What Sober October Taught Me

October offers a cornucopia of reasons to drink. The fall colors are a natural setting for warming cocktails. You need liquid courage for a risqué Halloween costume. The biggest drinking event of the year, Oktoberfest, is even named for the month.

But after spending October alcohol-free, I’m starting to doubt that October and drinking are such a natural fit after all.

In October, 2017 Joe Rogan, Ari Shaffir and Tom Segura banded together to help their buddy Bert Kreischer lay off the booze and shrink his gut. In the first year, the comics abstained from booze and drugs and took fifteen hot yoga classes. In 2018, they upped the ante, adding a fitness challenge. The man with the most activity recorded by a fitness tracker would win.

Thanks to the popularity of The Joe Rogan Experience, Sober October inspired millions of listeners to spend a month without drinking. This year, I joined them.

The Rules

Rule one of Sober October is simple: stay sober. That was tough. I’m not a heavy drinker, but still, I don’t often pass up a glass of wine.

The second rule was to keep up with Joe Rogan himself, who started the month claiming he’d be so far ahead, Bert would die trying to keep up. As a full-time, professional runner, vigorous cardio is nothing. But committing to ten hot yoga classes for the month and adding weight lifting to my regular training, was sure to put me out of my comfort zone.

So I would stay sober, attend 10 yoga classes and add weight lifting to the training I was already doing. Seemed easy enough.

As a professional runner, I figured I’d have a unique perspective on how eliminating alcohol and getting my yoga on benefitted me as an athlete. I was right. It’s November and I’m considering sticking to this regimen indefinitely.

Alcohol is Like a Dog Treat for People

I’ve never been the type of friend that needed booze to have fun. Still, without alcohol, my desire to go out to dinner with friends and date nights dwindled.

Immediately, my commitment to Sober October was tested. Oct. 1 landed on Monday, the day we go to the pub with our run club. It would be my first trip to the Southern Sun Brewery in three years without ordering a drink. At first, I missed my post-run cider and getting a little buzzed with my closest friends. I was still with the same friends I’ve gathered with every Monday for the last three-and-a-half years. Nonetheless, the experience felt a little off. My boyfriend Ryan was also participating in Sober October, and we quickly realized we were less inclined to go out.

After a month of sobriety, I see that consuming consciously is the key. I became acutely aware of how much alcohol I consumed on an average month. That knowledge inspired me to cut back overall. Ryan and I decided that we don’t need a drink with dinner every night. That won’t be hard at home. Having someone with you for the ride makes a huge difference. It’s much easier to toast with seltzer when you’re with a sober companion.

Sobriety Made me a Better Athlete

I drink but I don’t drink heavily. On a typical night I’ll have one or two drinks with dinner, but my commitment to running keeps my drinking in check. I stop myself from getting too drunk and avoid hangovers. I assumed my sober October mornings would feel the same as they normally do.

But on November 1, the morning after I celebrated the end of sober October with a single glass of prosecco, I woke in a low energy fog without any appetite—that’s unusual for me, someone known to eat almost 1,000 calories for first breakfast.

I quickly realized the feeling was familiar. It was how I felt every day waking up pre-sober October. I’m grateful for that prosecco for showing how insanely good I felt in the mornings during my month of sobriety.

Throughout the month, I’ve been more motivated to get my workout done first thing in the morning, making my daily routine much more fluid. I’ve also gotten significantly fitter throughout the month. My base mileage pace has gone down and the paces I target during workouts come easier.

Most notably though, I haven’t needed to take toilet paper on any of my runs since October 1. Since I started running in high school, dropping a deuce or two in the bushes during practice has been the norm. I was shocked to see my lower intestine being so cooperative. For a long time I thought I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but it turns out it was just the boozing. If there’s one reason to stay sober, it’s to keep the pooping at bay.

I gained a little weight, but my jeans were a little looser.

I usually only step on the scale at the doctor’s office, but I decided it would be a fun to see how eliminating alcohol affected my weight. Throughout the month, I weighed myself twice a week, tipping the scale at a whopping 117 pounds on Oct. 1st.

As to be expected due to the missed calories, I lost a little weight after week one. However, from week two through four, I was a little heavier every time I stepped on the scale, gaining six pounds by the end of the month. But even carrying those six extra pounds, my jeans are still fitting a little looser, and my stomach muscles have never been so defined.

I’ve always been healthy and lean, but my abs have always had a layer of a little something else: my drinking habit. I’m sure my newly defined muscles are partly due to the increased strength training and yoga. But while I’ve consistently hit the gym before, I’ve never had a six pack. I’ve never been motivated by vanity, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t spent a couple of extra minutes looking at myself in the mirror.

I Love Yoga

Boulder’s obnoxious yoga culture has always kept me from getting my flow on. But a few months ago, I introduced the practice into my training regimen to help me recover from a 100-mile trail race. I was surprised at how much I liked it. After incorporating 10 classes into my training schedule in October, my shoulders, back and core feel stronger and my muscles feel less tight after long runs.

It’s rare for me to come out of a four-week training block without aches, pains and niggles. I’ve come out of this month sore but completely healthy. There is no doubt in my mind that practicing yoga consistently contributed to preventing injury even under my heavy training load.

Recording a Podcast is a Lot Like Running

I’m a huge fan of comedy. In the three years we’ve dated, Ryan and I have made a hobby of following our favorite comedians and even saw Joe Rogan live in Denver last winter. As a writer, I appreciate a well-executed joke.

However, I’m been astonished at the numbers the Joe Rogan Experience generates, reaching up to 30 million downloads a month. As part of Sober October, I started listening to the podcast, and that’s all it took for me to get it: getting to know someone through a podcast is just like getting to know someone during a run.

It only takes one run to turn a stranger into a friend. Running conversations tend to get personal. We learn to appreciate and admire the people we run with. Joe’s podcast fosters a similar kind of raw conversation. JRE creates a unique insight into the lives and minds of those who his listeners admire. We get to know his guests in the same intimate fashion we get to see a training partner.

Would I Have Beaten Joe Rogan?

In October, I had three rest days, ran a total of 304 miles in 46 hours with 45,675 feet of elevation gain, spent 10 hours at yoga and another 10 at the gym. That’s a total of 66 hours of exercise this month.

According to Joe’s podcast, he worked-out between two and five hours a day, taking four days off. Because I can’t call up Rogan and get his workout stats, we’ll call it 3.5 hours a day, making his grand total 94.5 hours of exercise this month. So no, to my complete and utter shock, I did not beat Joe Rogan. But as Ryan so affectionately told me,“you’re just a professional athlete, Cat. You can’t expect to beat a gorilla.”

Maybe a little kick-boxing will do the trick next year.