Jessie Runs a (Half) Marathon: What Happened When I Replaced Drinking with Running

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Have you seen the movie Brittany Runs A Marathon? We watched it this past weekend and I just kept thinking about how many Brittany’s there must be in the world, how many humans have changed the course of their life through sheer will and hard work. After all, I did it. 12 years ago I was a Brittany.

To be perfectly honest the picture above is the source of some of my deepest shame. Unlike a lot of people who have successfully lost a lot of weight I don’t ever talk about it. In fact, I destroyed so many photos from that time that I didn’t have any to share here until I asked family to send one over. But it was never about how I looked.

My shame surrounding that time comes from the knowledge that I wasn’t taking care of myself and my weight was tied to my lack of direction in life and a deep-seated self-loathing. This ‘before’ photo was taken at my brother’s wedding when I was 182 lbs. At the time I thought I was happy and fun but in hindsight I was lost and miserable, clinging to a party girl persona that just wasn’t who I was. I was waking up feeling like shit six days a week, eating shit food, getting shit grades in university and making plans to exercise “tomorrow.” I never hated the way I looked but I deeply hated the way I felt: no energy, no motivation, and not a lot of true joy. I know that bodies come in a multitude of sizes and genetic dispositions and smaller does not always equate healthier. In my case I knew without a doubt that the weight I had gained in my early twenties was due to alcohol consumption, very poor eating, and a sedentary lifestyle – in short, a basic lack of attention to my emotional and physical needs (wish the ‘self care movement’ had been as strong a decade ago!).

One day I decided to get my shit together and over the course of the following year, I did. That makes it sound easy but changing long-held habits is not a commitment you make one time, it’s a choice you have to re-choose multiple times a day until the changes you hoped to bring about have become second nature. Every night when my coworkers pressured me to go to the bar with them after work I had to choose my new lifestyle and say no. Every morning when my body wanted to sleep in but I had a training run in the calendar I had to re-commit and get my butt out of bed. Every single meal time I had to make a choice, too. I gave up alcohol and meat for six months and the weight fell off.

Slooooooowly the running came easier too and the distances of my runs lengthened. Since I don’t enjoy running with music it was just me on the seawall for 17km trying to make sense of the thoughts in my head and figuring out who I was, who I wanted to be going forward. At first it was difficult to replace my impulse to drink with an impulse to run but as it turns out running is much better therapy (and cheaper, too!) and soon I was itching to “run out” my problems after a hard day rather than forget them momentarily with booze. As I learned more about nutrition and tuned in to my body my eating habits changed naturally, too – I started to see food as fuel rather than my enemy or comfort and the resulting removal of emotion from my eating has been one of the biggest un-learnings of my life.

My goal was never to lose the weight because my body wasn’t the problem. My body was the physical result of an emotional void, proof of the lack of care I was taking with myself. Rather than a weight loss goal I had set the goal of accomplishing something, of seeing something through without quitting for once. I signed up for a half marathon and committed to the months of training required for me to run it. I did those runs and ran that race all by myself and it transformed my whole life. I lost 50 lbs and gained an inner and outer strength I never knew lay within me. I created lifelong habits that have served me so well: I know now how to listen carefully to what my body needs, I know how much it can save me to unplug and get outside, I know how to cook vegetables so they taste amazing (an important skill!), I know how to savour treats, I know how it feels to have energy when you actually drink the amount of water we’re supposed to drink each day, I know how crippling a single shot of Jameson can be to my Sunday morning mileage.

All this to say: if you’re not feeling like yourself lately, make a change. Make a plan for how to execute little, doable changes that will lead you to the lifestyle you truly want but have only dreamed about. Take it from me, it’s worth it.

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