I’m OBSESSED with Modern Family. Literally just obsessed. I watch it so often I feel like I have a personal relationship with the characters. So, it delighted me to read about Julie Bowen’s running story, and I wanted to share with you all in case there are any other Mod Fam fanatics out there!
I’m a Runner: Julie Bowen
The ‘Modern Family’ actress discusses running—on and off screen.
Occupation: Actor, Modern Family
Residence: Los Angeles
I know that you run a lot…
Well not a lot for Runner’s World! People are so easily impressed by running, but I run pretty frequently.
Have you always been athletic?
No. Running was the first thing I discovered that I was any good at. I grew up playing field hockey and lacrosse—prep school sport—and I was terrible at them. I really thought that I was not athletic at all and then one summer in between schools I decided that I would try running. I was about 13, and I started by running about 15 or 20 minutes each day, and then I got to school and it made a huge difference. Suddenly, the run before practice was no big deal and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I can do this!’ I still stunk at lacrosse and field hockey. It was horrible. Anything with a ball that I had to catch, it was awful. But, I started being a good runner and then when I switched to my high school, where they had track and field and cross-country, I started doing that and I found out that I was not bad.
So have you stuck with running this whole time or has it been an on-and-off thing?
I ran throughout high school competitively, and then I got a lot of injuries. In college, I had to back off a little bit, so I swam in order to repair my aches and pains. Ever since then, I have been delighted to be a recreational jogger. I trained for a marathon and then got injured doing that, so now I am just a recreational runner.
You’ve said running helped you lose the baby weight the first time around. Did it also help after twins?
Yes, after having the twins, definitely. More than losing the baby weight, it helped me to regain my sanity. When you are in a house with lots of babies, no sleep, and everything is about their needs all of the time, I found that going out for a run in the morning before they got up—even it was just for half an hour—made me feel like I did something for myself. It’s wasn’t just all about babies, and it made me feel okay.
Did you run while you were breastfeeding, too?
I don’t know why I have a surplus of energy, especially early in the morning, but I seem to and I think there was a lot of anxiety; I have a lot of anxiety in general. Life sort of just gets me wound pretty tightly, and there was a lot of anxiety about starting a new job. I was starting Modern Family, and all of these new babies, and I wasn’t sleeping well. Something that really helped me to get rid of the anxiety, take a breath, and feel calm was running.
Did you use a baby jogger?
I only started using a baby jogger recently. My first son, Oliver, didn’t like it when he was little and we’re lucky because my husband works at home, so why bother? I would leave him in his bed, and I could go running then. Now though, with three, no amount of babysitters or husbands is enough! Someone is always happy when I take them for a run. So two out of three of them were happy in the jogger.
Does Oliver like it now?
Oliver does now! I run to the school sometimes and I’ll bring him along. To school and back takes me about 55 minutes, I have no idea what the mileage is. Going there is slower, obviously, because I am pushing 40 pounds of kid, and going back is faster, so really I don’t know what the mileage is. I gave up running for the mileage. Oliver chills out, listens to his iPod, and talks to me a lot. I try to explain to him sometimes that while I am pushing him up this hill, I cannot talk. It’s funny because running back from school, I have an empty stroller and you can’t tell if I pull down the shade so people must think I am insane. Running there I am careful and I avoid cars and potholes, but running back I am a madwoman! People probably think that I am insane running in traffic with what they believe is a baby. There is actually nothing there.
Do you get funny looks from people?
Oh my gosh, yes! Mostly angry sort of fist-shaking looks like, How can you? Why would you? I know that it’s an empty stroller so this is okay.
Do people recognize you when you run now?
I run in this one park in L.A. and I have been running there for years. People say hi, and every time I go running, at least one person says, “I love your show.” But it’s very nice, and it doesn’t feel like I’m getting gawked at or anything. I mean its L.A. You can be Annette Bening and the person behind you can be a porn star, so I am just another person on the hill.
It sounds like you run a lot.
I consider a day without running a crappy day. When I don’t get to run, I am a grump, but some days my schedule just doesn’t allow me to. I have to be at work at 6 a.m., and if I want to see my kids later at home, there are just days when I don’t get to run. But, for the most part, I try to go every day. It usually works out to about five or six times a week or sometimes four times a week. But if it’s four times a week, I am a pill. Nobody wants to be around me. Cranky! Everything looks bad, my children seem too loud, and my job seems like fun but not as much fun. Like, I love my job, but suddenly my pants aren’t fitting right and everything just seems wrong.
Your character Claire is a runner on Modern Family. Did the writers work that in because of you?
No, I think I play the wife of every runner on our staff. I am pretty sure she’s an amalgamation. And, the show’s creators, Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd—Steve’s wife Krista is an avid runner and I would say that 70 percent of the time that you see her she is in running clothes. I think that was based on her and it just so happened to be convenient that I enjoy running. I don’t think that they would make me do it, if I didn’t enjoy it. We did scenes on a treadmill. After doing it for two hours’I guess it’s a good thing that I am not a hideous runner.
And you got in a workout at work.
That was a bonus!
Does anything from your own life cross into the show like running?
I am so similar in a lot of ways to Steve Levitan’s wife, I always think it’s hard to tell. I think that these things are coming from me, my family, or my life, and then I’ll discover that they have been coming from so many other different places but nothing directly. I just like running.
Are you as competitive about running with your husband as Claire is?
My husband and I used to run together and we don’t anymore. I haven’t gone running with him in years, and I don’t know why. Mostly because somebody is sort of on duty and somebody is not, so we both can’t go and do it. I would like to say that I am a very relaxed, loving person who is not competitive, but that’s a lie! But I run alone, so I don’t know. I have a lot of private conversations, a lot of counting steps like, I wanna quit, I wanna quit. Okay, you can quit when you get to 300. It does work.
Do you ever run with your costars?
No, my costars all have their own thing going on. Sofia does a lot of Pilates.
I read in Self magazine that she was afraid to work out with you.
Oh please! Sofia is the best. I’m sure that was made to sound more competitive than it is. We are so different. She is so graceful and athletic and she is a really good dancer, and I am like, “Put on the shoes and go on a straight line.” I do yoga. I go swimming. I do that stuff. But it’s a totally different time commitment and needs a whole new set of equipment. And I mean, I have seen the best things I have ever seen while I am out on runs.
What’s the best thing you’ve seen on a run?
I remember that my junior year of college, I lived in Italy and I ran there. Running wasn’t super big there then, and I don’t know if it is now. It’s certainly not like girls running through the streets, but I was going through these medieval streets in Florence, and then in the hills above Florence and these tiny little towns that nobody would ever see because there is no commerce there, and past falling-down, old palazzos, roosters crowing in the morning. It was like running through a painting, and I used to think to myself, I wouldn’t get to see this if I wasn’t the person that got up and ran around in the morning like a crazy chicken with my head cut off.
Do you always run in the mornings?
I don’t always run in the mornings, but I am definitely better if I run in the mornings. Well, my job, God bless it, they slap all of this hair and makeup on me, so once I get through the beautifying process, you don’t want to un-beautify. So it’s best to do it when you’re still ugly and makeup-free in the morning.
Do you sometimes run on set?
I have and it is extremely rare because it makes them very nervous. You have to have a very loving and caring makeup team who is willing to redo you and luckily I do. I have said to my ladies, Stephanie and Mary Ann, “I have two hours between scenes. Would you mind if I went running?” And they are so wonderful but there are times that I know it’s going to kill them, so I do it very sparingly. I remember being on Ed and Tom Cavanagh would go and play basketball all of the time in between takes. He was dripping sweat and it didn’t matter. They just sort of slapped powder on his face and ran their fingers through his hair. But that’s not going to be so good for me.
Women go through a lot more!
Yes, we do suffer, but I do have wonderfully indulgent and lovely people that I work with that know that I keep a bag in my car with workout gear. I have a tendency to get dressed in the morning for a run and then start my day, and if I am at the car wash and it’s going to take an hour to get the car washed, I’ll just run.
Where do you run on set?
Outside. They have a park across the street from where we shoot. There is a neighborhood. I love nothing more than running though the neighborhood and looking at houses. It’s so fun to see the way other people live and there are things you don’t see when you are driving through the neighborhood quickly. I had a great run once in Africa. I was on safari with my family and it was just the greatest vacation ever, but because of the animals, we weren’t encouraged to go off running alone because there were lions. So I would go stir-crazy after a while. The guide drove around this big huge field like four times to stare out at anything hiding in the bush. And then they said I could run for about a half hour because things will come back into the grass. About 20 minutes into the run, I ran past this field with some form of monkey that sounds cute but was terrifying, and they all started screaming so I said, “That’s it! No more running in Africa.” Because they were not adorable monkeys. They were screaming and I clearly violated something of theirs. Maybe they were baboons. I couldn’t tell you exactly what form of primate they were. And you are really feeling high on your horse because you are running around this incredible field. I could hear the lions far away—I knew I was safe—and elephants and it was magical, but then I got chased away by a family of monkeys. It’s a good running story, but people who don’t run are like, “You are an idiot. You are in Africa. Don’t run, what’s the big deal?” What cooler thing to do but running in Africa and see stuff up close?
Do you still like wearing old-school nylon shorts to run?
I am horrible and I don’t know where this sort of sloppy aesthetic entered my world, but it always seemed very strange to me to buy workout clothes. Growing up, they just didn’t do that, so I still have a tendency to wear my husband’s shorts. I have gotten better. I have a few pairs of running tights now, but for the most part, I don’t care what I look like when I’m running at all as long as it’s comfortable.
Everyone else in L.A. seems to care so much!
Well I should care because there are paparazzi around some of the time. Once in a while there will be a picture of me and I think, Hmm, maybe its time to retire my husband’s basketball shorts, but I really don’t care. I just can’t seem to make myself care about what I look like when I am working out. I used to work out like a slob. I used to do yoga in slob clothes, and then I realized that you can’t. In order to get all bendy twisty, you need your clothes to be tight-fitting so that you are not tripping over yourself. I get it. But running, as long as you’re comfortable, who cares?
Do you listen to music when you run?
I do. I have some playlists for when I am running, but I alternate them with Fresh Air from NPR. I listen to pretty much all of it. I don’t think I’ve missed one in a year or so. I just don’t know why that makes me happy. I guess it sort of distracts my mind. I’ll put on music sometimes if I want to change it up and get all excited to run up a hill. Generally, I like to not think when I am running, and when I am listening to something interesting about science or art, I don’t think. I just listen.
Like a book on tape?
I have done that, too. My sister has me listening to a book on tape now but it has not caught my fancy, so we won’t mention it.
Its called Cutting for Stone and it’s written by a doctor. My sister is a doctor, and I call it doctor porn. It sounds like he is writing porn but its like, ‘His fingers probed her liver delicately.’ And you are like, “Gross!” I think she takes it from a different point of view. When someone is talking about their sobbing scapula or whatever it is, she knows what they are talking about and it means something to her. She keeps telling me to stick with it.
When you were on Weeds?
That was so much fun because I never get to play bad girls, and I got to be such a bad girl. I was terrible. It was super fun.
Did you ever run with any of the cast members?
No. Well first of all, I am a bit of a loner on the running circuit, so I am not prone to running with people because I am afraid that they are going to run too fast and or I am going to be too fast. I’ll run with my sister the doctor—she is like one of my closest friends—or my cousin Katie, but only people who I know are not judgey.
How old is Oliver now?
Oliver is 4 and the twins are 2.
You were talking about a marathon where you got injured. What happened?
Nothing dramatic. Twenty miles into my training, I was just running perfectly happy on a nice long run and all of a sudden, my hip felt like someone stabbed me with a knife, and sure enough, I had torn my labrum. It’s the rotator cuff of your hip, and there is no fix for it except to stay off of it for six to eight weeks. I was on crutches, and I had to swim. It was a drag, and I didn’t like it. That’s when I had one kid under one and I couldn’t carry him. It stunk, and it scared me enough that I really do want to do a marathon, but I don’t know. Being injured is so awful. [Younger sister] Annie said to me, “Would you rather be someone who can casually run until they are 90, or someone who ran a marathon and could never run another step?” So I would rather be the person who can run until I am 90. I just wouldn’t want to do permanent damage. That’s not to say that I don’t run, but I don’t want to push it to a point where I can’t run and I get hurt.
What marathon was it?
Do you ever run around your neighborhood at home?
I love running near work. There are a lot of hills where I live, and that’s really good and challenging and it makes you feel like Superman. I love running in Hancock Park because it’s my fantasy to live there. I can run for like an hour there just running up and down and looking at the houses. Real-estate envy. I just love that. I would love to run at the beach, but its just too far. When I am up in Santa Barbara, I do run at the beach.
You have a place in Santa Barbara?
My parents have a house up there and, when we visit them, I run at the beach a lot. It’s nice, although I do find running at the beach here like running on the highway with all of the people. There are so many people and it’s fine, but sometimes it’s nice to have a little solitude.
What’s the best running advice you’ve ever gotten?
My running coach in high school said that when you are running downhill just fall, and still to this day I think of that when I am running downhill. Just like, don’t try to control, don’t try to rein in the energy that the gravity is giving you.
What do you eat the night before a big run?
I am horrible. I eat healthily, but I am just as apt to have a bowl of cereal for dinner as I am to have, like, chicken and a salad. And a lot depends on what my kids are eating and what I eat off of their plates. There are times when I eat their whole dinner, Dino Bites and French fries, but my default mode is that I eat pretty clean salads and chicken. It used to be salad, salad, salad, and now it’s Dino Bites, peanut butter and jelly, and whatever. It’s fine. I don’t really care. Some of it’s not bad. I did rediscover French toast.
How do you know when you’ve had the perfect run?
When it’s an hour later and I don’t want to stop and I feel energized. I walk back into my house with sort of a happy buzz, and I feel psyched to take the garbage out. I can do all of this stuff. All of the mundane stuff that can get on your nerves seems like an easy thing to do. It’s not like I suddenly do something different, but the stuff that I am doing seems much more manageable and fun.
Do you have a running ambition?
The marathon is my running ambition, but otherwise my running ambition is just to continue to run healthily and without injury because I hate injuries.