Drinking Less - The Unintended Consequences of Running
I didn't plan to stop drinking as much, but running made it less attractive.
I’m getting ready for a guys golf trip this weekend. In the past, I looked forward to getting drunk with friends, hanging out late, and eating bad. Typical guy stuff.
Today, I’m looking forward to hanging out with my friends, playing golf, and going for a run with the friend responsible for righting my ship.
How Watching An Ironman Transition Helped Me Transition Into a Runner
Last year, right when I was beginning to train for my first sprint triathlon, my college roommate ran a half Ironman. My wife, my daughter, and I visited Chattanooga, TN to cheer him on.
It was more than a race. It was the culmination of his training that coincided with a year of sobriety.
Seeing him move through transition—where athletes go from swim to bike or bike to run—was surreal.
I didn’t recognize the boy who started college with me. This was not the kid with whom I spent far too many late nights drinking countless beers and Jäger bombs. Where was the guy who was capable of eating half an XL pizza in one sitting?
He was a shadow of his former self in physical size and in demeanor.
It wasn’t inspiring, it was perspective shifting.
Witnessing him cross the finish line was the catalyst. I returned home ready to tackle my race.
The First Pause, Then The Near Full Stop For Drinking
As I trained more the sprint triathlon, I drank way less. I enjoyed Gin-Free and Tonics and non-alcoholic beer. It was another transition.
But after my race came the fall weather. That’s always been my cue for red wine season. Nights by the fire with a glass (or three) were comforting. Plus, I had spent the last 4 years working hard on wine certifications and in the wine industry. So, drinking wine felt like the default.
Soon the holidays rolled around and the wine continued to flow.
That is until Christmas.
Holidays were another time for excess. Lots of wine and fun, but this past year something felt different.
After a celebratory glass of Krug champagne in the early Christmas afternoon, and I felt I had enough. So, I told my wife that I wasn’t going to drink. This would be my first soberish Christmas since turning 21.
While at first it felt weird, it soon became a treasured Christmas.
My daughter encouraged everyone to sing carols around the dinner table, and we all took different days for the 12 Days of Christmas. Unknowingly, she renewed a tradition from my youth and created a spontaneous tribute to my grandmother who had recently passed away, whose singing of “5 Golden Rings” is unrivaled.
I have that memory available on demand, anytime in crystal clear HD. I can place myself there in an instant. There’s no fuzziness or haze from too much drink.
A Dry-ish January
When it gets to January, I’m in a bit of trouble because my birthday follows New Years. And the holidays’ excess gets super sized. This year, I also celebrated a work anniversary, so there was more champagne than usual.
But the wine stopped soon.
My change in consumption was affected by:
Reading 80/20 Running
Doing the Week of Slow
Committing to my first half marathon
These aren’t silver bullet for quitting booze, but they shaped my brain around training and getting better.
And the more I trained, the less I wanted to drink. Alcohol lost its appeal.
Late in January, I headed out for a monthly ritual where I get together with my buddies at a bar and we play Golden Tee. I had two beers, and I was satiated.
I can’t remember the last time two beers was enough.
Becoming a Cheap Date And Feeling Cheap
In preparation for the upcoming golf trip, I invited my Dad to the golf dome (an indoor golf range) for some practice prior to this weekend’s vacation. I spent many winter Saturdays with my Dad at the golf dome—or as we called it “the bubble.”
My Dad wanted to get a beer with me. And it’s something that he looks forward to, so I reluctantly ordered one.
While the beer tasted good, I didn’t need or want all that much. I had about half in the time my Dad had one.
Somehow in only 4 weeks time, alcohol had fallen out of favor.
What was even wilder is that I felt a little buzzed after drinking.
And I didn’t like it.
In a flash, I missed the clear-headed nature I achieved through running. Drinking had never felt wrong, but this felt like guilt. This felt like I broke some rule. But I didn’t make a rule, I didn’t even make a choice.
It was as if running made the choice for me.
What Does A Future Of Drinking Less Look Like?
Honestly, this question scares me a little.
I’m not worried about the social nature of alcohol, I feel that I have a decent handle on that.
What does rattle me?
It is the time and money I’ve invested in wine. I have accumulated a large wine collection—I purchased bottles for drinking 5-10 years beyond their purchase date. And I have a wine newsletter and wine book that I’ve been writing for over a year.
This is a strange crossroads.
I’m not reluctant to move forward, that’s something I want. But I’m unsure as to how.
Do I sell it all? Do I stop publishing? Will my tastes change again? What about that bottle I have saved for our anniversary?
The only comparison I can draw is to quitting smoking–which I did twice.
Quitting Smoking The First Time
The first time was a moment of clarity. It was college, I was at the intersection of 6th and Green at the University of Illinois. Cigarette in hand, I was walking home from class.
As I looked down, I thought, “What am I doing? I don’t even enjoy this anymore.”
Yes, I used to like smoking. The smell, the taste, the ritual. There was a time where I’d roll my own cigarettes. But now, smoking was so engrained in me that I was doing it unconsciously.
Just like that, I asked the guy next to me, “Hey, do you smoke?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Do you want these? I’m done.”
I handed him the nearly full pack. And off I went.
Five days later, I was in a world of hurt. The physical withdrawals were so bad that I turned into a demon. In fact, I slapped my Ironman roommate across the face. A regret I carry to this day.
And yes, alcohol was involved, but only smoking was blamed.
Quitting Smoking The Second Time
That summer, I would study abroad in Spain.
My host mother and her boyfriend picked me up from the hostel and drove me to their house. They chain smoked for the entire ride. The car filled with an intoxicating aroma.
When I arrived at the home of my host mother, they had an America buffet waiting for me: a handle of Jack Daniels and a carton of Marlboro Reds with Elvis playing in the background.
I knew in that moment I couldn’t beat them. So, I joined them.
My last cigarette was in the Madrid airport before a long flight home. Somehow, I managed to leave smoking in Spain.
When compared to smoking, I feel like I’ve not yet quit drinking for the first time.
Time To Create New Memories
To be honest with myself, I’ll probably have a beer or a real Gin and Tonic. But even as I type that, it doesn’t sound authentic anymore.
What’re more real is my response to my college roommate’s text:
The last time we ran together was during college.
We, along with our other college buddies, ran a mile before a 24 hour drinking challenge. We thought we should do “something healthy” before destroying our bodies with booze.
I felt like death.
Not from the drinking challenge, but from the run.
Flushed, sweaty, and ready to throw up, I worried if I was going to be able to hang and continue drinking as planned. I was embarrassed by my lack of fitness, but I was completely unmotivated to do anything about it.
I drank instead.
In reliving all these moments, I excited for my roommate and I to sneak out of the house early, lace up, and go for run.
I can’t imagine a better way to crush the old version of myself.
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