Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When Giving Up is For the Best

I cannot recall at the moment (and presently have no patience for research) if I have discussed my suspected mental illness.  Nothing major at this point, but I have running to thank for that.  I could not say that six years ago.  There was a crap job with no support from management.  There were financial issues that I am still dealing with today.  There was quiet a bit of questioning of my self.  One constant during that time was that I drank.

Let me make one thing clear now - this is not a general rant against alcohol.  Society is not ruined by the manufacture, distribution, sale or consumption of alcohol.  But it does not come with out problems.  However, the question of prohibition was settles ninety years ago.  So drink.  Enjoy.  But please... be responsible.

My issue is how my body deals with the physical process of metabolizing alcohol and its effects on my emotions.  Not the drunken I LOVE YOU MAN crap that we love to laugh about.  More like the quite tempered, nasty, angry, hateful things that can surface when the mind is compromised.

After moving to my current locale five years ago, I secured a stash of discarded mini-bottles.  Bourbon.  Scotch.  Vodka.  Etc.  I would come home every day and have a drink or two.  Not the end of the world.  Plenty of people do the same.  Besides, I was not drinking and driving.  But I was not participating in the functioning of the household.  I was not being an active father.  Nor was I being an attentive spouse.  I was just being.  And that sucked.  My weight was also creeping up.  Unattractive in so many ways.

Things changed when I stumbled upon marathons.  I figured to seriously train I should consider drinking less.  There was also that promise to Andria that I would not buy alcohol since we were so strapped for cash.  Kept that promise.  For a while.  Sometimes the lessons just won't stick.

Beer would still make me sleepy.  It wrecked motivation.  Sure, it was short term.  But when you live in the moment sometimes "short term" is all you have.  And here in lies the greatest lesson from my first ultra.

I knew that after finishing the run I would want a beer... or three.  That keg in the Lumberjack basecamp was sweet.  Beer at 10am never tasted so good.  And the four local brews I downed back in the Portland hotel room that night were awesome.  Even a few drinks with the guys at 3 Non Joggers made for a nice evening.

Then I had a thought.

The keg around the camp fire was communal.  The visit with 3NJ was social.  While I did not need the alcohol to enjoy myself, the focus was not on drinking.  The focus was on spending time with some truly awesome people who are doing things I really admire.  Beers were just part of the process.

However, usually when I drink I drink solo.  My wife is not a drinker except for special occasions.  Maybe one glass of wine a month.  Again, no reason really.  So when I do drink - alone - the social aspect is missing.  And with the absence of a social framework all I am left with is the alcohol-induced fatigue and whatever mental minefield lay in wait.  The fuse is lit.  And it is short.

The beauty of running Lumberjack - and possibly running ultras in general - is that I was in a blissful state of exhaustion for a week afterward.  It was nearly euphoric.  I reveled in the experience.  This may be one more reason why I want to continue running ultras.

So I decided that I would take a new tact with my drinking.  Since I like beer I would not quit completely, but rather, I would abstain till race day.  I would reward myself for a hard run training cycle.  Seemed like a solid plan.  Then I bought a six pack of beer.  When Andria saw me bring it in the house she knew it was a mistake.

I told her of my plan.  She liked it.  Would save money and help me be more present.  But by buying that six pack I had already given up on something I had carefully considered.  Time to try again.

A friend said she quit alcohol completely to achieve clarity in an otherwise cloudy life.  By all accounts it is working.  I think I have clarity.  What I need is commitment.  So I drank my last on Monday evening.

My next race is August 14th.  After that is October 29-30th.  This personal prohibition only covers half marathons and longer.  I want to feel I earned that next beer.  A 5k or 10k just doesn't cut it with this plan.

What I have realized is that running has replaced alcohol for me to some degree.  Some people drink to mellow out.  Check.  Some people drink to improve their self-esteem.  Check.  Some people drink to shove aside some emotional baggage.  Check.  Running has done the first two.  Running is helping me work through the third.

Basically running is helping me become a better me.  I have tried therapy but I was left with the same doubts and concerns.  I have tried medication, but potential side effects and symptoms of withdrawal are unwelcome.  Any day with a bad run is still a good day.

So don't be self-conscious about drinking in my presence.  I will not get preachy.  Its my thing and I am fine with my decision.  You do your thing.  But if you feel obligated to offer me a beer, I'll have to ask you to keep it on ice till I finish my next race.  Then I'd love one.


  1. We all have our addictions. I'd rather be addicted to running than anything else ;-)

  2. That is where the balance comes in.

  3. Excellent post Logan! I do the same thing while I'm "in-training." Except, I allow myself a drink after every race, no matter the distance. During the past few weeks (since Boston) I've been wallowing in self-pity and having a couple of beers just about every night. Last night some friends came over and I had four beers. This morning I woke-up slightly dehydrated with a mild headache and told myself it's definitely time to go back into "training mode."

  4. Beautifully stated, Logan.

  5. Thanks for sharing! I only drink every once in awhile because I hate how crappy it makes the training the next day. My favorite quote was "Any day with a bad run is still a good day"

  6. As I read what you wrote, I was taken back to reading some thoughts by my friend C. She has not had a drink since January of 2010. She described her life as a foggy prior to giving up that glass of wine every night.

    I go through periods - periods where I have a drink now and then or more than one - periods where I hardly ever touch alcohol.

    Good luck to you in whatever awesomeness you choose in your life!

  7. Logan, I gave up booze about ten years ago. I didn't have a problem with booze at all but I felt like with all of the training I was doing there was no need to put poison into my body. It doesn't bother me when someone else drinks. I don't think not drinking makes me better than the next guy. It is just something I chose to do. And it was easy.

  8. I swear you are the onion to my shallot. We both have layers but have our slight differences. I think my mom's smoking habit kept me from smoking and my own attempts to be cool have kept me from drinking. I couldn't stand either substance so never tried to get addicted to them. I have my own addiction though, and it's one I will likely carry to my grave. Nothing illegal mind you, but enough to make me a social leper if I discussed it openly. And like you and others, I've found that running has slowly begun to replace that addiction. I still want the rush, I still want to chase that white rabbit, but now I do it in a way that betters myself physically and mentally.

  9. Great post Logan. I myself didn't drink till I was 26. All the BS that happened for me a few years ago changed that. I didn't start drinking out of self pity, but out of my desire to explore and try something new. Whenever I travel I try and take some time to try some local brew or tour a brewery. I rarely if ever get drunk though. I hate feeling drunk and dealing with hangovers so I usually only have 1 or 2 brews and switch to drinking water.

  10. That is awesome. I have battled many things in my life. I am full of addictions. I have changed from Booze to drugs to booze to work and too food. I found triathlons last year and I am now addicted to working out. Working out so much still provides some house hold stress. But the side effects and the clarity are much better then previous addictions. Plus I am not as FAT now. I can relate with this sooo much. Great post.

  11. I can relate so much to this. I used to drink a lot, functioning alcoholic as they like to call it. When I started getting more into running I drank less, you can't go on a bender the night before a long run! I like your plan to not drink until race day. That's a tough challenge to pur yourself to, but putting it on here will help I think. Good luck with it!

  12. Thanks for the post, I stumbled on your blog and relate to your journey. Cheers! May running continue to feed your soul and nourish your love for life!
    Here is my blog!