Meet John "Living With" Alcoholism!
Hi, I’m John. To date I’ve run 127 marathons and ultra marathons. I’m also an alcoholic and drug addict.
I was born in 1960 and had a happy, normal childhood, so it’s a bit of a mystery as to why I suddenly and powerfully became addicted to alcohol when I started drinking as a student at Ohio State University. Looking back, I guess I realized from the get-go that my reaction to booze was different from that of my partying friends. I always wanted more and I didn’t seem to know when to quit, but in those days it didn’t really matter; I was having too much fun.
The fun quickly soured, however, as ever greater and greater quantities of alcohol were needed to reach that drunken state of euphoria. As my consumption increased, so did the consequences. Friends dropped, grades dropped and I finally dropped completely out of college. I became sicker. My hands began shaking in the morning after nights of heavy drinking. Hangovers became multi-day affairs. Eventually I needed a drink just to get out of bed and start another day.
My downward spiral continued for a dozen years as I drank my twenties away. It ended one day in Dallas in 1992 when I found myself staring with shame, guilt and disgust at an empty bottle of rum and realizing that I could no longer even drink enough to stave off withdrawal. I checked into a 6 week outpatient program, got sober and lived happily ever after…
Or at least happily for the next 11 years. With sobriety my life completely turned around. I had returned to Ohio State, completed my degree and began working as a computer programmer. Eventually a friend and I started what turned out to be a successful consulting company. My health returned and I took up cycling. I even ran a few marathons and might have enjoyed the races had I trained properly.
But then life, as it does for everyone at some point, got bumpy. The business struggled in the post 9/11 recession and I struggled with a long distance relationship – like really long distance, she lived in Russia. I found myself under a lot of stress and this anxiety awoke a long dormant demon that I had more or less forgotten about. One day in early 2004 I found myself staring at a common piece of junk email that advertised a variety of anti-anxiety medicines that could be ordered from an overseas pharmacy without a prescription. I placed the first of what would be dozens and dozens of orders for a drug called alprazolam, a.k.a. Xanax.
Thus I relapsed and in the next 2 years I managed to wipe out everything that I had built during my 11 years of sobriety. In March 2006 I found myself again in treatment, this time for 3 months at a facility called Shepherd Hill in Newark, Ohio.
I credit Shepherd Hill and my parents, who got me there, with saving my life. Shepherd Hill had a fantastic program with a wonderful staff. Along with counseling, group sessions and educational classes, we were obliged to spend one hour every afternoon exercising at a nearby fitness center. I always headed straight to the treadmill. At first I could only handle 10 or 15 minutes at a slow, painful pace, but each drop of sweat I generated felt like a drop of poison leaving my body. The running also distracted me from my withdrawal pains, from the rebound anxiety and from the guilt over the things I had done the last two years. So I kept it up, and three months later I was able to run 6 miles on that treadmill in an hour.
After I finished the program I stayed in Newark, where I live to this day. I remember that first year of recovery as a tough and sometimes dark one. In the beginning it felt great just to feel healthy, to be able to sleep and to greet the morning sunlight instead of cringing from it. But gradually this elation began to wear off and I had to deal with the consequences of the previous two years. One of these consequences was the loss of my driver's license as the result of a DUI. What I then thought of as a curse, I now regard as a great gift from the State of Ohio for it forced me to bicycle for an entire year – and my body grew stronger.
Towards the end of 2006 (and remembering my time on the treadmill while in treatment), I began wondering if I could possibly run a marathon. I downloaded a marathon training schedule and followed it rigorously for the next 4 months. Thirteen months after I had checked into rehab and in celebration of my first year of recovery, I ran the 2007 Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. And two weeks after that, I ran the Cleveland Marathon.
Those two marathons satisfied me for a while, but as ‘07 drew to an end, I began to wonder if I could repeat the feat of 7 years earlier when I had run 4 marathons in one year. It didn’t seem likely since I was now getting close to 50 years old, but again I trained through the winter and by June of ‘08 I had run 5 marathons. Could I run faster? Could I qualify for the Boston Marathon? I did speed work all that summer and on my 12th and final marathon of 2008, I qualified for Boston by a scant 14 seconds.
And I kept running. In 2009 I heard of a club called the Marathon Maniacs where people ran crazy numbers of marathons. It was a great relief to learn that there were others like me out there because friends and family were beginning to wonder and worry about all this running I was doing. The club awards stars based on the number of marathons completed within a given period with the highest level, 10-star Titanium, awarded to people who run an inconceivable 52 marathons in a year. I had struggled to run 21 marathons in ‘09. Doing 52 marathons in 365 days was just not possible. But I began running more. In 2010 I started running trail marathons, 50k ultra marathons, doubles (two marathons in one weekend) and even a back to back double. And in 2011, I ran even more.
On January 15th, 2012, at the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, I ran my 52nd marathon in 365 days, earning my 10th Marathon Maniac star. I had achieved what I once thought was impossible. Two months later, on March 22nd, 2012, I again celebrated what I not long ago thought was impossible: 6 years clean and sober. I guess it’s natural to try and draw a comparison between the two, to ask which one was more difficult, but the truth is there really isn’t much of a comparison to be made. Running 52 marathons in a year was easier than getting and staying sober. A whole lot easier.