Guest Author: Debra Crystal (contributed: August 21, 2019)
"I can only Run the Marathon Sober."
Four years ago, my dreams didn't include the Boston Marathon. But, today I am a marathon runner -- running in many ways saved me from myself.
Never did I think that I would use the words run and sober in the same sentences. My last run before I got sober was in Bradenton, Florida, after I took a concoction of pills and alcohol, and decided it would be a good idea to run in my slippers and I don't remember what I was wearing.
I ran for miles and do not remember any of it. I ended up in a car with a stranger who took me to Walmart to start my new life with him. He bought me some clothes and running shoes! It was that night that I tried crack and then called my drug dealer to bring me more. I remember the panic I felt when it was all kicking in and I had no idea where I was.
Somehow, the cops got involved and I, in a state of insanity, said I was kidnapped. Later, to find out by me ex-boyfriend, who recently passed due to overdose, that the cops wanted to arrest me because I was not making sense and sounded like I was on drugs.
My life has completely changed. I do not know the person who ran in her slippers, but it is a constant reminder of what will happen if I pick up a drink or a drug. It has been about 5 years since that run, and I am coming up on 4 years of sobriety by the grace of god.
When I joined the Boston Bulldogs Running Club, my recovery took on a whole new meaning, and I felt what it was like to be comfortable in my own skin.
When I got clean, they told me I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Training for the Boston Marathon this year forced me to be uncomfortable. We push our bodies. We push our minds. And, it's awesome.
But, how do we get comfortable being uncomfortable? How do we overcome our fears of collapsing, or our legs giving out, or our hearts exploding, and go just a little bit faster or a little bit farther? In my experience, the answer has been baby steps.
I learned to run in all conditions; through puddles, on ice, in snowstorms, in the dark. As the miles piled up, running changed my relationship with the environment, external and internal, and allowed me to own the rain, the cold, the streets, my chaos, my joy, my fears, my breath, my heartbeat -- myself.
There are similarities in training for a race and getting sober. The most obvious to me is that by making yourself accountable, you improve your chances massively at success. There's also the fact that you've set yourself a challenge and, if you are anything like me, it's way too disappointing to sack it off midway and just give up. Wasting all that effort, going through the initial pain for nothing, feeling such disappointment in yourself for not making it to the finish line...all of those things act as motivating forces when times are tough and you're tempted to throw the towel in. You are forced to keep your eye on the prize.
Setting yourself a challenge like staying sober or running a far distance is also an effective means of proving to yourself that you can do whatever you put your mind too. Who says you'll never manage to get sober? Who says you're not fit enough to run 26.2 miles? You can do whatever you want to if you put your mind to it!
Whether you're in the middle of training for your first 10k, or prepping for your crack at the distance, here are some training tips that will help you toward your goal. Some of these I did, and some I wish I incorporated.
Find a running club like the Boston Bulldogs and an accountability partner or what my coach calls a wellness sponsor. My wellness sponsor was my best friend / spiritual running sister. We told each other that we will get up at 5 a.m and go for our run 4 times a week. Since she lives 45 minutes away we could not run together so we sent each other pics every morning in our ski mask (winter runs ) and set out for our run. We were together in spirit. I felt like a super hero and I think that is why I wore a Wonder Woman tutu when I ran Boston Marathon.
Have goals that you can implement and measure while enjoying the journey. Notice your progress and reward yourself.
Examples of rewards: massage, new running shoes, your favorite meal, and/or tell people about your success. Community support is everything when it comes to training. You got to check in and surrender to the process.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of running. While stretching is important, if you only have time to do one thing after your run, it should be foam rolling. Foam rolling stretches out the myofascial tissue that gets so tight (and can cause injuries) when you run. Focus on the calves (especially good for preventing plantar fasciitis), hamstrings, glutes, IT bands (outer thighs), and inner and outer hips.
All too often, we stop what we’re doing at the first sign of discomfort.
We think if it’s uncomfortable, something must be wrong, and so we quit.
But, growth is almost always uncomfortable. We’re trying new things, using new muscles, building new skills. And, it’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It burns. Once you learn to settle in, relax, and accept this mild discomfort your body will start to take you to new levels. As you begin to be accountable for your actions and allow your body to push past each new level, whether it be an extra 2 minutes or an extra mile, your body will start to transform from the inside, and that discomfort will soon start to fade away.
This is what saved me and what I owe a lot of my success to. The right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little, not too much, is the safest way to health. I can't say it enough. When I am training, I faithfully stay on a plan. I didn't even miss coffee!
I truly believe that it is near to impossible to get all the nutrients you need on a daily basis just through eating. As an athlete, it is incredible. There is no way I could replace what I get from the supplements I use.
They keep my body fine-tuned. Six months prior to the marathon, I went to a healthcare symposium, and was introduced to the only nutrition lie detector test that measures the tissue saturation of antioxidants in your body, and is FAR more precise than a blood test. I expected that since I am a Personal Trainer and avid runner who eats mostly keto-friendly foods, that I would have nothing to worry about. I was WRONG; being fit apparently doesn't equate to being healthy. My score was 27,000 which is equivalent to someone who smokes 2 packs of cigarettes a day. It reveals the amount of antioxidants we have in our body. The more we have, the more our cells are protected. And, the longer and better we live. According to the score someone gets in just 30 seconds, we know the level of oxidative stress the body is fighting. I like to compare our scanner to a mirror: when we look at ourselves in a mirror and something's wrong, we correct it. However, if something's wrong IN your body, what's a person to do? This is what the scanner does: it reveals what's going on on the inside. Frequent and intense endurance training can create systemic inflammation.
Over-used joints, over-loaded hearts, and insufficiently repaired muscles (in the legs, but also in the heart) increase inflammation and oxidative stress in your body. This further increases your cortisol and weakens your immune system, making you susceptible to injuries, infections, and all kinds of degenerative diseases (in the long run). Tiny damages to your heart and blood vessels can lead to scar tissue, hardening of tissue, and plaque build-up.
Since I knew the importance of this score after much training, and meeting the scientists, I decided I needed to have access to one. I believe everyone needs to get measured. If you are interested, please get in touch with me via email, or call me.
My score went up every month by 10,000 points and I was able to monitor it especially for my long runs. It is now 69,000 and I have never felt better.
Side note: I hide my supplements like I used to stash my drugs.
My first thought was, Wait...I'm supposed to do something other than running? But, supplementing running with strength training exercises will not only help you prevent injury, but it will also make you a stronger, faster, and more efficient runner.
Sometimes, this is a challenge for me...I have to literally tell myself to calm down or pause. It is easy for me to become obsessed with exercise, but I literally set a bed time schedule for myself and had to tell my dates that I needed to be home by 9:00pm. Thank god for my nighttime formula!!
I would pray before my runs or during. Let go of the control, and focus on the activities you need to do to reach any goal, like getting new skills. If you don't, you will struggle day by day.
Letting go also means having faith in the things that are out there that are going to help you live your life the way you really want to live it.
There isn't one run that I've done with a buddy or a group that didn't make me smile or make the time go by quickly.
Research has shown that people who exercise socially (with people) can go longer and harder than when alone.
Invite your friend to hop on the treadmill next to you, join a running club or training group, and keep your running fun alive. You just may improve your performance along the way.
Tell others what you learned. Be someone's wellness sponsor. AA and The Boston Bulldogs Running Club have taught me the importance of paying it forward. Running a charity race is a great way to funnel your incredible energy and passion for competitive running into a way to raise money for a cause you care about.
I now run to AA meetings proud! It's ironic how the worst thing about you can become the best thing about you.
Debra Crystal is a health and wellness consultant with Boston Bio-Scan, a Personal Trainer, spiritual ninja, and lover of coffee.
Please contact her with any questions at (941) 720-4408 or via: