When I was at university, I ran the first couple of City to Surf fun runs and played a few different sports. I ran my first marathon in 1981. Three years later, alcohol became a part of my life.
Part of the problem with alcohol abuse is that you lose your self-respect. You tell yourself “today will be the last day”. You make a solemn promise to yourself and then you fail, day in and day out. You can’t even keep the vow you’ve imposed for 24 hours. You break it. And so your self-worth, your self-respect disappears.
At alcoholics anonymous, a lot of people get up and say “I was an alcoholic for so many years and x,y and z.” I’m not sure how listening to other people’s devastating stories makes you recover. That’s the theory behind AA, but in truth I got bored listening to the stories.
I decided that to recover I have to be comfortable with myself, whoever that truly is. Warts and all. When I went into rehab in 1997 I asked the doctor if I could run each morning. He wasn’t happy about giving me permission to leave the grounds, but I convinced him that I was a safe bet. And so each morning, I’d get up at 5.30 and run.
Becoming comfortable with myself brought me peace. When I stopped drinking, I was happy with the person I found.
Since 1997 I’ve run 147 marathons and counting. I’ve done two 100 km races, six 100 milers and a 240km race. I’m not addicted to running, necessarily, but I’m comforted by the effect that running has. My health, the self-worth, the respect of others for what I do and the knowledge I have. And I respect myself because I believe I have a value that’s external to me and appreciated by others. My self-worth is reinforced by achievement. It’s not running that’s the addiction, it’s the consequences of the running. I need these things reinforced on a regular basis.
Alcohol took me away from the person that I was. Running brought me back.