Why To Exercise Today: The Man Who Ran His Way To Sobriety

I’m already feeling inspired.

Tune in to WBUR’s Radio Boston by about 3:45 p.m. today for a segment on Cambridge writer Caleb Daniloff’s new book, “Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past, One Marathon at a Time.” Even if you don’t have an alcoholic past or a marathon-running present, you’ll be able to relate. You can also read an NPR post and interview with Caleb here.

I’ve just opened my brand new copy, and am grabbed. It begins:

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

It’s still dark out. Rain smears my bedroom window and pours off the streetlamps into icy puddles below. Drops pelt the sidewalks, splashing furiously off sheets of water as if the world has been set to boil. It’s been several days since my last run and the extra weight I’m feeling is more than last night’s pepperoni pizza. I throw back the covers and tug on socks, windpants, and a jacket. I hear that shiftless part of me whisper, This is stupid; just go back to bed. The voice that had gotten me into trouble over the years — that assured me I had room for another drink, another party to crash, could see straight enough to drive — is still persuasive, especially when the mercury reads a raw 34 degrees.

For fifteen years, from the ages of fourteen to twenty-nine, I often found myself drunk or hung-over, usually both. In college, I earned the nickname “Asshole” and proudly answered. Drunkenness was my calling. I worked hard at it — at the bars, on the streets, behind the wheel. Pass me that after-shave, goddamn it. No one can black out like me. Needless to say, the only part of me that ran back then was my mouth, whether I was locked in a shouting match with a girlfriend, begging a couple of bucks for a shot, or pleading with a store clerk who’ d caught me stuffing a bottle of wine down my pants. And those were the good years. It’s been almost a decade since I last wiped Budweiser foam from my lips. I don’t wake up hung-over anymore, but I do sometimes wake up haunted — by who I used to be, by the people I’ve done wrong. On the days I don’t run, it’s worse. I’m filled with a different kind of thirst, a need to move between places — across bridges, over water, over city lines. The nastier the conditions, the better: lightning storms, ice-covered sidewalks, predawn country roads during hunting season. The hard work of the run fortifies my will. I move through this so I can move through that. One foot in front of the other. One run at a time.

NPR carries a longer excerpt here, but to me, the appeal is already clear: Running, and the other physical challenges we undertake, are about so very much more than our bodies alone. They can even, sometimes, bring us salvation…

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