The major influence on this website and podcast is rooted in my AA experience and the realization that alcoholics have many of the essential ingredients that life-long runners have and need.
I attend two AA meetings in my area faithfully and am in contact regularly with twelve or so people in those meetings. Of these twelve people, I have learned that eight of them have a history with running and/or a keen interest in it. Is it just coincidence, or is it, more likely, a natural tendency towards the suffering and transcendence of running? Over time, as I got to know and trust these wonderful people, they learned about my relationship with running and they persisted in asking about my upcoming races and training habits. They began to share their relationships with running and their experiences with it.
Take Ike for example. Ike is about 35 now and was an absolute wild man who got sober in AA about 8 years ago – he went hard when he was out there. Ike was asking lots of questions about my running last year and then one day shortly after the 2016 Boston Marathon, I came in to our Friday meeting and Ike tells me he has signed up for a marathon in the fall and that he is going to do it come hell or high water. And I believe him because he is grinning that shit grin of his and I know how stubborn we alcoholics can be. And I am overwhelmingly happy for him. And by golly, he did it, in good time too. No 5k’s, 10k’s, no half marathon for Ike – nope, give him the 60 ouncer and let him have it like any good alcoholic. His first marathon was not good enough for a Boston qualifier, but he’s chasing one down this coming fall – crazy bugger. I love him and his stubborn determination.
Then there is Marcus. Marcus is 62. He went real hard out there too and finally crashed his car into a cemetery, hit a tree, banged himself up real bad and decided it was time to give AA a try. That was about 21 years ago. It sounds like Marus got sober on his own for about 2 years when he was 27 or 28. Ran like crazy and ran like the wind too. He’s got a runner’s body and I totally believe him when he says he was pounding out 6 minute miles for 30 or 40 kilometers with some other talented local guys in the early 1980’s. When Marcus talks about running and asks me about it, you can just tell he’s been there, ya’ know? – I would secretly love to see him strap on a pair of vintage Nike Waffles and hit the pavement again. He’d be tough and graceful, no doubt about it.
How about Joe? Joe is 55 or so and has been sober for about 6 years. Joe has a Black Belt and he’s mentioned how he used to run 10 kilometers everyday around his country block for years when he was active in martial arts. Joe is a stalwart of humility and he’s pretty quiet, so I’m not quite sure how life and drinking got sideways on him. I’m looking forward to hearing his whole story some day and in the meantime, I gave him Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running book on his 5th AA birthday (which he didn’t attend out of humility) in hopes that he dons a pair of trainers and hits the country block again.
Then there’s the “other” Joe. Joe is around 60 and has been sober for over 25 years. Joe remembers faithfully running cross-country in high school and recounts one particular epic run that they did when they ran about 20 kilometers and he started bonking real hard towards the end of it. He says they grabbed some apples off a tree on a country road and claims that he has never tasted something so good in his life. That apple brought him and his teammates out of the dark and they finished feeling good and triumphant. Joe may never run again, but I really respect his adherence to AA’s Steps and Traditions and his penchant for AA service. Joe always asks about my races and training and I think he likes to know what could have been if King Alcohol didn’t cut him down so early in life.
And then there’s Tara. Tara is 45 and has been sober for about 10 years. Tara is a beautiful, smart, professional woman who doesn’t seem to realize her potential at times and this seems to be true in her running as well. She took up running a couple of years ago after quitting smoking and I think she loses confidence when she looks at what others are doing. Her passion for running has waned in the last year or so, but I think that with subtle encouragement and the realization that she doesn’t have to run like anyone else, she will make a beautiful runner which is a match for her spirit and her character.
My good buddy, Manfred. Manfred is about 50 and has been sober for a year and a half. He has run at different times in his life too. He has a real appreciation for nature, tranquility, and its healing power. Manfred has dropped about thirty alcoholic pounds and is almost ready to take up running again in the next month or two. I can’t wait to lope alongside him and take in all the beauty that our trails have to offer and the good conversation and banter that will surely see us smiling and belly-laughing over many gentle miles.
Enter Hutch. Hutch is 60 or so and has about 8 months of sobriety. Hutch has been pretty badly mangled by King Alcohol, but it is a beautiful thing to watch him to come to life and to see him slowly but surely claw his way out with the grace of God, the help of our Fellowship and his beginnings on The Steps. Hutch has also mentioned how he used to run pretty regularly at various periods in his life and I’m looking forward to bringing some of my running shoe collection for him to choose from in hopes that he decides to give it a try again. God only knows how running might be able to smooth out some of the chemical imbalances and damage that alcohol has wrought in him.
And last but not least, is my sponsor, Will. Will is, as I mentioned above, 82 years old. Wills’ running years, which never existed in the first place, are over. However, he has taken a keen interest in the pursuit of running and in my relationship with it. As a matter of fact, in the beginning of my sobriety, he told me that if I applied the same determination, stubbornness, and stick-to-it-ness to the practices and principles of AA as in my running, I would have a very good chance of lasting recovery. So far, this has proven to be true. Will reads just about anything he can get his hands on and I recently lent him a copy of George Sheehan’s “The Essential George Sheehan.” It was astonishing to see how he linked the AA way of life to the life of a dedicated runner. He quickly recognized in the runner, as in the recovered AA member, a desire and sustained effort to buck the norms and expectations of mainstream society, and to strive always and bit by bit, to break free of oneself and hopefully receive enough perspective to be of meaningful service to others and to one’s Creator. It was amazing to see how Will picked up so perceptively on this “fourth dimension” in Mr. Sheehan’s writing and running.
Will would have been the toughest of runners, one of those who break barriers of age and reason, like a Wally Hesseltine, Dave Mackey or Kacy Lichteig. I realize that I only have so much time left with my sponsor – this man who helped save my life and who loves me like a son. Though I don’t always live like we have limited time left together, I hope that my actions in AA, in running, and in my life show him how much I love him and how his example of carrying the message has influenced me so deeply.
So that’s well over half of the regular AA’s I associate with, who have a history with running or an affinity for it. Call it coincidence, but in AA, we call it the grace of God. Ever notice the widespread use and glorification of alcohol in our society? Well, I can guarantee us AA’s have!! How about its use and glorification in the world of running as we know it? Enter The Beer Mile, The Beer Half Marathon, wine and beer races galore, beer-related race swag, finish line beer tents, Ginger Runner’s “beverage of choice,” Ultrarunner Podcast’s staple fartlek question,“what’s your favorite beer?” and Jamil Coury’s Mountain Outhouse News‘ “Whiskey Man.”
I love all three shows immensely, but have you noticed this obsession, dear reader? Or is it just the obsession of the mind persisting in me that takes notice? Let me be clear: I am not against all the above-mentioned and as a matter of fact, I can celebrate the humor in all of it right alongside you with an electrolyte beverage in hand, but now that I’m on the other side of it, I can’t help but question the prevalence of it in our sport. I mean, perhaps no other sport so clearly enhances one’s fortitude and spiritual connectedness as running, and at times it seems to me that we could do without all the booze and simply run, free of this world’s expectations and advertising chains, kind of like a primitive being in search of the purpose of one’s life and one’s place in the heart of this wonderful Creation. But hey, I’m the alcoholic, I’m the one who drowned myself for years in its death grip and you dear reader, probably did not, so “bottoms up” my friend and let’s be brothers and sisters of The Spirit on the roads and the trails, regardless of my skewed perception. As an AA, we are taught to always practice love and tolerance and in regards to alcohol and running, I must do the same, provided I am in fit spiritual condition as our Big Book says. So for those of you tuning in as runners who are recovered alcoholics and/or runners who may be potential or real alcoholics, this is our story and I hope that you have the opportunity, through God’s grace and this online mode of communication, to celebrate this crazy sport and our sobriety, while reaching out to those still suffering.