Colson Smith has been in the public eye since he was a child. When he joined the cast of Coronation Street 13 years ago, he became part of a national institution. As a star of the iconic TV show and a host of the hit podcast The Sofa Cinema Club, alongside his Corrie co-stars Ben Price and Jack P. Shepherd, he’s under constant scrutiny by the press and social media. 

When the world went into lockdown three years ago, he seized the opportunity to do something for himself away from the tabloid glare and started running. He ran his first marathon last month, and says, without hesitation, that running has changed his life.

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Not that long ago, Colson would never have even considered running a marathon. “Running for me always seemed like punishment in school,” he says. “I vividly remember writing a note and folding it the way my mum used to fold letters and taking it to my PE teacher that said, ‘Colson can’t do the cross country ‘cause he’s hurt his foot.’ And I had my trainers in my bag and I wore my trainers with my school uniform to back up my injury excuse.” 

It wasn’t surprising that he didn’t enjoy running. He’d always been “the fat kid,” the characteristic that defined his acting roles. At the age of 10, he told his parents that he wanted to be an actor. “They were like, ‘Good luck with that; let us know what you’re gonna do, but good luck with it.’ And then from the age of 11 onwards, I started this career as a jobbing child actor.” For Coronation Street, he remembers, “When the casting brief came through, the only words were ‘unique, between the ages of nine and 13.’ So I guess my unique bit was that I was fat and ginger and you know, I did look different to everybody else in school.

“The Corrie brief was very different to the others because my first ever talking job, I’m sure the brief was like, ‘fat kid.’  And my line was, ‘Do you get bullied too?’ And the response was ‘No,  we’re not fat.’ So literally, from a very early age, I was exposed to being a gag in the industry, which at the time I didn’t realize.” His first contract with Coronation Street was for two episodes, then eight months later they offered him a recurring role. “I was kind of this mute visual gag. Was it at my own expense? I don’t know. But when I started to understand it was when I started to make it work better and then actually work for me, as well. It was very weird, but I have to say, out of all the jobs that I’ve done, Corrie have managed that a hell of a lot better than anywhere else.”

While the show may have managed it well, the media and public opinion were less kind. “As a 13-year-old, I remember going on and searching my name in Twitter to see what people were saying about my acting and about the character, and what I found was stuff about the way that I look. And then when I turned 17, I kind of left education and Corrie was my full-time job. I lost weight initially then, and because I lost weight, it meant the press could then talk about the fact that I had lost weight. And then when I went and put the weight back on two-fold, it kind of went both ways. So probably from 18 onwards, it was very much that my weight was quite a feature of who I was in terms of  the press.

“The bigger I was, the more the stories would paint me out to be not a very nice person. And then obviously when I’ve lost the weight this time round, it’s very much like I’m the nation’s sweetheart. I haven’t massively changed anything, other than just the way that I look. But being an actor in a public-facing role, you are judged for the way you look, probably more than your actual acting abilities.” 

Then in 2020, COVID-19 put a halt to television production, along with virtually everything else. Colson was living in Manchester, where Corrie is filmed, and went home to Yorkshire to quarantine with his parents. “The pandemic was the first time in my entire life that I can remember, where I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have any responsibilities,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Do you know what,  I’m not gonna use this as an excuse or an opportunity to  go backwards in life. It’s the first time I’ve not had a job. It’s the first time I can just do things for myself. And, you know, I want to use this time. I want to use this as kind of a massive opportunity. And I think the next day, I went out on my first run. It was really hard, and then it was just like, ‘Well, if I do that every day, I’ll be all right.”

He was self-conscious at first. “The first run I did very early in the morning, and I wore a hat and I wore like a snood almost up to the top of my eyes, because I didn’t want anyone to see me or to think, ‘What’s  he doing?’” It wasn’t the virus he was concerned about, he just didn’t want people to see him running. “Yeah, couldn’t think of anything worse,” he recalls.

 “For the first six weeks, it was only just to lose weight. Literally, as I was running, the conversation that I was having with myself was, ‘If you do this, you will lose weight and everything will get better.” Then one morning, he spent his run thinking about what he wanted to accomplish that day. “And then I finished and I was like, ‘That was different,’ ‘cause that wasn’t necessarily about just finishing it and I’ll lose weight. That was for something else. And then that was kind of the turning block where I was like, ‘Actually, it was all right; I got something else out of that.’ Then it just slowly turned into, ‘I wonder if I could do this; I wonder if I could do that.’”

Running wasn’t about losing weight anymore, it was something he enjoyed and did for himself. He didn’t care anymore if people knew he ran, which was a good thing, because the first time he posted about a run on Instagram, it wound up on the front page of the Daily Mail. By the end of lockdown, 3 months after he’d started running, he was logging half marathon distance.

And while Colson no longer runs to lose weight, that’s exactly what happened. Before he started running, “I was very much a restrictive eater,” he says. “I wouldn’t eat at all, and then I would eat three meals in one go. After I’d done that, out of embarrassment and annoyance, I would punish myself and I would be like, ‘Right. Well, I’m not gonna eat again.’ So then I wouldn’t eat for another day, and then I’d be that hungry that when I did eat, I was absolutely starving. And that was a cycle that I would get into.” He’s mindful of not falling back into old ways, but overall, “I actually find now that the balance that I have between my gym, my running, my food, my work life, my personal life, my routine, I feel like I’m in quite a lot of control there, which  is a very good thing for me because I don’t know if I ever felt like that was going to happen.”

From the time that he started running, Colson viewed being able to complete a marathon in a desired time as the pinnacle of goal-setting. He registered for this year’s Stockholm Marathon, and initially only told his family. But his followers had grown accustomed to him sharing his runs, and when he didn’t post anything for weeks, they grew concerned – was he injured? He put it out on his Instagram that he was running Stockholm, but, he says, “The thing that was constantly in my head was if I have a bad run, a journalist is literally going to search my name in race results. And if I’ve done it in a time that I don’t want anyone to know, they’re going to know. So it was that external pressure that I had on myself where I was like, ‘What if I get Did Not Finish?’ They’re gonna know.”

His race didn’t go as he had planned. Sweden has a ban on some single-use plastics, and uses paper cups rather than plastic bottles at races. Being unused to them, Colson had a hard time taking in enough fluids and developed severe leg cramps. Luckily he saw his father and sister along the course and told them he was struggling. They met him with a bottle of water and electrolyte tablets a few kilometers further on, and he was able to finish. He was disappointed with his time because he knew that he was capable of a faster race, but it was more than respectable: 3:44, putting him in the top 4% of finishers. 

Now though, with time to reflect, he’s rightly proud of what he accomplished. And more than that, he recognizes that it’s the running itself that’s important.  “I think the key thing that I have learned and the thing that changed my complete enjoyment for running is the reasons that I was doing it. When I was going out and I was running for losing weight, I wasn’t enjoying it. As soon as I worked out that I was actually running for me, that’s what changed it all.”


Colson’s Instagram

Colson’s Twitter

The Sofa Cinema Club podcast

The Sofa Cinema Club Instagram

Colson’s short film, Bored of Being the Fat Kid

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