Art Academy of Cincinnati's Creative Running class applies Flying Pig Marathon to coursework

Posted at 8:00 AM, Apr 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-30 08:00:52-04

CINCINNATI -- Katelyn Wolary signed up for the Flying Pig half-marathon last year but discovered that solo training was a daunting task.

So when her college, the Art Academy of Cincinnati, offered a new elective this spring called Creative Running, she seized the chance to share the experience with her classmates and be held accountable for Pig preparations. 

“It’s awesome. It’s probably been one of my favorite classes over the last four years,” said Wolary, a senior.

The class is co-taught by Matt Hart and Paige Williams and features 10 students who study running through stories, poems, art, speakers and discussions. They’re also training for the Flying Pig 10K, which is at 8 a.m. May 6.  

Hart, the Liberal Arts chairman and an associate professor of creative writing, perpetually seeks unique ways to connect students to the world. He came up with the Creative Running concept while out for a run.

“I had this idea: Wouldn’t be amazing if we taught a class at the Art Academy where we actually explored with students the connections between physical activity and the creative process and got students to reflect on that, make art about it and also train together to run?” Hart said.

Hart enlisted the aid of Williams, the Art Academy’s Studio Program chair and a painting professor. An avid runner herself, she previously competed in the Pig’s half-marathon. Williams mapped out running routes all over the city and helped conduct the three-hour class each Friday.

Some of the students boasted running backgrounds. Others didn’t. Williams and Hart implemented the training regimen slowly -- two minutes walking, one minute running -- and tinkered with the intervals as the weeks progressed. Students now run 50 minutes straight.

They’ve maintained logbooks of their runs and thoughts about running. They’re required to run twice a week outside of class, too, and consider parallels to art. 

“The idea was that running is something you have to do. You have to put on your running shoes and walk out the door. Studio work is the same way. You have to show up to the studio,” Williams said. “Another similarity is that art is supposed to create something out of nothing. With running, we wanted to do the same so that (students) would be able to progress slowly and see improvement over the course of the semester.”

One assignment was to bring a “runner’s gift” to the class. Students shared everything from silk-screened bandanas and homemade muffins to hand-crafted pins, which reinforced the idea that they were all sharing the commitment.

Guest speakers included ultra-runner Harvey Lewis. The School for Creative and Performing Arts teacher and accomplished ultra-marathoner made an impression on Wolary. 

“He was like, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ I’m like, ‘OK, I don’t know if I’m going to be running 160 miles without stopping,’” Wolary said, laughing.

And yet the class has helped students realize they are capable of much more physically than some thought possible. Williams said several students are surprised that they’ve become runners at all.

Their main projects involve creating art about the activity of running. The Pig’s 10K is the grand finale, and a special endeavor for the students, as the Pig has comped their entry fees, Fleet Feet has provided a discount on shoes and community members have made up the cost difference.

Williams and Hart don’t expect Creative Running to be a frequently offered course, but multiple students have expressed interest in participating in a future edition. 

In the meantime, Wolary is looking forward to running with her classmates and pushing herself on race day. She said the class has affected her in ways she never would have expected.

“It’s been really amazing to see how the creative process is so similar to the running process. You face all the same mental hurdles,” Wolary said. “You’re physically and mentally engaged and focused, and you have to have physical and mental stamina as a runner obviously. Working toward my senior thesis and working toward this race have really gone hand in hand.”