Running Toward Recovery

Seeking purpose in early recovery, Annie Zimmerman rekindled an old fire with distance running — and found it carried her through some of her toughest trials in sober life

January 25, 2024
Annie Zimmerman running a marathon

Annie is a daily runner and avid baker with a penchant for organizing and decorating her new home in Pennsylvania. She chronicles the joys — and misadventures — of early sobriety on her blog, Starting Again Sober, through which she hopes to inspire others. She enjoys scoping out the best local ice cream spots with her boyfriend and spending quality time with their cat, Basil.

Running saved my life. It gave me a purpose when I had none; it has aided me in my healing process. Ultimately, running has become the center of my sobriety, as I continue to build a new life for myself. Someone once asked me, “What are you running from?” While that was surely a joke, it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t quite the right question. It’s not about what I’m running from — but rather, what I’m running toward.

When I broke up with the bottle, I didn’t have many established interests outside of going to vineyards and pretending to know facts about wine. I lived the first few days, weeks and even months of early sobriety in a haze of anhedonia, as my mind and body slowly reset themselves.

But I soon reconnected with my old hobbies and remembered how much I loved being creative, especially with baking and decorating. And I quickly fell (hopelessly) in love with running.

In my 20s, I would have described myself as an occasional runner, never having really experienced the pure joy that comes from running in the falling snow or crushing my speed workouts. Sobriety has allowed me to fully enjoy the “runner’s high” — which is very real, I assure you — and it gave me a newfound sense of hope and purpose.

I remember, a few days into early sobriety, celebrating the accomplishment of finishing a three-mile run, despite the physical withdrawal symptoms that still lingered. Little did I know how much I was going to build on this momentum in the coming years: all the marathons that lay ahead, the new trails that would become my stomping grounds during training season, and the happiness and healing that running would bring me.

Running became the outlet I turned to when I needed to cope, instead of alcohol. I began to yearn for my daily run in the same (but much healthier) way that I had once longed for my evening glasses of wine. I had rediscovered a passion that did not compromise my mental or physical health, one that allowed me to set new goals, experience new cities on marathon race days, and most important, see myself in a much better light than I ever could during my days of active addiction.

But running has given me more than just purpose. It has become something I look forward to every single day, no matter the weather; it has allowed me to slow down and count my blessings as I log the miles; and it has taught me countless lessons, such as the importance of stretching after running in below-freezing weather ….

After a crushing breakup in 2021, running became even more essential to my sober existence. For the first time in my life, I was pouring my energy, not to mention sweat and tears, into something that gave back just as much as I put into it and took nothing from me, except for the occasional toenail. I ran a personal record in the Richmond Marathon that year, a euphoria I didn’t know existed outside of a cabernet-soaked afternoon at a winery.

Last year, I ran two marathons, neither of which were my fastest times, but I found that that same joy and ecstasy still comes when I cross the finish line, no matter the pace! As I consider what my next running goals will be, I know that running will continue to change my life — for the better.

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