I’m thrilled to introduce Dennis Meeks to you all. Dennis is a very kind and supportive reader of Running on Sober, and when he mentioned in a comment that he was in the midst of running thirteen marathons in twelve months . . . and doing it to get and stay sober . . . and doing it in his early-60’s, well I practically begged him to share his story with us. And I couldn’t be happier that he said yes. Reading his story of endurance, triumph and lessons learned moved me to tears; then it moved me off of my ass and got me out the door for a run. I hope you’ll enjoy Dennis’s story as much as I did, runner or not. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you one helluva sober running badass, Mr. Dennis Meeks:
When I tell non-runners that I run marathons (26.2 miles), the first question I get is “why?” And, it’s a very good question.
I have always been running from something, most of us have, I think. Now I am running toward something–sobriety–but to get there I have to run through a ton of bullshit to get to the other side. And I needed help to get there.
At the tender age of 63, after finally (hopefully) getting off the crazy-go-round of serial relapses that had been ongoing for three years, I decided I would run six marathons in six months. The first two or three went well, so I upped my goal to 12. But then I thought, what if I get injured and need some time off?, so I added one more, #13, just in case I had to skip one, so I could still finish 12 in 12 months.
Running–now I am speaking literally, “feet pounding the pavement” running–and getting sober are not that dissimilar. I’ve been running on and off for decades, but for the last several years, especially 2010 through 2013, my running was mostly off.
I started training again in July 2013 after quitting drink and drugs on June 29, 2013. Some may think it borders on masochism to train for one marathon, and just plain craziness to train and run one every month for a year. But, not so fast . . . I had been drinking myself senseless with alcohol for years, so why not run myself sober? I needed a goal to strengthen my sober resolve.
Running became my go-to therapy: running, hurting, growing and getting stronger with every training run with my self-confidence dimly reflected in the sweat of my contorted face at the finish line of every marathon. It’s difficult to drink (like I did) and exceed at anything other than resolute failure and regret. Running was helping me change all that.
So, my first marathon time this year was a 4:23, not bad for the aged among us. I was stoked. And six months later, I had a personal best at 4:22. And I kept going. Running. Not drinking. Repeat. I ran in the rain, sleet, and the heat of the Tennessee summer, when I came to understand the splendid relief that shade trees and sobriety offer. I ran when I didn’t want to run. I ran when my feet hurt, when my calves cramped, when all I could do was put one foot in front of the other. I ran when I didn’t like myself. And I have kept running now that I have discovered that, hey, I’m not so bad after all. I’m stronger, tougher, more disciplined than I thought. I have endured. By god, that’s what I do, I endure.
Marathons are hard. 13 marathons in 12 months is harder: I ran on beastly hills; I ran in the ugly parts of strange towns; I ran in the glorious Utah Canyon in Provo, Utah; I ran a marathon that was stopped because of an impending ice storm in Little Rock, Arkansas (I was at mile 18–I wasn’t going to stop because of some inclement weather–and I finished anyway with an official time); I ran in Tupelo, Mississippi on the last day of August where the heat is oppressive and the humidity worse (like running with a hot blanket wrapped around your head); I ran a midnight marathon in rain-soaked darkness that consisted of five 5-mile boring loops and then 1.2 miles to make it an official marathon distance of 26.2 miles; I ran the Flying Monkey Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee in November, in a forest of hardwoods the color of copper with swaths of still green foliage providing a peaceful patina over a course with 7,200 feet of total elevation change, up and down, up and down; and, finally, I ran in the desert at the Tucson (Arizona) Marathon — I could have been on the moon, the landscape so different, but breathtaking, from that which I am familiar; the only forests there consist of cacti and shrubs. I plodded, I lumbered, I shuffled, but I always finished. Every freaking one of them. I fucking endured.
And I have been sober every day of this marathon year. Again, not that much difference between running marathons and staying sober. Both are stinking hard (marathons literally so), insanely challenging, and infinitely rewarding. However, although running is a gift, abstinence is essential. Moving forward, letting go, looking back without going back, friending sometimes without being befriended. Falling down, getting up, getting it wrong and making it right.
My first days sober were much more frightening (and more important) than my first trip to the marathon starting line. Running is exhausting and exhilarating, generally, while drinking is always, without exception, a dead-end for me. Smack, thud, every goddamned time.
Now I run “somewhere” because I am determined not to drink “anywhere” anymore. I run because the physicality of it makes me appreciate what I have and what I almost lost. Running and sobriety prepare me for what’s ahead. I had begun to wonder how many more times I would see the sun rise, the moon slide across the night sky, experience the explosive delight of a thunderstorm, hear my 14-year-old daughter’s infectious laugh, or feel my wife’s embrace. I started thinking about being 63 and I actually did some math . . . and it was sobering, no pun intended.
Now, I see more days ahead. More active, sober days. When the alarm screams in my ear in the morning, I awake reluctantly, but gratefully without a hangover or owing anyone an apology. Then I toe the starting line of a new sober day, game face on, experienced, excited and still a bit frightened of what may come.
But, hey, I’m a total badass . . . bring it on.
Special thanks to LifeRing and the friends I have made there. Without their support my marathon year would never have happened. (Note from RoS: You may learn more about LifeRing Secular Recovery at LifeRing.org)
Thanks for guest posting Dennis, not only are you a badass, you’re my hero. This one’s for you:
Thank you everyone for reading. Jennie, Michelle and I wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and peaceful new year. We’ll be back in January, but until then, please say hi to Dennis in the comments. What did you think of his story? Pretty awesome accomplishment, don’t you think? Would you ever consider running 12 marathons in 12 months? If not marathoning, what helps you stay sober and/or (semi-) sane? ~ Christy