Art professor finds inspiration in long-distance running

Amy Milgrub Marshall
November 05, 2014

Have you ever seen a friend or acquaintance achieve something and wonder, “Could I do that?"

That’s what happened to School of Visual Arts assistant professor Rudy Shepherd, on a fateful day in fall 2011. He was standing at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Lorimer Street in New York City, watching the city’s annual marathon. Rudy had run in high school and for a year at Wake Forest University, but since then had just dabbled in 5-Ks. A marathon had never crossed his mind.

“But while watching the parade of diverse people of all ages, races, nationalities, shapes and sizes run by me doing what just seemed incomprehensible, a thought popped into my head that would change my life for many days to follow. The thought was simple and not profound at all — it was basically if I trained, I think I could run a marathon and you know what, I think I’m going to try.”

Since then Shepherd has run not only marathons, but seven ultra-marathons, which are races longer than 26.2 miles. Most recently he completed the Tussey Mountainback 50-mile race in Centre County, finishing with a personal record (PR) of 10:07:58 — three (yes, THREE) hours faster than his last 50-mile race. As he wrote on his blog, Uptown Vegan, “not a bad day’s work.”

Rudy, who divides his time between State College and the Inwood neighborhood in uptown Manhattan, chronicles his experiences as a runner, artist, vegan and father on his blog, which he started in September. While for most people, 30-60 minutes of exercise is sufficient, Shepherd’s training runs take hours. “I must admit I do get in a little trouble with my wife from time to time for spending too much time training on the weekends when I am trying to squeeze in a 25-mile run on Saturday and another 10-mile run on Sunday,” he said.

Forget the time — how does one have the energy to do that, in addition to his other home and work responsibilities? “I am a person with a lot of energy — too much, maybe — so getting up early in the morning and training everyday, teaching, making art, spending time with my family and traveling back and forth between State College and New York City is just par for the course at this point.”

Running long distances also means you have a lot of time to pass while plodding the pavement (or trail). “It’s easier to pass the time than you would think,” Shepherd said. “I have actually begun to relish the long hours alone in the woods when all I am responsible for doing is running, eating and staying hydrated. Life is rarely this simple and I truly enjoy that simplicity.”

Sometimes he listens to music, podcasts or audiobooks, and sometimes, during a race, he talks to other runners. “But I also like to run with nothing from time to time and see where my mind goes.”

Until recently, Shepherd’s running did not influence his art, but for his last show, he did portraits of two vegan ultra-endurance athletes, Scott Jurek and Rich Roll. “They have been a big inspiration to me and convinced me to go vegan myself.”

Shepherd is represented by Mixed Greens Gallery in New York City, where his most recent exhibition was "Disaster Fatigue," from Sept. 11 Oct. 11, featuring paintings, drawings, video and ceramics that address media saturation and the politics of representation. 

For more on Rudy, visit his blog, www.uptownvegan.blogspot.com, or his personal website, www.rudyshepherd.com.

  • Scott Jurek by Rudy Shepherd

    A watercolor of vegan runner Scott Jurek by Rudy Shepherd.

    IMAGE: Rudy Shepherd
Last Updated November 06, 2014