High on Running (Only): How Exercise Help Me Beat My Own Demons

May 13, 2021

Chaski Pride Member Sarah Howard Alvarez is a Marathoner, Ultra Runner, and a Pilates Instructor. Other than her love for running and Pilates, she is a full-time Mom to a sweet and loving daughter, Lana.  Sarah ran some, walked some and lost a lot of fitness until she started hopping on the trails for a little bit of nature therapy after all of the fear, anxiety, and stress the pandemic was causing. She believes nature and a little sweat are the best form of therapy.

I first fell in love with running in 2014. I had just exited out of a traumatic relationship with an emotionally and physically abusive individual. For years I had been told I would never amount to anything by numerous people in my life.  I had begun to believe the lies; that I was lazy and unmotivated.  My self esteem had been torn down to nothing. I was fed up with all of negative feelings, the hurt, the guilt, and the pain. I decided right then and there I was going to prove them wrong.

Shortly before I became a runner and a few years before I achieved sobriety

Growing up I was always doing some kind of sport or activity. I was a very spirited kiddo. I was playing basketball as little kid, volleyball as a preteen, and was the third baseman for my high school softball team. I rode and showed horses all throughout my youth. Running never appealed to me. I just didn’t understand why people enjoyed it. I never imagined I would eventually find out what the fuss was all about.

One of my first races, 2015 Texas 10 Plano 5 miler

I began working out a few times a week at the age of 23. The gym seemed scary but running was simple. It was hard at first but over time I got better. I ran and walked half mile loops around my apartment complex until I became brave enough to run at the park with the “real runners”.  It was at this time another runner asked me what I was training for over a water fountain stop. I laughed and told him “I just run for fun” and then immediately went home and googled 5ks in my area.  I signed up and ran my first road race a few months later and was hooked!

Up until this point in my adult life I had been self medicating my emptiness and disappointment with alcohol. During this first year I learned walking could replace wine in the evening, which then eventually turned into running. I had developed a new healthier addiction.

What many of us have learned as runners is progress is never linear. Injuries, personal lives, and more will often sideline us for a season. As a novice runner I experienced my first injury within 6 months. Perineal Tendinitis made running hard and within a few months drinking had become my go to coping mechanism again.

Addiction recovery is never one size fits all and you are rarely successful on the first try. I bounced back and forth between obsessed runner and depressed alcoholic a few times over the years before making it stick. The story was always the same. Sarah has a breakdown, gives up drugs and alcohol, and starts running obsessively. She then runs herself into the ground with too many miles, ends up injured, and resorts back to drinking to numb the disappointment. It was a vicious cycle.

First race after the birth of Lana and beginning my life as a sober mother.

I finally made it stick in 2016. With the help of my husband and the intent to be the best parent I could be decided I would remain sober after the birth of my daughter, Lana. I have now been sober for over 4 years with my last drink being on March 3, 2017! These have been the best years of my life.

First Ultra Marathon, the 2021 Rocky 50

Running, for me, became an integral piece in my recovery for so many different reasons. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in my early twenties and more recently discovered I also struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Exercise is an important component in maintaining a healthy mind and stable life. I had to learn how to balance my life between work, family, and myself. Running has given me an outlet. It is my “me time”. It’s my time to work through my thoughts, sweat out the stress and anxiety, tire my body so I can sleep soundly, and build my confidence and self esteem. I will never need the euphoric effects of drugs and alcohol as long as I have exercise and movement. Movement is my medicine.

I am an instructor at Club Pilates Rice Military in Houston

After a few years of sobriety I have added a few more tools to my tool box. I discovered pilates a few years ago and fell in love. It was the perfect compliment to running. The salt to my pepper. It provides an outlet when running isn’t an option. I decided quickly into my Pilates practice I wanted to become an instructor and in August I will complete my second year of teaching at Club Pilates.

Over the years I have added many more medals to my collection since that first 5k. I’ve run countless 5ks, three half marathons, one twenty six point two, and finished my first ultra at the Rocky 50 in February. I have DNFed and DNSed multiple times. I’ve crushed PRs and had tough days. I’ve run in the hazy blue mountains of the Smokey’s and the beautiful Ozark’s of Arkansas. I’ve run thousands of miles all over the City of Houston. Running has changed my life and I couldn’t imagine it without it.

My family are my biggest cheerleaders and support system

— Sarah Howard Alvarez

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