Philadelphia Runners is our new series name for something that we have being doing for almost one score (that’s twenty years for those keeping, um, score…..pun intended): highlighting the individuals and collectives who are spicing up Philly. Our beautiful, global city is filled with amazing people doing remarkable things. Several of these people happen to be runners, and some of those feats happen to be run–related. We recently caught up with Philadelphia Runner Jessica Main for an insight into her running journey, sobriety, and how her involvement in Philly’s running community led to founding an intentionally powerful movement within our space.
“You’re sober? What’s your problem?” I missed half a beat recovering from the shock of being asked this question, in this way, and then responded “Alcoholism.”
Alcohol is the only drug that I know of where the stigma comes from NOT consuming it.
I quit drinking a little over 3 years ago. In addition to the decision to quit, came the decision of what to tell people. The early pandemic timing made it a little easier, no one was going to the bar. But as restrictions lessened, it was either: make up a story about why I wasn’t drinking, or, tell the truth.
I decided to be honest. I am an alcoholic. I was drinking daily, and waking up in a pit of shame every morning. It seemed pretty clear that I could either quit drinking, or risk losing everything that mattered to me.
Even at the height of my drinking, I didn’t stop running. But I added more in as I got sober. I was feeling stronger, and faster, so I finally felt confident enough to join up with a local run club I follow. It’s a great community – and I’m friends with a lot of members. But when I looked at that night’s route, I realized that they were ending at a brewery. A brewery that I’d spent a lot of time at, and that at that time, I just couldn’t go back to.
It was then that I remembered that the “B” in the run club’s acronym stood for “Beer.” It’s no secret that fitness and drinking go hand in hand. In fact, a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that “people who work out regularly and are aerobically fit tend to guzzle a surprising amount of alcohol.” Race medals come with a built–in bottle opener. Beer brands and hard seltzers are “official partners” of major races, and group runs end with a happy hour.
The day of the brewery run I texted a friend that I felt like I was mourning a loss.
Nine months later, I was at November Project, and sat down on the steps for the group photo. Jesse Keenan sat next to me and said, “Nick Malfitano and I are thinking about starting a sober running club, would you be interested in helping us lead?”
And I cried.
We’re coming up on our 18–month anniversary. We meet on the first Saturday of the month for a 3ish mile run, followed by a sober social. We’ve had runs as small as 3 people, and runs with upwards of 30 runners. The interest and momentum is growing – and I am not kidding when I say that building this movement is one of my proudest accomplishments.
Inclusivity is our overarching goal. We want anyone and everyone to feel safe and comfortable to join us. Sober, sober curious, taking a break, a drinker who wants to hang out with some cool folks. You’re welcome here. Fast? Come on out. Back of the pack? So am I. We introduce ourselves with our pronouns and invite our runners to do the same before we head out.
At the beginning of each run we tell the group that we: focus on what we CAN do, not what we can’t or don’t. And that is: moving our bodies, and being in community. The Philly running community is straight up magic, and we are so grateful to be part of it in our own unique way.
Do you have a story that you would like to share, or a runner that you would like to see featured? Send us an email: email@example.com.