Dis­tance Re­la­tion­ship

Pa­trick Wil­son on the epic, painful, life-chang­ing chal­lenge of run­ning a marathon By Chris Rovzar Styling by Brian Coats

Bloomberg Pursuits - - Pursue - Pho­to­graphs by Sacha Maric

You’re be­hind. Speed up.” The firm fe­male voice be­hind the MapMyRun app is scold­ing Pa­trick Wil­son from in­side the back pocket of his Ree­bok shorts. She in­forms us that he and I are run­ning at about 9:19 per mile. Wil­son is nor­mally closer to a 7-minute mile.

A Golden Globe- and Tony-nom­i­nated ac­tor who’s starred in 32 films, 5 Broad­way shows, and a pair of tele­vi­sion se­ries, Wil­son has two buzzy roles this sum­mer: a para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the se­quel to his 2013 sur­prise hit The Con­jur­ing and a sup­port­ing part in The Founder, a biopic about McDon­ald’s late chair­man Ray Kroc.

Right now, though, he’s train­ing. And I’m hold­ing him up. “The marathon time is 7:25,” he says as we cross through a bliss­fully flat area in his home­town of Up­per Mont­clair, N. J. “It’s a 3:15.”

Trans­la­tion: Three hours and 15 min­utes is the time he needs to beat in a race if he wants to qual­ify for the Bos­ton Marathon, which has been one of his goals since he first ran 26.2 miles in Philadel­phia in 2012. To­day he’s tak­ing me on a 4.5-mile loop around his neigh­bor­hood, along high, leafy roads with clear views of the Man­hat­tan sky­line 15 miles away. This pic­turesque sub­urb, which ex­plodes with pink flow­ers in the spring, is pushed up against a steep ridge where brick man­sions and mid­cen­tury wooden boxes hide among an­cient trees.

Wil­son is a life­long run­ner. “I’ve al­ways looked at it as ath­letes’ meditation,” he says. “It’s time that I can get away and think or not think. I wish I was more of a yoga per­son, but I’m not. This is it.” In his prac­tice runs he tries to drill 7:25 into his head, to train his feet and body to know what it feels like. “I don’t have that [pace] for 26 miles,” he says. Whether he runs Bos­ton in 2017 will be a de­ci­sion he makes over the sum­mer. “If I’m go­ing to do a movie where I need to be big, then I won’t do that marathon. I won’t be able to keepthe weight on,” he says. “I have a long head. If I lose too much weight, you see it in my face.”

I’m a run­ner, too, and was cap­tain of my high school’s cross- coun­try team. Like Wil­son, it took me un­til my 30s to want to run a marathon and un­til last year to try my first, in Philadel­phia. But he’s fast, so I’m huff­ing along be­side him as we chat. (This isn’t even his first work­out of the day. When he pulled up to meet me in his plat­inum Ford F-150 pickup, he was still sweaty from a CrossFit ses­sion at a nearby Guer­rilla Fit­ness.)

It’s easy to see why direc­tors in­clude run­ning scenes in so many of Wil­son’s projects—the CBS show A Gifted Man, the po­lit­i­cal thriller Zip­per, and the sub­ur­ban drama Lit­tle Chil­dren. He has an aura of grace­ful strength, an easy mas­culin­ity that trans­lates nat­u­rally on cam­era.

The MapMyRun voice is still chirp­ing at us as Wil­son ex­plains how he de­cided to do his first long- dis­tance race. “I wanted to do a marathon by the time I was 40,” he says. “We were in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina, shoot­ing Con­jur­ing, and I saw there was a half-marathon and a marathon in town in two weeks, and I was like, Let’s try a half- marathon. So that day I ran 10 miles.” He was 39.

The race gave him a taste of what he could do. “I saw these peo­ple run­ning the full marathon, and I was like, I gotta do that. So then I trained for New York.”

As he did, his body be­gan to change. “When I started work­ing with him, on the first In­sid­i­ous [ in 2010], he was re­ally trim,” re­mem­bers James Wan, who’s di­rected Wil­son in four films. “And then in be­tween that and The Con­jur­ing, he started get­ting into these marathons and started get­ting phys­i­cally ac­tive. I saw how he would change back and forth for his dif­fer­ent roles. I think that’s a sign of ded­i­ca­tion, and not only to the char­ac­ters he plays and how he wants his char­ac­ters to look, but to fit­ness as well.”

Wil­son trained for the 2012 New York City Marathon, but that year, Hur­ri­cane Sandy had other plans. The race was can­celed just days out. “It was a to­tal mind f---,” he says. “So I hopped on Philly, which is two weeks later.”

The Philadel­phia marathon is a pop­u­lar en­try-level race; it doesn’t have a lot of hills, but it does have a men­tally chal­leng­ing sec­ond half, a mad­den­ing 13- mile out- and- back along the Schuylkill River. Wil­son went pre­pared phys­i­cally, but on race day he made a rookie-marathoner mis­take and de­vi­ated from his train­ing rou­tine.

“I mis­man­aged my heat: I had a hat

on,” he says. “I mis­man­aged my in­take. In prac­tice runs, I never drank Ga­torade, be­cause it up­sets my stom­ach, and I don’t like all the sodium. Of course, 15 miles in, if you hand me a choco­late cake I’ll eat it.” I know the feel­ing. When I ran that heart­break­ing back half, peo­ple were hand­ing out cups full of Yuengling. I par­took. “I took every­thing,” he says, laugh­ing. “I was like, Wow, you’re stupid. You don’t train with pizza and beer!”

He fin­ished with a 3:36, for a split time of 8:15 per mile. “I lit­er­ally limped across the fin­ish line and felt like, That was the dumb­est idea I’ve ever had,” he says. “And then I woke up the next morn­ing and looked on­line for the next one.”

Ev­ery half-mile, the MapMyRun lady goads us to go faster. We’re at a 9:06 split now. The app’s 20 mil­lion users are net­worked, shar­ing their routes, times, and achieve­ments. When Wil­son trav­els for film shoots, he uses it to find paths other ath­letes have mapped out. I use the app, too, but I don’t re­mem­ber her sound­ing this stern when we’re alone.

Wil­son grew up in St. Pe­ters­burg, Fla., the son of a voice teacher and a lo­cal TV an­chor. He was a good all-around ath­lete, the jock who played soc­cer and base­ball through high school un­til he gave it up for theater. Af­ter a few Off-Broad­way and re­gional pro­duc­tions, he scored the lead in a mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion of the film The Full Monty, a role that earned him a Tony nom­i­na­tion in 2000. He fol­lowed that with an­other nom­i­na­tion for his Curly

in a re­vival of Ok­la­homa! Although he doesn’t work in the theater as fre­quently now, he and his wife, ac­tress Dag­mara Dom­inczyk, de­cided to raise their two sons here in­stead of in Los An­ge­les so he has the chance.

It was his stage work that got the at­ten­tion of di­rec­tor Mike Ni­chols, who cast him in the HBO adap­ta­tion of Tony Kush­ner’s An­gels in Amer­ica, along­side Al Pa­cino and Meryl Streep. Since then, Wil­son has worked on­screen at a break­neck pace. He’s played an over-the-hill su­per­hero in Watch­men, a charm­ing preda­tor in Hard Candy, and a doc­tor who has an un­ex­pected li­ai­son with Lena Dun­ham in an episode of Girls. “My lawyer al­ways is like, ‘ You work more than most all of my clients,’ ” Wil­son says later as we have cof­fee out­side his lo­cal java joint. When I ask him to de­scribe his ca­reer in a sen­tence, it comes eas­ily: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Wil­son doesn’t usu­ally run with head­phones. He doesn’t like dis­trac­tion— this is his chance to think, to zone out. Plus: Bears have been spot­ted in the hills around this part of New Jer­sey in re­cent years. It’s the kind of silly cin­e­matic sub­plot that seems per­fect for this Pleas­antville- style town. “I like to keep an eye out, be­cause this is all woods,” he says. “Ev­ery now and again you’ll hear some­thing rustling.”

Run­ning, for Wil­son, is an act of cleans­ing for his body and his spirit. It’s for “my soul, my skin,” he says. “Hon­estly, I can tell if I don’t run,” he adds, ges­tur­ing at his face. “I put makeup on for a liv­ing, so I have to get out and sweat. I’ve got to get all that crap out of me, or I just don’t feel good.”

Be­fore we wrap up our jog, we come to a fork in the road. To the right there’s a very steep in­cline up to a neigh­bor­hood with gi­ant brick homes and vast, slop­ing lawns. I qui­etly pray we’re not go­ing in that di­rec­tion. “This is a bitch of a hill, and then there are two more,” he warns, sound­ing a lit­tle like our MapMyRun taskmistress. “You can’t stop. You have to run all the way up.”

“I lit­er­ally limped across the fin­ish line and felt like, That was the dumb­est idea I’ve ever had”

+ Hoodie by Thom Browne, T-shirt by Or­lebar Brown, shorts by 2XU, watch by Ca­sio, dog leash by Wag­wear, sneak­ers by Nike Op­po­site: Wind­breaker by Prada, T-shirt by Or­lebar Brown, shorts by Polo Sport

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