Runner’s World+ member, Jason Magennis, sat down with deputy health and fitness editor, Mallory Creveling to chat about why (and how) he quit drinking. In addition to helping his running performance and his recovery, Magennis explains how the benefits he’s experienced from no alcohol expand beyond the sport.

preview for How Cutting Out Alcohol Helped Me Live Healthier and Run Faster

Runner’s World: Thank you so much for taking the time today to chat with us and share your story about your relationship with alcohol. To start off, what made you decide to reassess your relationship with alcohol and then stop drinking?

Jason Magennis: I had kind of cut back on my alcohol consumption for a while, for a variety of reasons. I did it mostly for health reasons—both physical health and mental health. I was making the active decision to cut some things out of my life that weren’t serving me well. And of course, that had a major impact on my running and my ability to train.

However, in 2020, we all got hit with the pandemic. Like a lot of folks, I found myself caught in that trap where I was drinking a little bit more than I wanted to, to fight the boredom of being stuck in the house all the time. And I noticed pretty quickly I wasn't feeling as well as I had been when I had made the decision to cut back on my alcohol consumption.

So, I made the decision in July 2020 to just quit cold turkey. There was no defined time really around it. It was more so like, let’s give it a try and see how I feel. Pretty early on in the process, I felt better. My energy returned. I was able to recover and do things that I hadn’t previously been doing as well. So I made the decision to stick with it and here we are almost two years later.

I heard an interview with Jesse Itzler who said, “remember tomorrow.” And that stuck with me.

RW: And what helped you stick with it, because you did cut back cold turkey?

JM: So, for me, it was more so focusing on the benefits I was taking away and keeping that very top of mind. I heard an interview with Jesse Itzler once and he used the phrase, “remember tomorrow.” And that just really stuck with me. I was like, well, yeah, I could have a couple of beers tonight with my friends out on the deck, but remember tomorrow: I’m getting up, I’ve gotta run. I need to be out at early and I don’t want that dragging me down.

So, to stick with it, I just really focused on all the benefits I was taking away from it and and keeping that top of mind as kind of my north star as to why it was the right decision for me.

RW: And can you expand on what some of those benefits were that you experienced?

JM: My sleep improved so much when I cut alcohol out. I didn’t realize it, even when I was tapering and cutting back before and having less, it was still impacting my sleep. Even one or two beers was causing me to be more restless and to not get the same quality.

When I went cold turkey after a little bit of time as my body adjusted, my sleep just improved dramatically. If you’ve had some drinks or you’ve been out late or whatever it may be, you don’t wake up feeling great in the morning. There’s always a bit of a fog or some varying degree of hangover that may be following you. And it was so great removing that from my life that when I woke up in the morning, I felt better. I’d had a good night’s sleep, I felt rested and I was ready to take on what I wanted to take on, whether that be a run, whether that be my day, something else in my schedule. It was nice removing that. That morning feeling is something I don’t want to give up again.

RW: Yeah, it is nice to actually wake up and feel like you’re ready for the day instead of feeling groggy, especially if you're running. As for the benefits you felt on the run, can you talk a little bit about that?

JM: I found my recovery really accelerated, like some of the aches and pains that I was having before I was able to recover from faster and I wasn't having that lingering effect the day after, say, a hard effort. I think that has a lot to do with my diet as well, but I think also the added rest and recovery was aiding that as well.

On my runs themselves, I just felt my energy was better. I felt I was able to manage and measure my heart rate better so I could then track performance and kind of scale up between aerobic and anaerobic workouts as I desired. And I felt like I had more control of the outcome. I had removed that variable that some mornings if I had had a beer or two with dinner the night before and I was a bit draggy the next day, I wasn’t overcoming that now. And so, I was able to really focus on what was important to me and what I was trying to track for that given run.

Without some of those things holding me back, I’m able to sustain my pace where I want it to be for longer periods of time and then recovering from them better on the back end.

RW: That’s great and you earned a few PRs?

JM: My first race back after making these changes, I had a new 10K PR—that was a big one. That was my first step up into a longer distance beyond the 5K. That was kind of where restart right. And so I'm saying a 10K PR was really exciting.

Don’t set it up like, I’m quitting forever... Just take it one day at a time

RW: Awesome and congrats on the PR—that’s always a plus. You mentioned it a bit about your mental state. Anything you’ve experienced maybe that was surprising or that you’ve just noticed since stopping drinking in terms of your mental health?

JM: I found I’ve been more patient, I’m able to deal with challenges in a bit more of a response way versus a reactionary way that helps me a lot with parenting. I have an 8-year-old and and other relationships in my life, and I found my focus has improved. I’m able to dedicate longer periods of time to a task at hand and so that benefits me professionally, but it also benefits me on the road when I’m training and I’m able to put in those longer training efforts. Like this morning, I did a speed run, for example, and I was doing intervals and it was not the best weather for it, but I was able to stay focused on my goal and overcome that. And I’ve seen that change happen since I’ve made the decision to move away from consuming alcohol.

These are benefits that I look at and I think, yeah they’ve done a lot for me from a running standpoint, but they’re also doing a lot for me from a life standpoint. So it’s been great to feel that benefit across multiple facets of who I am.

RW: What sort of advice would you have for others who are thinking about reassessing their relationship? What things should maybe they consider as well?

JM: I fell early on in the trap of comparing myself to friends and colleagues and so on, like oh, what’s their consumption? And I just don’t think that’s a healthy way to come at it. I think it’s really about thinking, what are your goals and where does alcohol fit within that?

As I made that assessment and looked at my own goals, it was clear to me that alcohol wasn’t really providing much benefit at all. If anything, it was holding me back. And so that was motivation to help me take that next step to where I want to go.

Also, don’t set it up like, I’m quitting forever or I’m quitting for a year. Just take it one day at a time. Say: Yeah, I’m not going to have anything to drink today. And then see how you feel the next day and then just let that snowball from there.

I think, often I’ve spoken with people who’ve set very aspirational targets and then feel really badly if they have a setback. So just take it one day at a time—that way, there’s no disappointment. If you have a setback you can just reset, move forward, and continue to go.

RW: Can you talk a little bit about how the running community has supported you even if it’s just through races or how that’s played a role in your life?

JM: This is a conversation that comes up a lot. How often do you finish a race and there’s a beer garden set up there and you’ve got a free ticket attached to your bib, right? So [running and drinking are] very much connected. But when I’ve spoken with other people who run or people who are interested in getting into the sport, generally, the running community is very supportive of this decision.

At least for myself as a runner, my goal is to help pick people up. If someone’s doing something they feel is gonna help them improve and feel better about the effort and what they’re achieving, then I’m all about helping them and supporting them on that. And I felt like that was reciprocated with me where people have been very complimentary of me taking on this challenge of giving up alcohol. They also give me lots of support for the benefits I’m seeing as an outcome [of not drinking].

It’s exciting, at 42, to be setting PRs and reaching new distances.

RW: I love to hear that. Awesome. Is there anything else that you wanted to add about your relationship with alcohol or running?

JM: Personally, this was the right decision. I feel better now than I have in years. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since I can’t remember. And it’s exciting, at 42, to be setting PRs and to be reaching new distances that I’ve never been able to manage before. So I see it as, I’m continuing to move up and grow and develop in the sport. This is just a tool I’m using to get there.

So, I would encourage anyone who’s out there thinking about [quitting] and questioning the role that alcohol may play in their running and in their life, just think about what the benefits are and ask yourself what do you have to lose? Take a couple days off, see what you feel, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the benefits far start to outweigh what you’ve given up to get there.

RW: That’s great. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your advice and being open with us about your story and your relationship with alcohol.

Headshot of Mallory Creveling
Mallory Creveling
Deputy Editor, Health & Fitness

Mallory Creveling, an ACE-certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified run coach, joined the Runner's World and Bicycling team in August 2021. She has more than a decade of experience covering fitness, health, and nutrition. As a freelance writer, her work appeared in Women's Health, Self, Men's Journal, Reader's Digest, and more. She has also held staff editorial positions at Family Circle and Shape magazines, as well as A former New Yorker/Brooklynite, she's now based in Easton, PA.