How One Month of no Alcohol Affected my Running

Dry January
Dry January Here We Come

It may seem strange to people who know me that I am writing a post about abstaining from alcohol. I don't drink to oblivion, I don't drink every day of the week and I've never got into trouble due to having a tipple too many. I do admit to having a slight loss of memory on the odd occasions but that was in my younger days.

Going back, we (husband, me and 3 kids) moved to France in 2008 and it was love at first sight. Vines, wines and cheese. What's not to love. We quickly became aware that the foreigners (Brits in particular) were very excited about this abundance of good wine which cost next to nothing. Many were retired and many loved their long lazy lunches and BBQ evenings, which all revolved round Blanquette (local Limoux bubbly) and the local chardonnay. Drinking became part of their 'new life in France' culture. This was exciting to us at first, but then we started to realise that we were still working, we were still relatively young, we had 3 school age kids and a dog and so it was a "culture" that was not very do-able for us. Thus a few glasses from Friday to Sunday was our new regime. I also took up running in 2013. 

Up until the last 2 years, we pretty much stuck to weekend drinking. However gradually we started finding we were drinking during the week too. Our running club would run together on a Wednesday (before Covid) and this was often followed by an apero. It was always a lovely merry occasion and socialising and drinking Chardonnay just felt part of French life. Sometimes it wasn't just the Wednesday running aperos but it might be a birthday, an anniversary, a happy day, a good day, a why not day, in fact more days than just the weekend. 

Don't get me wrong, we are not big drinkers but the fact that I had begun to question it made me think that maybe I was subconsciously worried. My father also loved a regular drink in the pub with his mates and for a while he was drinking every day and in fact some would see he had a drinking problem. I now know that addiction can be inherited so that kind of played on my mind. I do tend to have addictive behaviours. 

 As for my running, well I have not improved in races for the past 3 years. Is it age (I have just turned the merry age of 60) or is it alcohol related (long runs and races are usually at weekends and so is the wine)?. Try as I might to break the 4 hour marathon, it just never seems to happen. My body seems to love 4:13. People are always saying "wow you must be so fit with all that running". But am I? Is alcohol sabotaging my possible best performances?

So what finally prompted me to try out dry January? There were a few  things: 

Firstly my 28 year old son commented over Christmas that he thought we were drinking a lot. To put that into perspective, it was Chrismas day and he has given up drinking. However  it is uncomfortable to hear your children say that. 

Secondly, we were having lunch with some French friends and a blood pressure monitor was being passed around the table, for fun. There were lots of oohs and aahs and laughter at everyone's results. Except on my turn, the results were some crazy high figures and the oohs and aahs turned to, "I'm sure it's an error". I'm sure it was an error too (I'm a nurse) but you can never be one hundred percent sure. So there and then I silently said to myself, "Hello Dry January". 

Another reason (big reason), is that I hope to do a marathon this year and my sights are again set on that magical number 4. Although I will also be very happy with anything below 4:13.

Day 1 - Friday 1st January 2021

Well it's not even midday and already it's a FAIL. To be fair I do have an excuse. Being Friday, we have been invited to a French family's house for lunch to celebrate the New Year. It was mega hard to to refuse a glass of bubbly and then a  glass of red to go with the cheese as I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I need to learn that it is OK to say no. The afternoon was spent slumped in front of the TV and I have decided that Day 1 starts tomorrow.

Day 2 - Saturday 2nd January 2021 (Weekend #1)

Well we are off and Dry January has officially started. I went for a run in the stadium as I wanted to do a 3 minute 'hard as you can' interval. What a disaster. I felt weak, cold and energy-less. I didn't sleep well last night either. Took a while to fall asleep and then was uncomfortable as my back was playing up. The evening was strange as normally we have a G&T followed by a bottle of wine (half each). In fact although I thought about it, I didn't miss it. I had zero beer instead - 2 of them. Having drunk every day between Christmas and New year, it was actually quite nice to have a break.My body really needs it.

Day 3 - Sunday 3rd January 2021

Another night of tossing and turning and another attempt in the stadium. Not good. Cam home and found I had the munchies. My excuse is that I am trying to finish up all the Christmas chocolate as I can't bear seeing it lying around. I am very much an all or nothing sort of person. I am like that with a packet of biscuits, a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine. It all has to be finished as soon as possible. The weekend has come to an end and I did miss having a drink tonight but it was really not so bad as I had zero beer again. I'm also drinking fizzy water with a hint of lemon.

Day 4 & 5 - Mon & Tues

I'm still not sleeping well. I'm taking ages to fall asleep although I am tired and then I'm struggling to wake up in the morning. Then there are the dreams. Lots of them and all very bizarre. I hear that this can happen when you stop drinking alcohol but I really didn't think I drank enough to make much difference. I never counted or measured so maybe I drank more than I thought. I am also VERY thirsty and am gulping down water and coffee. I'm already addicted to coffee so I don't feel having an extra one is too bad for me right now.  A positive though is that my run today felt great. OK it was an easy run but it was snowing and cold but yet I felt refreshed and glowing when I got home.

Day 6 - 8 - Wed - Friday

Well I've made it a week and I'm not counting my alcohol free days so much. Note that my postings have jumped to every 2 days. Clap, clap. I'm still not sleeping well and I'm waking up tired. I do console myself by imagining how much worse I'd be feeling if I had drunk the night before too. 
A couple of French friends have said that they'd like to come over for a quick drink to celebrate New Year. I'm really not sure how I'm going to handle this. It's not for another week so maybe I'll feel strong enough to say 'No' to alcohol. Today it's also the one year anniversary of my dad's death and me and my siblings are meeting up on zoom to toast his life. Normally I would raise a glass of red wine (his favorite) but I'm feeling strong and will probably have a cup of mint green tea instead. He would be proud of me.

Later that evening: Me and my 5 siblings all met for a zoom chat at 4pm to toast my dad. I haven't told them that I am doing dry January and thankfully none of them asked. One had a glass of red wine, one had fruit juice, two had white wine and one had a whisky. I had mint green tea and didn't envy the alcohol drinkers at all.

Day 14 - Thursday

I can't believe it is nearly weekend #3 coming up. Yep I'm still on the zero beer!. 

I'm drinking a can of zero "any brand" beer nearly every night which is crazy really as I didn't drink alcohol every night. I think it is a mental thing. Because I know I can't have alcohol, I think about it every day which then leads to me having a zero beer. Thankfully they are only 67 calories a can and hardly any sugar.

As for my running, well I have been running every day since I started my dry month. Most of my runs are somewhere between 30 - 60 minutes and mostly slow. Do I feel faster and lighter? No! I was hoping to be full of bounce but it is quite the opposite.

Getting up in the morning is not any easier either. I am going to sleep faster but then I'm waking in the night and tossing and turning and then getting up for a wee.....all this means I am tired in the morning and don't feel that I had a good nights sleep at all. I've read that at 2 weeks I should feel refreshed, have lost weight, be sleeping better, have clear skin etc but to be honest I feel tired and sluggish.

Tomorrow we have invited 2 friends round for a New Year drink. I still can't decide how to approach this as I havenet told anyone that I am doing dry January, apart from my husband and daughter.

Day 15 - Friday FAIL

Well it happened. I drank this evening. 

The day started badly, as again I hadn't slept well and I woke with a throbbing headache. I'm still really thirsty in the evenings so am drinking like a fish (mint tea, water or zero beer) which means a visit to the loo once or twice a night too. I was going to run today but I just felt blehh so never even made it out the door.

Then 6pm came round along with our two friends. Having an 8pm curfew, we had invited them for a quick drink and a few nibbles. It started off with me saying I'd have one glass to toast the new year and it finished with me having 2 glasses of bubbly, a G&T and a beer. 

I had such a mix of emotions - guilt, enjoyment, failure - and right now as I write this 24 hours later, I feel a mix of positives and negatives. The negative is obviously that I caved in but the positive is that I learnt a lot from doing it. I learnt that my will power right now is not that good, that I just can't stop at one drink. I'm an all or nothing kind of gal.

I've decided not to beat myself up over it and I'm heading straight back on the no alcohol train and hoping that the new curfew in France (now set to 18h00) will discourage me from any more fails. I'm quite a stubborn person and if I set myself a challenge, it bugs me if I can't do it!

Days 16 & 17 - Sat - Sun (Weekend #3)

I'm happy to say that the weekend went well. I din't beat myself up over drinking yesterday but instead just carried on moving forward. In fact this weekend I din't even want to drink alcohol. 

One thing that I did recently was to to join the Facebook page for Dry January. I have loved reading everyone's story and seeing the support that people are giving each other. Something that really surprised  me though, was the number of people (mostly women) who said that they drank at least 1.5 bottles of wine a night. These are women of all ages, all social backgrounds and often women with young kids and who are holding down regular jobs as well. I'm not judging at all but I just didn't realise that wine drinking in particular is potentially such a big issue. Kudos to all of them who have embarked on Dry January to try and improve their mental and physical health!

Running.....yes I ran both Saturday and Sunday. The feeling of lethargy finally left me in spite of still having rubbish sleep. I haven't as yet noticed much difference in my running but I'm hoping it is round the corner. 

Week 3

Note how I am skipping into weeks now as opposed to days. Something must be putting a bounce in my step :).

I'm still not sleeping so well but that could be linked to other stresses in my life. Or is it because I have got into the habit of doing a sudoku puzzle before I go to sleep?. I hate it when I can't solve it so I keep on going until my brain says "ENOUGH, GO TO SLEEP"!  If I do fall asleep straight away, then I find I wake up in the middle of the night. I hate that too and I try not to look at my clock so I don't know what the time is.

Apart from the sleep issue, I am feeling good. However I'm not seeing the beauty benefits like the others on the facebook 'Dry January' group. Maybe I'm too old for that. Hmmm.

As for running, well all I can say is that some days I have more energy than others but I don't feel it is to do with me not drinking. I think it is related to sleep, or lack of it. One thing I have found though is that my old nagging back pain at night seems to have gone or subsided enormously.

Week 4

Celebration time :).

I made it a month, apart from one day. Even if I haven't noticed that much change physically, I feel elated that I kept on going with the challenge. I've not really missed alcohol at all and at times when I would have loved a glass of wine, a zero beer has filled the gap.

So my big dilemma now is do I carry on alcohol free or not? 

I started the challenge to reset my body and to see if it affected my running. Since I've not noticed much difference (maybe my liver has though) my mind is telling me to keep going. Bill might not be following me on this!  I'm not going to lie in that I'm very disappointed that I haven't seen a big improvement in my running and that I didn't become a female Hussein Bolt.  Perhaps at 60 that might be very wishful thinking.

The other reason to keep on going is that I started marathon training TODAY (2nd February 2021). I've never, ever done marathon training without drinking a glass of wine or more at the weekends. Is that why I can't break 4 hours?! 

Maybe now is the time to find out.