When I was 24, I decided to run a marathon.

If I had told anyone, they would have laughed me out of the room. I can’t say I would have blamed them either. You see, I was an addict who had just chosen a path of recovery. I had barely gotten past the physical symptoms of withdrawal when I signed up for my first marathon.

I was active before becoming an addict, and I had hopes that my body would remember how to run again. But I knew the drugs did some major damage. I was just determined to overcome my issues.

Why I decided to run

In high school, I was on the track team. I don’t know if I would call myself a star, but I was fast. Shortly after high school, I became addicted to painkillers and that derailed any plans I had for anything.

As part of reclaiming my life, I decided to go back to something that gave me freedom and power in my pre-drug days. So, I decided to run.

This was a leap of faith that I took in myself. I hadn’t even laced my running shoes before signing up. I just knew I needed a major goal to keep me on the straight and narrow.

How goals help in recovery

Addiction takes you to a dark place that most people don’t get out of alive. Getting sober is a process that causes physical pain and takes a tremendous amount of willpower – even when you choose a medically-assisted path.

My initial decision required me to confront treatment myths and convince myself that this was going to work. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

But I quickly learned that recovery is almost impossible when drugs are your only focus. It’s like when you’re trying to meditate, and you keep telling yourself, “don’t think… stop thinking.” The more you think about not thinking, the more you’re thinking. Recovery works in the same way, and that’s why it helps to have goals.

Goals can help you focus on something heathy and productive. It doesn’t just have to be addiction recovery. When you set goals, you’re trying for something that has almost nothing to do with what you’re trying to avoid.

Let’s say you’re going through a bad breakup. You know going back to your ex is the wrong choice. But if you have a lot of time on your hands to think and feel, you may end up back in his or her arms. On the other hand, if you were training for something like a marathon, you wouldn’t have much time to think about it. Your main focus would have to be getting yourself ready to race.

What happened when I started training for the marathon

When I first started training, I was a little discouraged. My body and mind really weren’t up for the challenge I had set.

I began to think I had made a terrible mistake by signing up for this race. Recovery is already difficult, and I gave myself an impossible challenge on top of it. I must admit that I came very close to relapsing in those early days.

Fortunately, my stubbornness kept me going. I had already paid to take part in this race, and I was going to run. Maybe I’d make it, maybe I wouldn’t, but I was going to show up.

In the most difficult times, I thought about how this race could change the way people see me. It would definitely help change the way I saw myself. Participating in this race would take me one step further from “addict” and one step closer to “athlete”.

And so I kept running. After a few weeks, I started thinking I might actually be able to do this.

My body wasn’t getting fatigued as quickly, my mind was sharper and more determined, and I felt better and better after each run. One day, I realized that I hadn’t thought about addiction once in at least 12 hours. That was huge for me at that point. I was beating this, and running was helping me do it.

My advice to you

Signing up for this marathon really worked for me. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably wait until I was just a bit further in my recovery to start training. Those early days nearly broke me.

But I highly advise setting a training goal like a marathon to help overcome obstacles in your life. Whether it’s a breakup, job loss or addiction, you’ll find that major athletic goals really help keep your mind from wandering to unproductive places.

My advice to you is to take the plunge. Sign yourself up for the marathon or other event and make it happen. I didn’t win the race, but I did finish. And that’s a major accomplishment in my book!