Adults, even ultra running adults, enjoy consuming adult beverages. It’s one of the privileges that comes with being a grown-up. I try to not overindulge because I don’t enjoy the feeling of sweating out toxic fumes while on my Saturday morning long run. But there is something worse than a regular hangover: The combination of late-night drinking and late-night ultrasignup sessions. Liquor bottles have warning labels on them. The surgeon general points out that alcohol consumption may have negative consequences. The Ultrasignup website has no such warning label, but it probably should. Or maybe it could require chronic offenders to use an interlock device before logging in. Every time I wake up fuzzy-brained with a dim recollection of registering for yet another epic race, I swear it’s the last, but somehow it keeps happening.
The thing is, alcohol gets rid of inhibitions. Hardcore introverts like me can appreciate this. We tend to overthink everything, weigh all possible responses in any given situation, then miss the opportunity to respond because too much time has passed. But after a glass of wine or two, we no longer filter everything we say. We no longer ask ourselves things like: Will the person next to me be offended? Will his feelings get hurt? Will she think I’m an idiot? Instead, we blurt out our opinions and let the chips fall where they may, which would have happened sooner or later anyway. That’s why alcohol is considered such a great social lubricant, the Body Glide of human relationships.
Alcohol also makes us feel more confident. Our insecurities and nagging self-doubts disappear. When under the influence, chances are we don’t need to listen to Ken Chlouber’s motivational pre-Leadville speech because we are already 100 percent sure that we can do more than we think we can. We tend to feel stronger, younger, more attractive, more interesting. Our wrinkles smooth out, our eyes sparkle, our jeans fit better – at least in our minds, at least for a couple of hours.
As if this were not enough, there’s a third effect: we are not the only ones getting photoshopped. Alcohol makes other people we meet seem more interesting, more attractive, more appealing. Their wrinkles smooth out, their eyes sparkle. What they say sounds smart and funny. They make us laugh. They make us want to get to know them – at least until we’re sober again.
Taken together, these effects can create embarrassing situations, especially while we’re still too young to know better, like waking up in a strange apartment with no clear recollection of what happened the night before or how we got there. In the harsh light of early morning, the rash decisions we made in those days may seem questionable, yet we have to live with their consequences. Growing up means growing out of irresponsible behavior of that nature.
I wish I could say that, as a happily married woman in her mid-forties, these experiences are all behind me, stored safely in the closet labeled “Silly Stuff I Did Long Ago In My Youth.” Yet, this would not be completely honest. True, nowadays an occasional girls’ night out at a bar is a harmless diversion. We listen to some music, have some wine, laugh a lot, and go home. The next morning might bring a mild headache, but no serious regrets. I wish I could say the same for my late-night activities on Ultrasignup.
Another glass of Pinot Grigio after dinner seems harmless enough. Another glass of Pinot Grigio while casually checking the Ultrasignup Hotlist is a different story. First, the alcohol breaks down my inhibitions. Do I have the time? The money? The voice of reason in my head that reminds me of my budget, and of my other responsibilities, other weekend obligations, quiets down as voice of my FOMO gets louder and louder:
“All your facebook friends are running this one! There are only 87 spots left! It’s only $238.47, a bargain! You don’t need things like a haircut or new tires! Your family won’t mind if you miss an important birthday celebration!” And so on.
(The glass is half empty by now)
At the same time, all my insecurities take a back seat – next to the voice of reason, probably. In their place, a boisterous, overconfident side of myself makes a rare appearance as I look at the race info and the list of entrants: “This doesn’t look so difficult. What’s 20 000 feet of gain? Average temperature of 95 degrees? I can handle that! And sure, three weeks is enough time to recover from a tough 100k. Oh, look, my friend x is running it. If she is tough enough, I am, too! No, Im tougher!” And so on.
(The glass is empty. I pour another. My credit card has crept out of its wallet.)
I look at the race website. It looks beautiful, like most ultras. Wine makes it look even more beautiful. Pictures of rolling singletrack through golden aspens beckon seductively from the page – or snow-capped mountains, deep forest, red deserts. The alcohol makes me forget their flip sides, i.e. The ultra warts and wrinkles: heat, cold, oxygen deprivation, sleep deprivation, mosquitoes, sand-filled shoes, blisters, bloody knees, or a combination thereof.
I return to Ultrasignup, straight to the registration button. In that crucial moment of wine-induced ecstasy, I don’t see the pain, the mud, the exhaustion. I only see the beauty.
(I have initialed the waiver. I have typed in my credit card number. My glass is empty. I go to bed happy).
The next morning, I look at the confirmation email in my inbox. My memories are a bit hazy, but the email is there. The money has left my checking account. I pour a cup of coffee, then face the consequences of my actions like the grown-up that I am. And I lace up my running shoes. It’s time to train.
Have you ever been guilty of RUI (Registering under the Influence)? Please let me know!
In the meantime, it is good to be alive and running, sober or not.