Last Saturday, I finally completed a full marathon. It was one of the proudest moments of my life, and so symbolic of how far I have come. I was registered for the same marathon last year, and sabotaged it by having a days-long vodka binge before the marathon, and even drinking much of the afternoon and night before. Needless to say, I didn’t finish. That I even started is amazing, but to try to finish with my body poisoned by several days of non-stop drinking would have been insane, not to mention potentially quite harmful. The shame that enveloped me after that self-imposed failure was too much and sent me on several more days-long binges last summer and into the fall. I barely ran. I barely did anything. In fact, I was barely surviving. I wrote about it here.
This year, in 2018, I am rewriting my story. Yes, there have been a couple of those shame-fueled check-out-of-life binges where I just lay on the couch with my drinks for days. And in between those are increasing numbers of days free from the grips of alcohol, working to free myself from the choke hold of shame.
I signed up for the same winter race circuit that consists of a 5k, 10k, 10 mile, half marathon, and 30K (18.6 miles). I missed the 10K due to drinking, but did well in all of the others. I placed third in my age group at the 5k on a hilly course. I crushed my previous half marathon best time by over 10 minutes, and crushed last year’s 30k time by 30 minutes! It sure does help when you aren’t hungover! As of that 30k at the end of April, I had been alcohol-free for about 50 days. I felt great, was running well, and was starting to heal. Not just physically, but emotionally, too. REALLY HEAL. And running was playing a big part in that healing. Yet in spite of the work I was doing to heal the shame-based wounds that kept driving me back to the bottles of vodka, I found myself just a couple of days after the 30k trying to escape. And escape I did, me and the vodka, laying on the couch or in my bed, for a week. Then, on May 8, I got out of bed, looked at my red, puffy face, and told myself that I deserve better. That I am worth it. That the pain of healing is better than the pain of staying stuck. That if I can run a 30k, I can get through anything. And I reminded myself of the marathon that was just a couple of weeks away.
On Friday, May 18, I was on my 11th day sober. I felt good, and excited about the marathon. I left work early to do a couple of errands and to go to the marathon expo to pick up my race packet. I was simultaneously nervous and excited. I KNEW I WAS GOING TO FINISH. While my training could have been a bit better, I had been running better than ever. I could have done a couple more longer runs, but I knew that if I could do a 30k and a mile or so cool-down after, I could finish a marathon. Not finishing was out of the question. My husband was spending that night away, as he was participating in a cycling event. In the past, I would drink myself silly on nights he was away. Not this time. I fueled my body with healthy food and lots of water. I had spent the entire week before the marathon being careful of the foods I was eating and drinking copious amounts of water.
On Saturday, May 19, I woke at 3:30am. Yes, you read that right: 3:30 AM! I needed an hour to have water, coffee, journal, meditate, and do a couple sun salutations before getting dressed. I left my house at 4:45am to get to where the busses to the start were loading. I kept thinking about how grateful I was to be able to be up and clear-headed at that hour. On the bus, I ate my banana and honey stinger waffle and sipped my pre-workout drink. I looked around at the beautiful landscape as we headed up into the mountain valley. The weather that morning was perfect: it was in the high 40s, clear, and no wind. I kept thinking about how grateful I was to be on that bus, not hungover, and about to run my first marathon.
The whole time I was running, I kept thinking how lucky I was to be there. I thought about how far I had come, and the role that running was playing on my journey to healing a lifetime of hurt, shame, and abuse. Running had become one of the most important tools in keeping me sober. I kept pushing forward through fear, shame, hurt, and lapses the same way that you push through a long run when you aren’t sure how far you can go: one step at a time and one foot in front of the other. Slowly if necessary, and fast when it feels right. Running was teaching me to tune into my body, and I was also learning to tune into my emotions in the same way. I often listened to uplifting podcasts during my runs to help me make mental shifts in how I thought about myself. I was moving from “not good enough” to “I deserve health, wealth, love, and happiness.” With each run, I learned that I was worth it. Every step I took made me stronger and gave me the courage to heal. At age 45, I was DONE being in the choke hold of shame. It was time to heal and allow myself to flourish, and running gave me the power to heal and the strength to imagine flourishing.
The first half was pretty easy, and I ran my second best half marathon time ever. I slowed down during the second half, and took walk breaks occasionally, mostly at the aid stations. I looked around in awe at the beautiful valley and mountains that surrounded us. I smiled at the volunteers at the aid stations and spectators scattered along the course. I hit mile 18 and still felt pretty good. In the race pictures taken at mile 21, I was smiling. Yeah, my legs were getting tired and sore, but how often does a person get to run down Ogden Canyon without any traffic and with people every couple of miles handing out Gatorade and water? At mile 20, I said to a young woman who looked like she was struggling, “Only 6 more miles!” She looked at me like I was nuts. “6 miles?!?” she said. In my mind, 6 miles was nothing. Then we popped out of the canyon and onto the river parkway that would take us into town. 4 miles left. 4 miles is an easy weekday run for me! Well, it turned out to be the most difficult 4 miles of my life. And the best 4 miles of my life. I had to take walk breaks. The temperature at that point had heated up to almost 70 degrees. I didn’t care. I was going to finish. No matter what. I was sober, and because I was sober, I got to do this. Sure, it was hard. But so is sitting with all the pain and shame that had been driving me back to the bottle for the past 10 years. I’d rather run 26.2 miles than confront that emotional pain. Of course, if I could run 26.2 miles, I could most certainly confront that emotional pain. I can confront that emotional pain BECAUSE I ran.
As I turned onto Grant St., I told myself only 5 blocks left. I channeled Jens Voigt, and told myself “shut up legs.” I even sped up a bit as I neared the finish line. I felt like jello, and felt elated at the same time. I was going to finish! I crossed the line at 4:56. Not fast by any means, but I DID IT! I raised my arms in victory as Metallica played in my ears. I yelled, “HOLY SHIT!” as I approached the smiling, cheering volunteers handing out medals. While walking – or maybe stumbling – around the finish area grabbing water, gatorade, and orange slices, I kept thinking that running a marathon is crazy and who the hell does that? I also felt accomplished. I did it. I beat the inner demons that wanted me to sit home drinking and wallowing in years of hurt. No more, demons. I am a RUNNER. I am a MARATHONER. I can do hard things. And I will prevail.
This year, I am rewriting my story. And I can do it because I run. I do it the same way that I run: one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and feeling gratitude the whole time.