An Ode to the Old-Timers in Running and in AA

September 1, 2017

Often in AA, the only thing a newcomer hears or remembers hearing when they first come in is “you don’t have to drink ever again.” Because we are like drowning men and women about to take our last breath when we first arrive, we cling to this statement of hope like a rescue raft thrown to us in the midst of a mighty storm. We look around and we listen to people just like us in kind, who tell about how they too were powerless over alcohol and hopeless and how they took “certain Steps” that sometimes made no sense and even seemed contrary to their natural instincts, and as a result, achieved sobriety in addition to a new outlook on life in which they could be useful to others and to a God of their understanding.

As newcomers, we sense that these people have a solution to offer because their stories are so real to us in and their laughter and their enthusiasm for living so contagious.

With all the desperation of a drowning man.
With all the desperation of a drowning man.

Just as we say to newcomers in AA, “you don’t have to drink ever again,” I think it is our responsibility as “old-timers” in the running world to say to relative newcomers, “you don’t have to be sidelined by injury ever again.”  If you have run long distance for any significant length of time, especially without the benefit of a coach or an experienced group, you probably, like many of us, battled every running injury under the sun as well as some you never even thought possible.  Almost as a rule, and especially if we have an alcoholic nature, we run too fast, too soon and we take off at full speed without any real idea about how to move our bodies in ways that will protect us from harm.  We end up injured, frustrated and craving the very thing which was the seeming cause of our woes. 

Any alcoholic will tell you that they can relate to the aforementioned chain of events and accompanying emotions.  But was running and/or alcohol really the cause of our wipeout or was it the underlying causes within ourselves that caused the eventual wipeout?  I think you can hazard the correct answer should you think about it with even just a small degree of honesty.

It’s funny, when you have spent a few years on the roads and the trails, people start to take notice and some begin to ask questions like “how far should I run, how often, and how do I stick with it?”  We, who have run “the trials of miles and miles of trials,” smile, and we offer the best we have, but we know our words are just paltry substitutes for the solitary work that needs to happen – not just tomorrow, not next week or next year, but for the rest of our lives, God willing. 

Similarly, the old-timers in AA smile at us newcomers and they offer up their slogans like “Live and Let Live, First Things First, and Easy Does It,” but they know their words fall short as well, because they know that there is much work ahead of us in The Twelve Steps, work that we are ultimately responsible for and that we will never fully complete, God willing.

So to you new to running, we say “you don’t have to be sidelined by injury ever again.” There are a myriad of ways to move your body and adjust your posture so that this pain here or there dissipates, and you can run on, one step after another.  You will learn more all the time over the many miles ahead and the more miles you run, the more you will learn.”  As the Big Book of AA says, “God will constantly disclose more to you and to us” (164) and isn’t this true of the AA way of life as well?  The more we practice this AA way of life, the more we learn and though over time we gain wisdom and strength just as in running, we will never be done; there will always be more to learn because of new pains, new trials and new boundaries to overcome.  I can never “catch” the old-timers in AA who have lived The Twelve Steps and Traditions to the best of their ability because there is no substitute for the time and “the miles” they have put in. 

They are much like the old-timers in running – listen to runners like Ann Trason, Frank Bozanich, Karl Meltzer, Errol “Rocket” Jones, or Wally Hesseltine (courtesy of Ultrarunner Podcast), to name a few, and you quickly realize that they their wisdom is not only unmistakable and sound, but that it has gained shape and beauty because it has been long exposed to the sunlight and the darkness, to the wind and the rain and the fire within, that can only be gained over many years, even decades on the roads and the trails.

And so to you new to AA, we say “you don’t have to drink ever again. – we have a set of Steps for you to follow and as you move forward in them, you will “run with endurance the race set before you”  (Hebrews 12:1).  You may even find yourself in sobriety someday, lacing up an old pair of sneakers and heading out the door for a run, in search of “The Great Reality deep down within you” (55).  Should you decide to trudge this “road of Happy Destiny,” we echo the words in our Big Book, “May God bless you and keep you – until then” (164).

AA Grapevine “At Wit’s End” joke of the week:

A young boy says to his father, “Dad, when I grow up I want to be an alcoholic just like you”

The father replies to the son, “Sorry son, you can’t do both “

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