.
“Art and running infinitely feed each other for me because the work will never be done, so I have to keep going to figure out the next step.”
“Running is not always a free flow for me — on the contrary this is where I learned to execute rather than ideate. That has been a crucial lesson. For a long time I’ve seen myself as the one who grows and nurtures ideas; my creativity is in connecting, reflecting, analyzing and honing in.
“Running made me realize physically what I already knew — that it’s hard, that stuff takes time and that to do something you need to prepare, be realistic, push boundaries and go no matter what — re-adjust and re-try.It means not listening to everything around me but striving to reach the best part of a run where even 75km into a 100k run you experience a very pure concentrated energy like nothing else making you able. Able to do, finish, accomplish, start new.”
“On my CV and on my business card it doesn’t say Mark Fleming: Runner. It’s says Creative Director. When we’re recruiting — especially in today’s society when there are more designers than anything else — what sets candidates apart is their personal hobbies and their travels, that to me is where you can add value to your life. I’m a father, I’m a husband, I’m a runner, I’m a Creative Director, I’m a million things. But it’s born out of a passion.
“Because I work a lot with Nike and with athletes, even though I don’t like football or soccer, and I don’t like team sports, I understand commitment and I understand dedication. I understand frustration and I understand what it means to get something done and the pressure of things. So when I meet Cristiano Ronaldo or Paula Radcliffe or whoever, I can look them in the eye and say I understand. If I was an athlete I would be playing alongside them, that’s how good I am and each member of our company is. Equally, if Cristiano was in a creative industry, he would be working at our studio.
“I don’t think they’re the same. It’s not like one was inspired by the other, but when you meet an athlete and a multimillionaire businessman who’s worked up from nothing, the core values of those things are so similar. One is obviously academic and business and one was sport and betterment. But there are a lot of parallels in reaching goals and achievements.”
“If you read running blogs or Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running you know that running is like yoga. It relaxes your head and clears your mind. But I tried to think of some reasons why running helps me and I think this is pretty general.
“People often say to me, ‘When I run I really get to think about (blank)’ — which I never got. When I run, I get to not think. I get to just run and think simple thoughts like ‘It’s warm’, ‘It’s cold’, ‘Here’s a rock’. Running helps me to just think of what I see, and not to think about whatever I did in school or at work. It helps me to just do something else, without thinking about it.
“Running fosters my life. Simple as that. I’m smiling more when I run, and I’m happier, I think more positively and I have room in my head, which is essential for being creative.
“Creativity and tooling is so often mistaken. People think I’m creative because I draw, or designers are creative because they sew. But these things are nothing but tools. Creativity comes from finding new solutions; in IT, in design, in cooking in you name it. But to find new solutions, and loopholes, you need space in your head to focus and think differently.”