133 days ago I made a promise to myself. A pretty simple promise in retrospect, but one that seemed incredibly daunting at the time. It was a steamy 95 degrees in a tiny Northern Thailand town, across a muddy river from Myanmar. And about a million miles away from “civilization.”
It was New Year’s Eve and I was drunk. Drunk enough to be doing karaoke with the locals which meant just howling inane gibberish into a microphone because all their lyrics were subtitled in Thai script. Oddly enough this endeared me to no end to the locals.
Not long after the midnight fireworks faded out, I stumbled back to my hut and stared into the mirror. I had run the NYC Marathon on November 1st and then just 6 weeks later completed the Chiang Mai Marathon. I couldn’t have imagined two more disparate experiences. 55,000 people running beside me in NYC and the greatest city in the world cheering me on. Cut to a field of 1,500 in Chiang Mai with nary a spectator in sight for 26 of the 26.2 miles. Just a few fools cheering at their family members on at the 9am finish. Yes it FINISHED at 9am. It started at 4am, because, well, Thailand.
I had done a few half-hearted runs in the following 10 days, because after all that hard work I didn’t want to fall out of shape. But without a race to train for I needed a new goal. Here I was deep in the heart of nowhere riding a motorcycle hundreds of miles a day through rice fields that were seemingly planted just to disguise the poppy fields beyond them. I was ducking my way into the usually, but not always friendly villages filled with the people who worked these fields. I knew if I didn’t make a promise to myself to keep up the running, there was a real danger of me quickly ending up as slovenly as those disgusting sex tourists I had so happily left behind in Chiang Mai.
So back in the hut I did my best to engage my own crossed eyes in the mirror and made a promise to myself that, come hell or flood water, I was going to run 3 miles every single day in January 2016. The 3 for 31 challenge it was called. I had heard about it on Facebook. How hard could it be?
When I woke up the next day with a pounding head and a foggy recollection of last night’s impromptu resolution I took another look into the mirror, and exclaimed “Oh No, What Have I Done?!?!” My head was pounding harder than the 215 pounds on my frame shook each time I landed on one foot or the other. Fuck. I had to get up in this mid-day swamp heat and run 3 miles. Fuckaroo! But, well, I made a promise to myself, so I got out there and did it. And then I got out there and did it again the next day. And every day since then. I did it all over Thailand. Then I did it in Sinagpore. Then again in Cambodia. Then back in Thailand. Then again after a 12 hour flight to London. Then again the next freezing cold morning along the Thames. Then after a few days I ran in a snowstorm in Groningen, Holland. Then the next day in a rain and hail storm. Then on day 14 I got the news that changed me forever. My best friend, Rockin’ Rodney Speed had passed away suddenly. I was devastated. My whole world had literally been turned upside down. I was in Holland for a music business conference and for some reason I had decided to subject myself to that long weekend of schmoozing while completely sober. Well, said reason probably had to do with the copious amounts of beer and delicious street food I had consumed while in Thailand. My first instinct when I heard about Rodney was to go to the bar. Between bursts of uncontrollable sobbing I managed to get to the front door of the bar, but couldn’t bring myself to step foot inside. I walked back to my room and cried the night away. The next day I again kept away from the beer. I wanted to feel every single feeling I was having. Masking it with booze would have been too easy.
So I kept up the sober life. Until the funeral. That night I drowned my sorrows like there was no tomorrow. And did more of the same the next day. I didn’t go off the rails, but I was drinking more than felt right. And sometimes feeling wrong feels so right. But this time it didn’t. After the funeral I went to Switzerland for a week of skiing in Verbier where the base of the mountain was at 6,500 feet above sea level. Along the way I made a pit stop to cleanse myself in the freezing waters of Lake Geneva, to the mixture of surprise, delight and confusion of a bunch of Japanese tourists.
Every day on the slopes we would stop for lunch and have a beer or two. And another beer or two with dinner. Nothing crazy, just enough to relax our tired bones. Then the next morning I would beat the sun out of bed and run 3 more miles before heading back to the top of the mountain to do it all again. Because I promised myself that I would. The last day of that trip was to be the last day of 3 For 31. The last 6 days found me running in circles on compacted snow and ice that was blanketing a frozen lake in the Alps. On day 31, I had finally done it. I was finished. Or was I? Of course I wasn’t. I made a promise that night. A promise to Rodney. A promise that I was going to honor his memory by continuing my daily 3 mile runs for the rest of 2016. 366 days in total. Because it’s a leap year. I would call it “Running for Rodney” and I would do it every damn day. And I have. And that part has been great. But with ups come downs, right?
When I was training for the NYC marathon I laid off the booze for 90 days and kept a pretty good diet and shed 25 pounds like it was nothing. But since then I had been maintaining my weight. All this hard work and all this running was paying off in lots of internal ways, but not so much as it had been externally – in the mirror and on the scale. And I’m a vain motherfucker, so I decided to add a little more into the challenge. On day 90 I decided to add 100 pushups per day into the routine. Then on day 100 I had an epiphany while running. Why not get back to losing the booze for the NEXT 100 days. Beer and whisky… and wine, the red and the white and the rose and my favorite, sweet mexican wine, tequila, have always been my gateway drugs. The gateway to worse decisions. Not the kind that found me waking up wondering where the last three days had gone, or who this stranger next to me was. Not in a long while anyways. But the even more insidious bad decisions. The ones called pizza and fries and kebabs and chocolate bars. Greasy and salty and fried and fat and, well, shit. Food that left me feeling like shit, and looking like shit. I don’t know anybody who wakes up with a hangover and makes a green juice and a smoothie. Certainly not me. When I wake up feeling like shit, my tendency is to feed that feeling with more shit. But when I feel good, I put good things into my body and then I feel better. Either way, it’s a cycle. And it’s up to me what sort of cycle I want to be pedaling. I’m choosing the lifecycle.
So I made the type of promise that’s easiest to break. A promise to myself. On day 100, in the middle of my run, I decided to go the next 100 days without any alcohol. Between the running and the pushups and the no booze, surely soon I would be slimmer than we all thought Trump’s chances at a nomination were the day he announced. That’s what I promised myself.
Well flash forward a couple weeks and I found myself on a plane to NYC for yet another surprise funeral. And I thought to myself, “Just a glass of wine on the plane, who’s gonna care? It’s a TRAVEL DAY. Surely that’s an escape clause.” That led to a beer on the Rocks Off cruise that night, which led to a few more after the boat. But it was STILL a travel day, so no biggie. Nobody would know, or care, right? Except me. So what?
The rest of the trip to NYC was sober as a (quality) judge. But then a little more wine to help me to sleep on the plane back. It was a travel day yet again, right? And then from there I went off to Grozerock, a huge punk rock festival in Holland. Well, it was another travel day and then I was in Belgium, the land that invented beer, so it would have been rude NOT to have a drink. Not wanting to be the least bit rude, as an ambassador from America, of course, I hijacked the beer train and stuck the conductor hat onto my head. And tore that train through plenty of stations. Three stage dives and two missed days of pushups later it finally ground to a halt back in London.
Back in the Big Smoke on Sunday everything was back to normal, and it was sparkling water and root beer for me! Until that Wednesday when I met up with some friends from Texas. A few more beers that night. Well by this time I had pretty much given up on those 100 days, but it was only a promise I made to myself, I told myself, so where was the harm in that? I sure couldn’t. Until it snuck up and sucker punched me. I ran into my friend William at the Black Heart pub and we started talking. “I see you’ve been running all over the world. Very impressive.” And then he glanced down at the beer in my hand, and said, without any tone of judgement “Oh, I thought you weren’t drinking for 100 days?” “Grozerock” I said, and he just sort of nodded and we kept on with our conversation.
Except that wasn’t the end of it for me. Even though the comment was made an aside – to me it was the main event. I couldn’t let it go. I wouldn’t let it go. I WANTED to let it go, but there was simply no letting go. It ate at me, and has been eating at me, and it’s why I’m typing this now. It was precisely because the comment was made without any judgement that it made it all the worse for me. It was because I felt ashamed of MYSELF. For making a promise and not sticking to it.
When I started this whole running challenge it was something I was doing for me. Then it became something I was doing for Rodney. And then I realized I was inspiring other people. I’ve had so many friends send me positive messages about the running. Three buds are right now in the middle of their own 3 for However Manys, at 43, 66 and 77 respectively. And who knows how many people THYE are inspiring. Let the dominoes fall. I’ve even been getting messages from complete strangers who have completed the 3 For 31 because they saw that I was doing it. This has all been blowing me away! Was I actually inspiring people to do positive things? Were people really paying attention!? Academically, I knew they were, because I could see the likes on Facebook and the views on the videos, and would smile at all the fun and funny comments. Yet in my own head I still saw it as just my own little challenge. But when William just sort of mentioned it to me, that’s when it really set in. That this whole Running For Rodney thing had become bigger than me. It had and has taken on a life of its own. A life to which I feel accountable. To which I feel beholden. A life I want to nurture. And that’s why today I’m here to made a pledge, in public. A pledge that I’m done with alcohol for the rest of the year. It’s not a promise I’m making to myself, or to anyone reading this. It’s a promise I’m making to Rodney. I’ve never broken a promise I made to Rodney. And I’m not about to start now. God bless you Rockin’ Rodney Speed. I love you. Always have. Always will. #RODSPEED.