Why Deaf Actress Lauren Ridloff Is Running the New York City Marathon

Plus, how she's training and staying motivated to cross the finish line.

Lauren Ridloff
Getty Images.

Having lived in Brooklyn with her family for many years, actress Lauren Ridloff is no stranger to the TCS New York City Marathon. In fact, the race route goes right by her former home each year. "I'm always rooting for them, and I always thought I would love to run the marathon one day, and now, here it is," she tells Shape over Zoom with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

Born deaf, the actress is known for playing Connie on AMC's The Walking Dead. She also made history for playing the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with her character Makkari in the 2021 film Eternals. Ironically, Makkari's power is superspeed, which Ridloff may tap into when she runs the New York City marathon on November 6, 2022.

Keep scrolling to learn more about how Ridloff got into running, how she's been training for the upcoming marathon, and what it means to represent and support the deaf community during the race.

Always Running

Ridloff's first memories of running are with her grandfather in Chicago, where she grew up. "I was just so intrigued with where he would go in the morning and what he was doing," she says. "I would beg him to go for a run with him in the morning." He allowed it on the condition that Ridloff, who was no more than seven years old at the time, had to wake up early in order to tag along.

"It was that magic hour just to see the sun rise and nobody else was there," she says. "It was just my grandfather and myself," she continues, noting the time allowed her "to see the world in a different way."

Running has meant different things to Ridloff over the years, she explains. "At first, it meant some time with my grandfather...And then it meant spending time with my cute track coach [in high school]," she jokes. In college, running turned into a way to achieve "a certain aesthetic," says the actress. But then, it became about more than that.

"It was more about meditation," she says. "It was about reentering myself and problem solving, troubleshooting, all of those things...You know, my mind just wanders [when I run]. I never know where it's gonna go, which is quite nice."

Marathon Motivation

What motivated Ridloff to run the New York City Marathon (her first marathon, BTW) is PS347, The American Sign Language & English Lower School, where she used to teach. She's running the marathon to fundraise for the school, which teaches deaf children, children of deaf adults, and non-signing children from the neighborhood.

"The students taught me so much," she says, adding that it was a "no-brainer" to say yes when the school reached out to see if she'd be willing to join their charity marathon team. She's also getting support from Brooks Running, which is matching her contribution to the school up to $25,000. 

As for the actual training, Ridloff says it's all about creating the habit of running regularly. "It's just like getting up to brush my teeth," she explains. "You're not motivated to brush your teeth. It's just drilled into me...So, now that's [how I feel] about running. I get out of bed and I go for a run. It's just one of those things that I just have to do."

Lauren Ridloff Running
Courtesy of Lauren Ridloff.

Ridloff has had some help along the way too. She's been training with coach Kevin Hanson, founder of the Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project. "His program has helped me so much," she says. "It's just helped me get physically and mentally ready for the marathon."

The training program has included running five days a week with two days for recovery. Ridloff also does some cross-training in between runs. "I love my kettlebells," she says, adding that the exercises she does with them give her the core strength she needs to run her best.

She's learning the importance of increasing her caloric intake to have energy for her long-distance runs too. Ridloff's favorite pre-run meal is a bowl of cereal with oat milk and some blueberries. She also relies on Maurten nutrition gels for mid-run fuel to meet Hanson's recommendation that she take in about 40 grams of carbs every 30 to 40 minutes. "I've just learned that if I don't do that, if I don't eat enough, then I'm just gonna crash," she says.

Speaking to Shape just a few weeks before the race, Ridloff has already hit her peak distance of 16 miles and is enjoying tapering down her mileage leading up to the big day. Of course, training wasn't without its challenges. She hit a few obstacles along the way, including a case of COVID-19 that impacted her ability to train and extreme heat in Austin, Texas, where the actress recently moved.

Spotlighting Deaf Athletes

In addition to raising funds for a school that caters to deaf children, Ridloff is also shining a light on deaf athletes everywhere by running the New York City Marathon. "I'm really happy to have this opportunity to spotlight other deaf runners and other deaf athletes," she says.

"It's really important for people to understand that there's a space for everyone," continues Ridloff, noting that people don't always see deaf athletes in the world of sports. "I feel that just by me being there and being a part of the marathon with other deaf runners, it's a reminder that we belong here too."

Those interested in supporting Ridloff and PS347 can donate to her fundraiser. Brooks will also host a special ASL cheer section near mile 19 of the New York City Marathon. They'll be cheering for Ridloff and other deaf and hard of hearing runners.

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