“If you’re ever losing faith in human nature,” Kathrine Switzer, an influential figure in women’s running, once said, “go out and watch a marathon.”
It’s a thought that rang true with Lauren Ridloff on the streets of New York City earlier this month as she ran shoulder-to-shoulder with 50,000 others through the city’s five boroughs.
Ridloff has been running most of her life – a form of solace in the busiest, most intense periods of her acting career. But the collective spirit and struggle of her fellow competitors at the NYC Marathon, her first time racing the 26.2-mile distance, was like nothing she had previously experienced in the sport.
“I really took in everybody’s energy and I felt so good,” she adds. “To see so many people moving in the same direction with the same goal and to arrive at the finish line – it’s hard to explain, truly, but it was a lovely feeling. It felt like a unity.”
As she approached the end of the race in Central Park, Ridloff found herself at war with her body as she willed herself over the line – eventually finishing in four hours, five minutes and 48 seconds.
“The very last mile, I just wanted to throw up,” she says. “I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden I just felt the need to be done with it.”
Conditions for this year’s NYC Marathon were brutal, particularly for those competing for the first time and unaccustomed to running in heat.
But for Ridloff, moving to Austin, Texas in July might have inadvertently held the keys to her success.
Temperatures in New York were unseasonably warm and humidity levels were high on the day of the race, but nothing compared to the 40-plus-degree heat (105 degrees Farenheit) she experienced in Austin at the outset of her training program.
“That’s my first experience of heat exhaustion,” says Ridloff. “I’d get chills while I was running. And when I shared that with Kevin [Hanson], my coach, he’s like: okay, that’s not safe.
“That’s when I learned the importance of drinking water and running with hydration vests just to keep myself cool. I wore very light clothing; gels were very important. That actually was my gain [in New York] because I felt very comfortable in the weather – better than Austin.”
Ridloff was running the NYC Marathon to raise money for PS347 – the American Sign Language (ASL) and English Lower School where she used to teach. Along with five other runners, she raised $20,604 for the school food pantry and theater program, while sportswear brand Brooks also contributed $25,000.
The cause is close to Ridloff’s heart. She has been deaf since birth and is a pioneer in the acting industry, portraying the first ever deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when she played Makkari in “Eternals” last year.
Aptly, one of Makkari’s powers is superhuman speed.
Speaking through an ASL interpreter, Ridloff explains how her deafness provides unique perspective on her approach to running; unlike non-deaf runners, she can’t be distracted by music, podcasts, or any noises around her.
“I just dive into the effort,” says Ridloff. “I’m very conscious of every step that I take … I really focus in on my body, my breathing, and my thoughts. It’s the best time of day.”
Having first started running as a young girl with her grandfather and then continuing through high school, she says her motivation – which used to include running “to look a specific way, or to feel a certain way” – has evolved over the years. Today, it’s mainly about escapism.
“Now I run to find peace,” says Ridloff.
That was the case during her Broadway debut four years ago when she portrayed Sarah Norman in “Children of a Lesser God,” Mark Medoff’s 1980 play set at a school for the deaf.
“In between shows, between the afternoon and the evening, I would go for a run in Central Park – five miles as fast as I could – because that was my way of resetting,” says Ridloff.
“The play was very emotional, it’s a heavy play. How do I cleanse my palette, so to speak, for the rest of the day? With my run.”
Ridloff, who is eyeing the Austin half marathon in February for her next race, does find a meeting point between acting and running – specifically with the obstinate mindset she says is needed in both disciplines.
“It requires a lot of mental preparation and plenty of repetition,” says Ridloff. “Repeat my lines, repeat my steps.”