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  • Writer's pictureMike and Glenn

The AA promises; the finish line or a mile-marker?

The book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is so masterfully written. The first 164 pages provide a textbook, a playbook, for a better life. Unfortunately, we don't refer back to it as often as we should, as the solutions to many of our daily challenges are found on those pages.

On a recent episode of, the podcast, Mike Glenn and Don parked on pages 83 and 84 of that big book to discuss “the promises” from their perspective. You can hear that episode here.

The parallel to running a race struck us as we relistened to that coffee session. In this blog, you will look at some similarities and differences between running a marathon and journeying toward recovery.

The decision reports that, according to RunRepeat, approximately 0.05% of the United States population has completed a marathon and that throughout the world, about 1.1 million runners finish a marathon each year.

Though empirical data is not available, A Stanford article based on an extensive review titled “Alcoholics Anonymous most effective path to alcohol abstinence” estimated that over 2 million individuals are members of the AA community

For members of each group, entry started with a decision. What is my purpose for running this race? What is my why to living a sober life? We feel that success in either endeavor demands a solid “why.” The decision is the starting point for the identification and why is the ownership and motivation.

One can run a marathon motivated by achieving health or social status. Likewise, one can desire sobriety because of its effect on a loved one, its impact on themselves, health, finance, or legalities.

The reason doesn't matter. What matters is that there is a reason.

The prep

Once the decision had been made and the “why” identified, specific preparations were required regardless of the endeavor. We needed to understand what we were getting into. We needed to read, listen and learn. We required the right book, the right shoes, and the proper guidance if we were to attain our goals. A plan of action was a necessity.

We turned to the guidance of trainers down our path successfully. In addition, advice from marathon runners and AA sponsors was critical to preparing for the journey.

The start – and setting the pace

Certified Running Coach, Laura Norris, suggests you should not begin immediately at a moderate pace. Instead, you start easy, warm up in those first few miles, and settle into a comfortable effort. That's precisely how you want to start your marathon. Pace the first few miles as a warm-up and run them at about 10-30 seconds per mile, slower than the goal pace.

Similarly, we should consider early sobriety as building on strength for a long trip.

There is much to take in in the early part of either race. Mental adjustments and understanding our limitations and capabilities-listening to our minds and bodies- are critical to completion.

Forward momentum

Here is where the rubber met the road. The fact is that we have signed up and started a race. Now it was time to run. Long-distance endeavors require constant movement toward the finish line.

As stated by Healthline, “A non-competitive, relatively in-shape runner usually completes one mile in about 9 to 10 minutes, on average. If you’re new to running, you might run one mile in closer to 12 to 15 minutes as you build up endurance. Elite marathon runners average a mile in around 4 to 5 minutes. The current world record for one mile is 3:43.13, set by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in 1999.”

As we witnessed, those with the greatest of successes in AA are constantly learning and serving. On average, we see victors at several weekly meetings and have witnessed their service work, including working with other alcoholics to achieve their goals.

The bottom line is the finish line. To get there, you need to be in motion. Sitting at the starting point will not get you the ribbon. Instead, it would be best if you ran to realize triumph.

The mile markers

In a marathon, the route is established, and the miles are marked. Most marathoners run with a watch, but racers, not eyes, win marathons. The markers give a gauge of progress. Likewise, the required action steps of AA are marked (in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous), and constant review of one’s self indicates progress.

In many cases, supporters line the race path hollering words of encouragement and support. This same confirmation can be found in the fellowship of AA – in meetings and through daily contact.


It would be best to have a healthy pace to avoid “fade” or “bonk” in a marathon. There is an energy that comes at the 20-mile mark. Read on; “A marathon is 26.2 miles; a half-marathon is 13.1 miles. However, marathoners often experience “the wall” of endurance at the 20-mile mark. “There is a saying among marathoners: ‘After 20 miles, you’re halfway there’” was cited in 1975. “Conventional wisdom says that at 20 miles, you are only halfway to the finish of a marathon.”

The ninth step promises suggests that we will be amazed before we are halfway through. What does that mean? We believe it to mean that, as the 9th step is worked, good things will begin to happen and when one is halfway through their amends process- The promises will start to play out in their life.

The Last 20

Endurance is tested. There is a focus on Cadence. Pace is monitored closely. The finish is envisioned.

The separation of men and boys becomes more distinct as the race gets tougher. Few great results come from less-than-great effort.

Fearless and thorough step work is where we accelerate to achieve a strong recovery. There is no substitute for grit and determination. Failing to push for personal-best results leaves us shy of what could be.

The Ribbon

Here is where we hit the predicted differences. When you run a marathon, there is a finish line—the ultimate end-game. There is time set aside for cooling down and celebration. You get your ribbon, and you go home.

In recovery, we look at each day as a race in and of itself. Early in recovery, it is easy to compare sober us to drunk us. We know where our car is. We didn’t urinate ourselves. We didn't puke on our shoes. Those victories are easy.

But as we mature in recovery, we compare today's version of ourselves with yesterday’s version. Did we have a better pace? Did we stick to our cadence? Did we learn? Did we grow? Did we serve? Are we soberer today than we were yesterday? If so, we grant ourselves a ribbon for that day and return to run another race tomorrow.

Most of us aim not to possess the world record for a marathon or be the best sober out there. - The goal is to be our personal best.


Thoughts and ideas for this blog post were taken and built upon from a podcast titled “#E18 AA 9th Step "Promises" - Part I - Overview”....The podcast dropped on 8/24/2021. Click here to hear the podcast.


Alcoholics Anonymous and AA are registered trademarks of Alcoholics World Service. Inc. References to AA, the 12 steps, and 12 traditions does not mean that AA has reviewed or approved the contents of this publication nor that AA agrees with the views expressed herein. This publication is intended to support personal growth and should not be considered a substitute for healthcare professionals' advice. The author’s advice and viewpoints are their own.


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