From Theater Geek To Running Freak

by Lindsay Miller

Anyone that has met Megan Conner remembers her for the vibrant, bright eyed, larger than life character she brings to the table. Anyone that has taken her workout classes, remembers her for her challenging good time and the soreness after. Anyone that has seen her on stage, remembers the stories she tells behind each song lyric she writes. Megan Conner has a big personality. When you talk to her about running, she lights up. The girl can run. She has several major marathons on her resume, qualifying for the best of the best. She is a veteran lululemon ambassador, considers 20-mile runs “casual”, and is sponsored by major running companies like Brooks. But who is the girl that majored in theater? What could we learn if we walked (preferably not 20) miles in her shoes? Because whether it is her drive, her bright blue eyes, her ambition, or her smile, everyone that meets Megan remembers her in some way.

Moving to Nashville 12 years ago qualifies her as a local, but maybe not a native. Conner was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, but grew up in the Fort Worth area in Texas. There she lived with her mom and step dad in Texas, but travelled to see her Dad in North Carolina. “I started flying on an airplane alone at the age of four, which you definitely aren’t allowed to do anymore,” she recalls with a smile.

Conner never played sports growing up. “None in high school,” she admits, “except maybe tennis for a hot second, but only because I liked the skirts.” She was more into choir and drama and loved being on stage, jumping into new characters whenever a play was auditioning.  She enjoyed all-state choir and theater trips, but sports? Not so much. It wasn’t until the end of college that she discovered her talent for running. And even then, it wasn’t entirely on purpose.

Conner graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas with a degree in theater.  “I intended to get a ‘real’ major in college, I swear, like business or something,” she laughs. “But I took Acting for Non-Majors during my undergrad and after the midterm the professor told me I should [pursue theater]. He called my parents.”

Hopeful of where it might lead, she stuck with it. During her sophomore year she followed a group of friends to an audition in Dallas, Texas for the travelling Broadway cast of Rent, but only because everyone else was going. “I didn’t want to audition,” she remembers, “but I ended up being the only person called back for the part of Maureen [Johnson].”

She says, “We were in discussions about being on the touring cast, but I just was not ready. It was a big jump and, again, I just wasn’t ready to make that type of commitment.” So she stayed true to herself, but continued to stay in touch with the casting agency. They later told her she should move to New York after graduation. “That was already happening,” Conner confidently exclaims. “I already knew that was going to happen. I took a trip in eighth grade choir to New York City and I just fell in love. So when they said that, I said, ‘Done!’”

During the last year of college, Conner started taking a local spin class, trying out kickboxing, and boot camp classes like Tae Bo. “The [cycling instructor] suggested I get certified, so I did. I had so much fun with it and thought this would be a great job to have when I move to New York so I could have time for auditions,” she adds.

She continues, “Two months prior to moving to New York, I went to visit my boyfriend at the time (who was also my high school sweetheart) in Daytona Beach. He was studying to be a pilot, so it was like a mini vacation. All I did was workout and lay out. When I showed up in New York, I was blonde, buff, and tan: a complete alien. People in New York just did not look like me.” But Conner had more of a plan than looking like a life-sized Barbie doll. She walked through the doors at the prestigious Equinox gym on 50th Street and said, “I want to be an instructor.”  Being new to the city meant she had nothing and knew, maybe, two people. “The head personal trainer looked me up and down and said, ‘I don’t care if you’ve never trained a person in your life, you are working for me.’ So I got a job,” she laughs.

Conner started as a personal trainer, but quickly realized she would have to really battle her way into the instructor realm. “In New York, teaching is like a whole audition,” she says.

She quickly grew to be the Group Fitness manager and program director for the Athletic and Swim Club at the age of 22. She was running 40 employees and 146 classes a week, but her personal schedule was even crazier. “I was teaching all over the city while doing the behind the scenes managing,” she states. “I was at Equinox, Reebok, Sports Club LA, Crunch, and that just turned into what I did all day. Only 50 people were allowed in a room or studio and there would be lines outside the door for my classes!” She attributes this to acting like a complete “Looney Tunes [cartoon character]” as to why people knew her and loved taking her class.

She recalls when conducting a spin class, “I would sing and dance. People called it spintertainment,” she laughs at the fond memories, “but I was an extremely hard instructor,” she promises.

During all this time, Conner never actually did an audition the entire time in New York. She says she regrets it, although, she did answer an ad for a wanted country music singer to record five songs. So the day a client asked,  “Why are you not performing?” she had those five songs on an album to hand him. It just so happens he was a major record executive in the music industry doing business between New York and Nashville, and he’s still a close friend of hers today.

“I was terrible!” she says. “But I gave it to him and he convinced me that Nashville was the place for me.” Conner would visit back and forth for some time before committing to a move. The Nashville music industry insists that artists live and breathe in the city if they want to make it big, so she eventually surrendering to the calling.

“I remember walking into Warner Brothers Music with a stack of lyrics. Just handwritten papers of songs I wrote. Who does that? You aren’t supposed to do that. And I did that,” she smiles.

This was in January 2006 and people were making connections through MySpace, especially in the music industry. Conner made sure to line up a job in fitness at Takes 2 Fitness before settling into Nashville. Once she did, she quickly got a publishing deal. Once she got a publishing deal, she let go of all her clients to work on her music. Once the publishing deal let go, she went back to Takes 2 Fitness. She quickly began to realize this was not a stable lifestyle.

Conner says, “In Nashville, you have to be all aspects of music. I was mostly paid to write music through publishing deals, but all the while I was still teaching – Vanderbilt, Barry’s [Bootcamp], and some others. But I always wrote; mostly poetry. If you want to be an artist, you have to write.”

Her biggest deal with a company that worked in New York and Nashville, sent her all over the world to co-write. She wrote every type of music, not just country. Conner has had her songs cut by Chris Young, Rascal Flatts, The Swan Brothers, Danny Gokey and numerous indie artists.

She says the common thread to everything was always fitness though. “Music can be lucrative,” she affirms. “It is very ‘peaks and valleys’ and there are a lot of working pieces that have to come together in order for it to be a stable, steady income, which is rare.”

Conner recently resigned with Demolition Records and says the reason they are the right fit for her is because they fully support her other businesses. “Fitness is one of the loves of my life and they let me pursue that. They understand that, unfortunately, in the music industry, you can work and work and work and never see results,” she says. “But in fitness, if you’re training and working hard, you see results. If you train for a marathon, you can run a marathon. It’s rarely the case to see results like that in music.”

Fitness has become more stable for her lifestyle and in her mind, she reaches more people in a positive way through this industry. “I want to directly impact people’s lives,” she states. “Someone listening to the radio might be affected when they hear Rascal Flatts sing my song, but they would never know I wrote that,” she explains. As a coach and trainer she deals with the personal lives of her clients every day; talking them through nutrition choices, lifestyle changes and anything in between.

“Music is now my creative outlet,” she admits, “but nothing I do really feels like a job. At the end of the day I get paid to write music and yell at people.” Sounds like a fun gig to me!

“You really can create the life you want to create,” Conner confesses. “Now, of course that may come with sacrifice, but you can make it happen. It might seem like I have no life, because I work all the time,” she jokes, “but because I love what I do, I can work all the time and it doesn’t bother me to not go out on a Saturday night, not have a boyfriend, or meet new people and whatever else ‘normal’ people do on the weekends,” she says with a laugh.

Although Conner throws herself into new things as much as she can, she does admit that this past year has been more about taking a break and allowing her some time to practice balance.  She wanted her life to focus more on community. She says her whole purpose has become clearer in this time. “What is it that I am going to leave behind?” she says. “How have I affected people?” The conclusion of her lululemon ambassadorship has prompted these questions, but also sparked her to start what is now called Run Club every Thursday night at the lululemon store in Green Hills.

She has also challenged herself to do 40 races before the age of 40 and has only allowed herself to count 13 of the many previous medals hanging on her wall. Although, her coat hooks weren’t always filled with metallic.

She started the triathlon program at the gym she managed in New York and found interest in those and biathlons, but says in reality, the running part was her favorite. “Honestly, the bike and the pool were too hard to come by so it was just easier to throw on my running shoes and go outside,” she admits. The busier her schedule got the harder it was to train for triathlons and gaining access to a road bike and swimming just became more of an obstacle. Running seemed to come natural, and so did the competitive edge. “I immediately wanted to run a marathon,” she claims. “The first marathon I ever did was for the American Liver Foundation, because my step dad passed away from Liver Cancer. I ran that race the year he died.”

She says, “I had no idea what I was doing. I only trained up to 16 miles,” Referencing her first major marathon in Chicago where she fractured her foot. “Don’t do that!” She advises, “You can’t do that. You will absolutely hurt yourself.” But like everyone, Conner learns from her mistakes.

Conner and her running friends, including coaches and long distance runners alike, realized she had a talent and should try to qualify for one of the biggest races of all; The Boston Marathon. She remembers, “Five years ago, I started racing for Fleet Feet Nashville and tried to qualify for Boston at a race in Huntsville. At mile 16 my iliotibial band (IT band) just stopped working. By mile 22 I had to stop. I couldn’t walk. I thought that was the end for me.” But luckily, also at that time, the American Liver Foundation reached out to Conner about running for them at the Boston Marathon. It gave her the motivation she needed to get healthy, as this might be her only chance to run such a historical race.

When she finished the race in Boston, barely having time to clear the crowd and catch her breath, the bombs went off. Recalling the moment it happened, “I saw the smoke and I knew it was a bomb, but no one knew the extremities of it.” What might have been the worst time for her phone to die, she needed to make her way back to the hotel. The details on what she had just experienced were mostly explained through the TV in her hotel room.

“I knew I had to come back [to race again],” she said. “That year I was running for a charity and I didn’t get to experience the city of Boston, so I knew I had to come back and run it again, this time, for a different reason.

To prepare for her second race in Boston, Conner hired a coach. She started doing more track work, which made her love running even more. Supported by her coaches and friends at her qualifying race, Conner held a heavy heart but managed to push through her IT band issues along with her struggling fear and doubt.

“One of my friends told me to write 26 things on my arm and dedicate each mile to something,” Conner said. (The number 26 being the representation of each of the 26.2 miles she would have to trek. “It completely changed my run,” she admits. “Being able to look down at those dedications each mile gave me an extra set of wings. I dedicated the last four miles to the people that lost their loves in Boston.”

Amusingly, the sharpie stayed on Conner’s arm for some time. Carrying that motivation with her after the race and some input from social media, she came up the idea for her business Inspotats: a custom, temporary tattoo meant to motivate and inspire.

Little does she know, meeting Conner is all the motivation and inspiration one needs though. She is a coach and teacher to her core, passing on her growth and wisdom in everyday conversation. She wants to have a positive impact through fitness, but she also wants to make something clear; “I did not grow up athletic. I found that later. But you don’t have to have an athletic background to reach your fitness goals. I’m a normal human and I was able to do it. You just have to put in the work.”

And put in the work she did. From a young age Conner let her heart guide her to a passionate filled life she happily lives today. Whether she is filming her boxer puppy, Lulu, for Instagram or flaunting her natural charm, she is not afraid to take risks and be herself to pursue her dreams.

“Running is absolutely mental, yes, but it is also my time. I can throw on my shoes and have a playlist ready or not listen to anything at all and just think. Things just feel different when they come from somewhere driven,” she says. Which is evident when you meet her. Because anyone that has met Megan remembers her drive and they remember her willingness to love and be loved. And anyone who hasn’t met Megan, well, then they are truly missing out.

NFM Staff
Author: NFM Staff

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