August 14, 2012

The Many Benefits of Alcohol-Free August

Last weekend, I felt kind of lame about how my alcohol-free August was shaping up. As one commenter pointed out, there is a lot to do in New York… so why wasn’t I going out and doing those things? Well, for a few reasons, the first being that while there is a lot to do during the day without drinking, it’s just not really possible to run errands/go shopping/do other things on my to do list late on a Friday or Saturday night! Yes, New York is “the city that never sleeps,” but 90% of the people you see out after 10pm probably have had a drink or two 🙂

I had high hopes to mix it up this weekend and do something completely different, but I ended up spending at least Friday and Saturday in kind of a similar way to last weekend. I headed out for errands on Friday after work (who needs happy hour when you can go hang out at the Verizon store?!), and then did a short 2.5 miles twilight run down by the Hudson River, mixing in some calisthenics at the halfway point (15-14-13-12-11-10 reps alternating sets of pushups and situps). To end the night, I cooked a late dinner – shrimp and pork quesadillas for BF and a “taco salad” (basically, the same thing except on lettuce and sans cheese) for me. That kind of night doesn’t sound too exciting at all on paper, but honestly, it was the perfect night for me! And I got a whopping ten hours of sleep – winning, right here.

Saturday morning was spent lazing around the apartment and making some delicious banana pancakes, which was incredibly relaxing. One great thing about alcohol-free August is that it’s giving me a chance to cook a lot more, which I LOVE! I can’t cook at all during the week, and most of my weekends are centered around meeting up with friends at bars and restaurants – so the upshot is that I end up cooking very infrequently. Not anymore! Besides the joy of cooking (yes, I just called it that), staying home for meals is a great way to help with weight loss. I love making decadent/junk foods into healthy dishes, so it’s nice to be able to enjoy lots of foods I normally avoid. For the pancakes, I blended 1/3 cup cottage cheese, 1/3 cup oats, and 2 egg whites, plus some vanilla extract and banana extract. (The cottage cheese makes them come out incredibly fluffy, plus it packs a huge protein punch.) I mixed in chocolate chips for BF and blueberries for me, which ended up being so deliciously sweet that I didn’t even need maple syrup (though I didn’t realize that till I had already put some on). I think Jack Johnson was right – sleeping in, banana pancakes, and pretending there’s no world outside are a great way to start the weekend!

Saturday continued with some errands (I dropped off 3 bags of clothes at Housing Works, which made me feel so productive to finally get them out of the apartment!) and then some relaxation time down by the river, where I finished up a great book that was due back to the library. Not just alcohol-free fun, but money-free fun? Excellent. Saturday night was also a fairly inexpensive affair, as we decided to go to Upright Citizens Brigade for a $10 improv show. I think even after we go back to drinking, I’m going to become a regular at these comedy shows – they are so fun, and also dirt cheap entertainment!

But on Sunday, we established what I think is going to be my absolute favorite new ritual of all – long run Sundays. My marathon plan called for us to do 15 miles, but thanks to some other commitments, getting it done was going to be tricky. I was coaching an Urban Girl Squad run, which meant that I would be tied up from 9am to 10:30am (for the run, stretch, and post-run workshop). I also didn’t want to miss watching the men’s Olympic marathon live at 6am, so getting my long distance run in earlier wasn’t an option. Instead, I decided that I was just going to worry about covering the distance, and not worry about my time or any breaks in it – particularly since I’d probably be doing a lot of it during the heat of the day.

Thanks to inadvertently not charging my phone properly overnight, I ran totally “naked” for most of my run (with no watch/GPS/phone). Lucky for me, though, I had Margaret as a running buddy – and she came a lot more prepared than I did. Thanks to her Garmin, she was able to give me distance/pace for the time we ran together; after that, I just guessed at the distance and hoped I was doing enough until I could get home to map it all out and see. In the end, I actually ran even further than I needed to, and felt great doing it!

-0.8 miles to Athleta
*Break to welcome/assemble all the runners*
-3.1 miles in Central Park through the hilly and winding Rambles
*Break to lead the stretch*
-0.3 miles back to Athleta
*Break to lead the post-run workshop*
-7 miles back in Central Park with Margaret (who, in addition to helping me figure out distance, was also a lifesaver in keeping me going when it was hot and I probably would have been lazy and quit were I on my own. Funny, though, she said the same thing about me! I love when two people can inadvertently push each other like this.)
*Quick break to calculate how far I thought I had run and how much more I needed to do*
-2.4 miles around the lower loop and back to Athleta
*Break to get my keys/phone/stuff out of the office*
-0.8 miles to my apartment
*Break to stand around my air conditioned lobby and consider not going back out to finish*
-1.7 mile loop out to the Hudson, along the bike path, and back home
 Total mileage: 16.15!

I know that many people would jump on the fact that breaks aren’t really training because they don’t mimic the race experience (after all, the race clock doesn’t stop for anyone – and I completely agree with that sentiment). But since I wasn’t timing myself for this run anyway? Who cared! I just wanted to get some long distance on my legs, which I think should be the main goal of any true long run anyway. I’m not training for any specific time goal; I’m training to make sure that my legs can handle 26.2 and that I can continue to run marathons pain-free and injury-free. To me, that’s a lot more fun!

Getting back to my non-alcohol fueled weekend, I love that alcohol-free August makes it easy to get to bed early for these early morning Olympic viewing and long distance runs. Furthermore, I love that I have friends who love running just as much as most people love drinking – I have definitely been seeing more of my runner friends than anyone else this month! It’s great to have a social activity that doesn’t revolve around alcohol, and I like that alcohol-free August is helping me explore those things instead of always just going with the default “yeah, let’s grab a drink to catch up.” Having a “running date” to do 2.5 miles and combine it with some pushups? I never in a million years thought I’d be able to make plans like that, but I was grinning ear-to-ear the rest of the night from having such a great time doing it – I think Friday night drills may become another ritual as well.

That said, it’s not all rainbows and flowers – I do miss being able to have a drink. On Sunday night, my dad came to visit and we went to a Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, Karczma. Throughout the meal, I kept eyeing my dad’s beer stein and debating whether I could get away with asking to try just one sip of his beer – but also knowing that an alcohol-free month is an alcohol-free month and I shouldn’t break my own rules. However, it made me realize that what I’m craving is not the alcohol / ability to get drunk, but just the taste of some alcoholic beverages that are hard to replicate (non-alcoholic beer? Disgusting!). I’d be thrilled to be able to enjoy a quality beer that didn’t have alcohol in it, or a non-alcoholic wine, or even a virgin “mocktail.” Aside from coffee and seltzer, I don’t drink any non-alcoholic beverages other than water, so I think I miss having flavored beverages. But I am not about to swap alcohol for soda or juice – that’s just trading one vice for another.

13 days done, 17 more to go (including a friend’s birthday party at a beer garden – yikes). I know I can do it, but I am still curious to see how the rest of this month goes!

P.S. Final major benefit to the month? I’m losing weight. (I cut back on alcohol, started sticking to calorie counting, and increased my running…. and lost weight? Shocker, I know.)


14 thoughts on “The Many Benefits of Alcohol-Free August”

  1. If you really think there is nothing to do in New York at night without drinking you need to read Time Out New York. Movies, theatre, comedy, dinner (without a beverage pairing), and other incredibly random fun thing.

    Expand your world view beyond the 20 something drunk crowd.

  2. Anonymous – thanks! I do get both the magazine and electronic editions of TONY, but I haven’t been poring over it lately like I usually do. It’s definitely a trove of events, so I need to get back on reading it more!

    That said, it has been surprising me that options are limited. I’ve been looking into movies a lot, but haven’t seen anything that strikes me; comedy shows usually have drink minimums (which is why we’ve been doing improv shows that don’t); and dinners can only last so long. I’ve started looking into seeing more theater shows, and there isn’t a good reason that hasn’t happened! Beyond that, though, it seems most of the festivals/other random NYC events are either during the day or centered around drinking… which is kind of sad!

  3. I think you are thinking about booze way more than you should. Aren’t there any outdoor music concerts in the city? Art shows? Nighttime crossfit? You also could host a game night with your friends or a movie night.
    As for mocktails, try club soda with a splash of pink lemonade. I really like watered down juice. Fill a glass with tons of ice, add water, and a splash of peach nectar stir it and you have a refreshing drink.
    It sounds like you are really white knuckling this right now. Are you really learning anything from this experience? Or are you just going to settle back into your old habits when this is over?

  4. Dolly, I was definitely “white knuckling” Sunday night! Haha 🙂 However, the rest of the time, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it’s been, and how relaxing it is not to go out every weekend night. I definitely don’t think I’m going to go back to my old ways of always drinking on weekend nights, and I think the habits I’m establishing now will stick once it’s over – which I’m quite excited about. Ever since that retreat I went on in May, I’m loving the idea of making new rituals, and I think things like the improv shows and the long run Sundays will become new rituals for me going forward.

  5. I’ve been on an alcohol free month (but running from 22 July-22 August) and I’m finding it incredibly easy! It’s so nice never to feel horrible in the mornings. I find without drink I have as much fun with my friends with less strain on the wallet! I’ve also found incredible things to do in London such as Bogan Bingo (so much fun) with no alcohol required! I’m contemplating joining a running club as like you, when on my own I can just ‘give up’…Love this post! Think how much better that beer will taste in September x

  6. Bogan Bingo looks like fun! I’ve seen a few things like that in New York, but they’re mainly on weekdays… will have to keep hunting for something on weekends. Keep up the great work, Carrie 🙂

  7. How much do u drink that this is how you think I enjoy my drinks but still manage to cook and run and live my life. I agree that you are way over thinking this whole thing. To not drink is not that big a deal do you really need an alcohol free month to live like that….hmmm

  8. I don’t understand why you feel you need to go out at night. If you are doing things during the day, then why can’t you just stay in, watch a movie/read a book, and go to sleep early so you are up bright and early the next morning? Yes, there are a lot more things to do during the day, but that is because the night is for sleeping and the day is for doing.

    I am a little concerned because it really should not be so hard for you to not go to bars at night and drink, especially at your age.

  9. Anonymous, during the week I absolutely am “early to bed”, to the point where my team members tease me for how early I want to turn in 🙂 Weekends, on the other hand, are my only time at home, so I feel like I have to make it count and not spend the time sleeping. What you’re suggesting is actually what I crave, but I just feel like it’s not socially acceptable to end my night at 9pm on a weekend, when most people I know are just starting their nights. Hopefully that will change in a few years?

  10. See again you go into the social acceptable/what society wants argument. Have you ever considered that maybe your world views are a tad screwed up? Maybe you are self creating these pressures or if they are there picking the wrong people to spend your time with.

  11. See again you go into the social acceptable/what society wants argument. Have you ever considered that maybe your world views are a tad screwed up? Maybe you are self creating these pressures or if they are there picking the wrong people to spend your time with.

  12. This is a different anonymous responding to your response to what I said.

    I understand the social pressure – I used to feel that way when I was in college/in my early to mid 20s. But I found that as I got older, I didn’t feel that way anymore. Also, I said to myself “is this how I want to spend my weekends? Going to bars at night and then laying around the next day because I got no sleep and/or had too much to drink?” It was not. That was not the kind of person I wanted to be or how I wanted to spend my weekends. So I followed my heart and did a lot after work during the week (gym, professional activities, etc.) and during the day on the weekends and by the time the evening rolled around, I was so tired I just wanted to sleep or relax.

    Bottom line. It is your life. Live it how you want. It does not matter what you think society requires of you. It is likely all in your head anyway and no one probably cares if you go out or not. Frankly, I found that the people who work all the time and/or party all the time are the least interesting people to talk to or hang out with. They have nothing to talk about because who really wants to talk about work or drinking? If you stay in and rent a movie or documentary, for example, you are going to have a lot more to talk about with people. Since I know you are goal oriented, you could even try to get through a list of the top movies of all time or the best documentaries of 2011 or something.

  13. 6:59am Anonymous: I love love LOVE the idea of going through a list of top movies/documentaries! Thank you for that and all the other great advice too 🙂

  14. I am glad you like the idea. I watched a ton of documentaries when I was off from work for Christmas last year. I got them from the library. I also have done a Woody Allen movie marathon and an Audry Hepburn movie marathon.

    Here are some of the lists I used:

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