I have to do five things, all the time, to stay comfortable in sobriety. Running is one of them.
I’ve been an off and on runner (mostly off) for a couple of decades. Here’s my cyclical running pattern.
- Don’t run for a year or more.
- Go for one two-mile run.
- Sign up for a marathon.
- Run for a couple of months.
- Begin earnest self-loathing.
- Repeat every other year.
Like that. Over and over, like that almost-invisible seam on my treadmill belt.
And let me take a moment to define “run” here for anyone who might have the wrong impression. I have a dream that, someday, I’ll run a ten-minute mile. Just one. That’s enough. No need to kill myself trying harder than that. My typical pace for years has been a twelve-minute-mile and yes I think you should stop laughing because that’s mean.
When I got sober, it was like someone turned up the volume on WCRZY but didn’t tune in the dial very precisely. Every thought I had was loud and staticky. Every emotion I emoted was warped, reflected back to me like my psyche was now a wall of funhouse mirrors. My skin felt too tight on my body. My brain felt squeezed and constrained. Nothing made sense.
I started running that spring to outrun the crazy. I ran like I had not run before. I laced up, jammed earbuds into my head, and ran like my ass was on fire. The goal was not fitness. Not a marathon. Not cardiac health or weight loss. The goal was the flood of opiate-like, warm ooze of endorphins that filled the spaces between all my nerves. The neuron-silencing sludge (I imagine it like cheese fondue), once released, smothered the crazy as long as I limped home with nothing left to give. As they say, I left “it” all on the road. (“It” = crazy.)
My favorite run, in early sobriety, involved a steep hill near my house. I didn’t run it so much as I hurled my body at it as hard as I could. With Taylor Swift or Panic at the Disco or Billy Joel (don’t judge) drowning out every natural sound (including my own pained breathing), I pounded, sprinting, up the asphalt incline until the topography rounded off at the summit. Then I turned, jogged down, and did it again. And again. And again. I called them “hill repeats” but it was less organized, less well-thought-out (aka, less healthy) than that. The goal was physical and emotional oblivion, which was always the goal when I was drinking too, so you could say I was merely playing to my strengths. I didn’t pay attention to how far or how fast or what the schedule was or how many weeks were left to cram in a training schedule: I just ran until I couldn’t lift my feet anymore and/or until I was weeping with exhaustion and/or until I was ready to puke in the neighbor’s yard, and then I dragged myself home to make dinner.
Eventually, the running-related psychosis faded, but the running persisted. Eventually, I stopped running until every muscle cried out in pain and/or I was out of daylight and/or every footfall was accompanied by the sound of me dropping the f-bomb, and I started running because it felt good. (Who knew?) Now using my body for good instead of evil, I started rewarding this excellent behavior with regular purchase of gear which is still cheaper than what I used to spend on wine even thought I usually bought the cheap stuff. I now own more zip-up, stretchy, warm-even-when-wet, visible-from-space athletic wear than is reasonable for someone of my current physique. (There are people who become rail thin from running. I am not one of those people. I maybe, a little bit, hate those people.)
Last fall, I ran a seven-mile trail race that reminded me a lot of sobriety. It was hard, but I knew how to do it. It was damp and sort of cold, but the scenery was really nice. I fell down a lot which made me mad, but I used my anger like the sobriety Jedi I have become. There was cake at the end, and I legit earned a lot of bragging rights which I’m using right now as I type this to all of you. Running is a lot like sobriety: it’s hard but it comes with swagger if you do it right.
Here’s the bad news about sobriety: it gets easier, but never full-on easy. Some days, when some asshole offers me a beer or I remember that the whole world is drinking without me (and by “remember” I mean “make up a story in which”), WCRZY comes blaring back, sucking up all the air in the world. I can’t avoid it, but I can outrun it because crazy has topped out at a 13-minute mile, and I’m now running 11.5’s on the regular. Buh bye, crazy! See you at the finish line.