I’ve Always Wanted To Do That: Rocky Balboa’s eggy morning run

By recreating classic movie moments that look so cathartic onscreen, Eliza Janssen hopes to improve her own life, starting with Rocky Balboa’s punishing workout routine. This is…I’ve Always Wanted To Do That.

Rocky—the movie, the character, and the actor behind him—stands as a blazing embodiment of sheer willpower and self-confidence. One of the cheapest Best Picture Oscar-winners of all time, the inspirational sports drama was scripted by Stallone in just three days when the then-adult film star/theatre usher/zoo janitor was on the brink of homelessness. Adjusted for inflation, it cost about $5 million to make and earned back $1 billion, with Stallone’s dogged refusal to let Robert Redford or James Caan play his underdog part resulting in the immediate rise of a new action star.

It’s a Cinderella story wrapped in its own IRL Cinderella story. Everybody roots for Rocky, and everybody remembers the triumphant second-act montage of Stallone sprinting through Philadelphia to ascend the art museum steps, pumping his arms before raising them to the sky like he’s already beat Apollo Creed.

Not all of us, however, remember the earlier, sadder montage to which that scene acts as a callback. It’s when Rocky wakes up to scull raw eggs, struggling through town to limp up and then down the same concrete stair, as Bill Conti’s seminal soundtrack shades the scene with doubt. Not “Gonna Fly Now“, the fab disco-inflected anthem we get later: “Philadelphia Morning“, all mournful French horns and loungey piano.

You can’t have that later, air-punching scene without this one, and it tells a poignant, sweaty story of struggle. Something I know all too well.

I struggle to wake up before 9, let alone at the frankly very irritating time of 4:02am as Rocky does in this scene (needed the extra 2 minutes of sleep, bud?). I struggle to exercise, despite knowing the physical and mental benefits. I struggle, basically. And so I felt this scene, exemplifying the short-term agony and long-term joy of pushing oneself, would be the right way to start this column, in which I’ll try to improve my life with cinema’s greatest characters and moments as my model.

My history with running is particularly humiliating. I was actually a decent runner as a kid: my parents still chide me about a junior school cross-country carnival where I could be seen jogging in a circle behind a cluster of trees, desperate not to cross the finish line and get sent to some regional semi-final. Just, like, whyWhenever running begins to hurt—mouth dry, boobs sore, sides of my feet starting to rub against my sneakers—why would I not immediately stop and do something comfy and enjoyable?

Having a crack at one of film history’s greatest running scenes would be a tangible way to prove to myself that the act is genuinely of mind over matter, and that the only thing stopping me from Balboaian greatness all those other times was my own lack of will.

Breakfast of champions.

It truly sucked waking up at 4:02am. I kept having dreams in which I was awoken by my alarm, got dressed, gulped back five raw eggs and started running, finally allowing myself to think “hey this isn’t that bad” before realising it was just my nervous brain making shit up. When the alarm really did ring, I jumped off the bed a bit more enthusiastically than Stallone did and got dressed in my best facsimile of his grey trackies get-up. My cat glared at me from the bed: fool, her eyes seemed to accuse, before closing for another warm six hours of sleep.

Cracking out the right amount of raw eggs into a highball glass, I steeled myself not for the taste but the texture of the sloppy yolks. And oh boy were they gross to ingest, to the point where I had to pinch my nose to get ’em down. The yolk taste was kinda pleasant and breakfasty, though. At first. Slamming the fridge shut, I headed downstairs to perform the same quick stretches as Rocky, then took off into the dark streets of Brunswick.

My run would be an easy six kilometres—nothing compared to the 30kms that Rocky was calculated to run—from my apartment to the Philadelphia Museum of Art-esque stairs of Melbourne’s Parliament House. I thought about running further to the War Memorial but was told that might be a tad disrespectful, especially in the likely situation of needing to barf eggs everywhere.

Rocky also completed his run while wearing black Converse sneakers, but I’m simply not that much of a sadist. It might sound weak, but six K’s was more than enough for me, especially as I began to calculate the eggs-per-kilometre ratio that worked for Rocky…considering that it was not working for me. Rocky got six kilometres of fuel out of each egg, whereas I was doing the inverse, at about one kilometre per egg. It was way too much, meringue churning in my stomach and making a pretty chill morning jog into a terrifying ordeal that had me anticipating a quick puke into the foliage of Carlton Gardens.

My saving grace was a Spotify playlist of music from all eight films in the Rocky franchise. When I was half-girl-half-omelette, Kenny Loggins and James Brown carried me, with Bill Conti’s melodramatic string arrangements a constant source of courage. Cooler Creed selections from Pharrell Williams and Meek Mills just didn’t compare to Survivor shamelessly trying to rip off their own hit “Eye of the Tiger“, in the form of Rocky IV soundtrack bop “Burning Heart” (is it East versus West/or man against man?).

The elegaic groove of “Going The Distance” pushed me along the final 100 metre sprint to Parliament House—I was getting strong now/gonna fly now!—and I muddied my re-enactment of the film’s canon by performing a little shadowboxing and cheering at the sky, something Balboa only manages later in the film.

The moon was still out, and nobody but a few security patrol cars, cats, and possums had witnessed my inelegant jogging and consequent celebration.

Feeling that peaceful solitude and triumph with Conti’s dolorous horns in my ears, I knew that I had really learnt something from Rocky, and would definitely consider waking up this early to run in his Converse footsteps again. The eggs were 100% the worst part of this whole experience, hereby barring me from ever attempting Cool Hand Luke‘s even more disgusting egg challenge for a future entry to this column. And yet I did not vomit, proving that the brain really can overcome the body’s constant threat that it’s gonna spray egg.

I don’t have a Paulie or an Adrian, and in this situation running was as empty a symbol for me as it always has been: proof of endurance and fitness for its own stupid sake. Nonetheless, I surprised myself by completing my own fun-size version of the Rocky run, making my self-critical inner thoughts and “why bother”s a little quieter with each yolky metre. Stallone’s one-handed, jumping push-ups and meat-freezer punching seshes are out of reach for me, but hey: I can do a fifth of the Rocky “Philadelphia Morning” run anyday.

As the ending of at least the first Rocky film proves, it’s not about winning—it’s about going the distance, and that’s what I hope to achieve with future instalments of this series, sticking it out to see whether other classic movie moments are worth experiencing firsthand. I just don’t want to see an egg for like the next week or so, if that’s okay.


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