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What Running Means to Me in Sobriety and Life

The mountains and the earth are Joe's Canvas and show what running means.

There is something fundamental and raw about running, being immersed in nature, in tune with my heart, and, in many ways, vulnerable to the world. Concentrating on the sound of my feet shuffling through the foliage on the trail, I had a recurring thought while running one day: The world is my canvas. My feet, the brush. I am not sure where this thought came from, but I was aware of the miracle of movement, giving my heart to the trail. Becoming an ultrarunner has given me many transformative miles over the past few years. 

Lying on the Bathroom Floor

The rewards I receive–both physically and mentally–have been repaid tenfold. On that particular day, I paused mid-run to reflect on how far I had come, now sober, my first 50k looming. Ordinarily, I would’ve been lying on the bathroom floor at that early hour, sick with a hangover, enveloped in a dark cloud of shame, trying to piece together what I had done the previous night. I don’t owe my sobriety to running. I have an incredibly supportive family to thank for that, as well as recovery rooms and the 12-step program. However, I do owe my continuation in recovery to running.

Crushing Depression

 I used to suffer from debilitating anxiety and crushing depression. I likened it to having a dark cloud hanging over my head 24/7. Early in my sobriety, I was deeply affected by anxiety. No longer able to self-medicate, my anxiety grew worse than it had ever been. On December 1st, 2020, while having a lovely dinner with my family, celebrating a year of sobriety, my wife suggested we stop at Anytime Fitness and sign me up for a gym membership. That next day, ashamed of my body, I went to the gym early and started walking on the treadmill. 

The World Is My Canvas

Thus began one of the most rewarding journeys I have ever taken. The following November I signed up for my first 5K, which eventually developed into a passion for trail and ultra running. I will likely pursue running until the day my body gives out. The community, inclusivity, and love I have found in the trail-running community fills my heart with unquantifiable joy. To me, running is like art: The world is my canvas. My feet, the brush.

Forever yours from the trail, Joe Hardin


Joe Hardin Author Run Tri Bike

Joe Hardin is a father of two, a lover of the trails, and a new ultra-distance runner. By day, he is a research and development technician; by night, he is an aspiring artist and writer. He is also an advocate for addiction recovery, inclusivity in endurance sports and a plant-based lifestyle.