How Whiskey Got Me Running
Other than a brief foray into running when I turned 40 last year, I have never been a runner. For years I claimed a moral opposition to running. My friends knew that if they saw me running it meant something terrifying was chasing me.That’s how much I hated it.
Then we had our annual ‘family-friendly’ party this past New Year’s Eve (that culturally-approved holiday of excessive alcohol and ridiculous stories). By family-friendly, I meant potluck dinner and a movie for kids in the other room while the adults drank from an array of cans and bottles.
We all live in the neighborhood so people were walking home or driving just a few houses away, and anyone was welcome to stay the night if they needed. We were responsible adults this night.
During a round of whiskey shots (because champagne was not enough) my friend said, “You should sign up for the Clam Beach Run with me.”
I looked at my shot of whiskey, asked how long the run was and could I walk if needed. My friend assured me I could, so I held up my glass.
“Let’s do it!”
We clinked glasses, the alcoholic handshake. The deal was done.
Honestly, the details are fuzzy. I remember the shot of whiskey that went with her proposal, but I swear she told me it was a 5K.
A few more weeks of drinking passed before I had my, at present, last drink. I began to worry about this Clam Beach Run.
I learned that the run was actually 10K! Twice as long as what whiskey fogged me signed up for.
Things were looking more difficult.
My goal for success.
I decided to come up with an achievable goal. One I could live with.
I did not want to put any expectations on myself that would cause me to fail. I knew I could not run six miles. I struggled to complete one.
But if I could make it across the finish line before they take it down…that seemed possible.
I have tried this approach with avoiding alcohol, and so far it is working. I don’t have a date set or expectations for how long I won’t drink. Because as soon as I do I will obsess. I will rebel and I will fail.
I do not want to be disappointed in myself.
If I do not drink today, it will be a success.
I have never attended an AA meeting, but through friends that do I have learned to associate this phrase, ‘one day at a time’, as an ally for sobriety. The days that led up to the race, I was easily able to put off having a drink, because it wasn’t forever.
What were five more days without a drink? Four? Two? I could have a drink afterwards. Saying I will never have another drink is absolutely terrifying, and honestly, at this point, feels like a lie. But saying I won’t have a drink for this week, or even this day, is something I can accomplish.
So with the pressure off, knowing I just needed to put one foot in front of the other and cross the finish line while it was still standing, I began to jog occasionally.
We joined the new gym up the road so our kids could swim in the pool and get more exercise. I started jogging on the treadmill when it was too cold to be outside and found that it was kind of enjoyable.
I turned my focus to preparing enough to not collapse during the 10K coming up. All of this preparation for the race was a great advocate for staying away from alcohol. It was a a distraction, something to do in place of drinking. A thing that made me feel great in my body, when alcohol usually didn’t.
The day of the race came up, excitement and nerves kept me bouncing, but I had slept well the night before, intentionally getting to bed earlier than usual. I was learning to appreciate the energy from a good night’s sleep and no alcohol-induced fatigue. I began at the starting line with my friends.
The shot rang out and off we went. I knew to keep a steady pace if I wanted to finish this thing without collapsing. I was quickly passed by the first half of the crowd, which included children and a guy in a pig costume. But I kept moving.
Every time I wondered how in the hell was I going to finish this, I thought of getting passed by a guy in a pig suit, and the humor in that kept me going. Sooner than expected, I saw the one-mile mark and then the second-mile mark, and I was still jogging (albeit slowly).
Never in my life had I run two miles at once, and here I was! That moment was victorious!
I’ll spare the details of the race, other than to say that once we hit the beach and had 3 more miles, it got hard. Very hard. I walked more than I had on the road. I had feelings of frustration, doubt, boredom. I was beginning to think I would not make it.
But then I saw the big, beautiful inflatable finish line up ahead, far up ahead but still close enough to keep me moving.
I crossed that finish line with my arms up in the air, trying to mimic a marathon runner who has put in far more effort than I had. But I do love to laugh. Thankfully my friend got a picture of my finish line crossing, fanny pack and all. It makes me laugh every time.
On the other side of the finish line, I took note of my body. I felt the euphoric high of endorphins and having succeeded in something I would have thought unattainable before.
And yes, I wanted a drink.
Not at first.
I saw someone drinking a beer at the finish line and thought, what a perfect way to finish. But alas, I had no beer, and there were kids to pick up. I decided to wait until my husband was off his crabbing boat, and we could celebrate our day victories together.
But later came and I didn’t have one. The initial euphoric rush had worn off, and I was just exhausted — in a good way, a great way actually.
I wasn’t exhausted because I had stayed out too late the night before and went to bed far too late. I was exhausted because I had worked my body, ran it hard and felt the blissful effects of the comedown.
This was so much different from alcohol.
In those few weeks after the 10K, I went to the gym every day, chasing the euphoria of that run. I tried to replace my desire for a drink, or 5, with the endorphins of running. It worked.
I asked a friend, another fellow drinker on a stint of sobriety, “Is it possible to run too much? I feel like I am getting obsessed.” To which he pointed out that running is something good for my body. People say all the time they wished they didn’t drink so much, no one ever says they feel bad for running too much.
I got the point. If running kept me from drinking, then keep running. On some evenings, when the atmosphere was perfect for a beer or a glass of wine, I was able to pop down to the gym and run it off. Or at least distract myself with running until the craving passed.
If I wanted a drink but couldn’t leave the house, I did push-ups in the kitchen, jumping jacks or a dance party with my kids. I learned to use the activity to get through cravings, and feeling physically good helped quiet them. I learned to not put expectations on myself other than the moment that was right in front of me.
I have since mellowed on the running, happy with getting a mile or so in. Now it is more about trying to get in shape and be stronger rather than seeking that runner’s high. But going to the gym and running is definitely a part of my present success at not drinking.
I want to pause on that word. If there is any success to be had at this “not drinking” thing, it is in that word.
I still love the identity of myself that can party all night, be fun and wild and let loose and put back the whiskey like the Scottish blood I pride myself on. (I can hear her now, “Remember when I didn’t drink, that was dumb!”)
To say she won’t make an appearance ever again feels like it would lead to a rebellion, and ultimately a failure. I very likely will see her again.
But presently, at this moment, she is sleeping. And I am off for a run.