Benya Clark
I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

A lesson in sticking out my runs to the bitter end.

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Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Setting My Sights on a 10K PB

Summer in North Carolina is not a great season for runners. It’s hot and humid, with temperatures regularly reaching into the high-90s and occasionally breaking into the triple digits.

In this heat, my running has suffered. My “easy” pace is often two minutes per mile slower than I’m used to, and I still come home completely drenched in sweat. There’s no way I have a chance of setting any personal records during the peak of the summer.

It wasn’t until the past few weeks that we finally started to feel a bit of reprieve here. As the temperatures fell and the humidity decreased, my runs have steadily increased in pace, while my perceived effort has gotten easier than ever. …

What I’ve learned and experienced while quitting smoking.

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Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Reaching a Milestone

Today marks a milestone in my life that I’m extremely proud of: the end of my first full year nicotine-free since I started smoking back in high school.

I’ve struggled to quit smoking for years. The first attempt that I remember making was when I was just out of college, around age 22. I went to a psychologist for help, and he recommended an entire array of treatments, ranging from nicotine patches to hypnosis. None of it did much good.

Since then, I’ve tried to quit at least once nearly every year, using every method I could find. Sometimes I’d manage to stop for a few months at a time, and other times I’d only last a few days or even hours. …

After over three years sober, there’s a part of my addiction that I still don’t understand.

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Photo by Matt Walsh on Unsplash

The Lingering Question

When I first quit drinking, I was full of questions: Do I really have an addiction? Can I actually quit? Will life be any better sober?

Quitting drinking was a confusing time, but sobriety brought me a lot of clarity. After over three years without a drink, I’ve managed to find answers to most of the questions that used to keep me up at night. (Yes, I really had an addiction. Yes, I really could quit. Yes, life really will be better sober.)

Despite all this progress, there’s one question that I’ve still never found a satisfying answer to: Why did I drink so much in the first place? …

Even those of us who suffer from depression sometimes make this mistake.

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Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Do You Have This Common Misconception?

Major depressive disorder has been an unfortunate, recurring event throughout my life. I first experienced depression when I was in high school, and depressive episodes have come and gone ever since.

The simplest way that I could describe what depression feels like is that I’m bogged down by a sense of overwhelming sadness. There’s a lot more that goes along with it too though: when I’m depressed, I have trouble with both falling asleep and getting up, I don’t cook or eat as much, and it’s incredibly hard for me to find the motivation to do much of anything.

My depressive episodes often seem to come out of nowhere. I’ve had them when I was at the lowest points in my life, but I’ve also had them when I was otherwise doing great. …

How a tiny addition to my easy runs helped me achieve a sub-25 minute 5k.

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Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash

When I started running, my first major goal was to run 5k (about 3.1 miles) in under half an hour. This is an incredibly popular goal among beginner runners, and for good reason: it’s much farther and faster than most of us start out running, but it’s typically an achievable time after a few months of consistent exercise.

In order to hit a sub-30 minute 5k, I simply had to run frequently (three or more times a week) and consistently (not taking any weeks off). Once I achieved this goal though, I stopped improving as quickly. …

Are you ignoring the same addiction warning sign that I was?

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Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

Before eventually getting sober, I spent many years debating with myself over whether I had a drinking problem. There were plenty of obvious addiction warning signs in my life, but I wanted so badly not to be an addict that I downplayed and ignored all the indications that I had a drinking problem. I guess that I was hoping that by not acknowledging my addiction, I could somehow make it go away.

One of the most obvious warning signs that I ignored was the fact that I often drank so much that it made me sick: I would literally drink beer after beer until I ended up kneeling over a toilet and puking my guts out. …

Medium has launched the beta of their new profile pages — what’s changed?

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Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Earlier today, Medium launched the beta for their redesigned profile pages. If you haven’t seen the new design yet, you can check it out on my profile.

What’s New

The redesign includes two major additions to the profile pages. The first is adding customization options which allow writers to have more control of the visual appearance of our profile pages. We can now choose background and accent colors, adjust the header (including adding a header image), and enable/disable a sidebar with our profile description.

It’s nice to have these new customization options, although they do feel a little limited at the moment. I’m useless with visual design, so I just tried out a few color combinations from Color Hunt until I found one I liked. …

As a heavy drinker, I thought I was an exception to the rules.

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Photo by Elena Kloppenburg on Unsplash

I Thought I Was Different

One of the hardest things for an alcoholic to accept is how similar we are to other alcoholics. I was a heavy, daily drinker for over a decade, but the entire time I tried to convince myself that my addiction was somehow different from everyone else’s.

When I saw how alcohol had ruined other people’s lives, I told myself it could never happen to me. …

What you need to know before you start a bodyweight fitness routine

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Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

My Background With Calisthenics

With gyms closed around the country, calisthenics (also known as bodyweight fitness) is seeing a surge in popularity. Since it can be performed with little or no equipment, it’s a great way to build or maintain fitness without access to free weights and machines.

My own introduction to calisthenics began a couple of years ago through online running forums. Runners often recommend bodyweight fitness as the perfect strength training compliment to their workouts. The reasoning is that it allows you to gain strength and improve muscle imbalances without putting on much weight.

Until recently, I had always performed calisthenics halfheartedly — doing a random set of push-ups or pull-ups a few times a week. Since its explosion in popularity though, I’ve started taking bodyweight fitness more seriously, and discovered how many mistakes I had been making. …

Getting laid off was the perfect excuse to start drinking, but I turned to new habits instead.

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Photo by Bit Cloud on Unsplash

The Perfect Excuse

Last week, I got laid off. It was stressful, upsetting, and the perfect excuse for a relapse, but I’m proud to say that I stayed sober.

This news wasn’t entirely unexpected. Ever since the coronavirus swept across the globe, I’ve been working severely reduced hours. I’ve worried that layoffs might be coming for months, but I told myself I was just being anxious and pessimistic.

Then, last Friday, my worries became reality when I was told that my job would be permanently disappearing. Even though it was half-expected, I was still distraught when I heard the news.

I had already been feeling depressed for the past month or so, and this huge additional amount of stress was the last thing that I needed. It isn’t the worst thing that’s happened to me since getting sober, but it certainly ranks in the top five. …

Five reasons you might be experiencing a running slump.

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Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

One of the most frustrating things that a runner can experience is an unexplained slump. Despite being injury and illness free, your runs are suddenly harder, your pace is slower, and your heart rate is higher. These slumps can be especially disconcerting for newer runners, who are used to seeing their paces and fitness constantly improve.

Fortunately, most running slumps actually can be explained. If your runs have suddenly gotten much harder, check for these common issues which might be the culprit:

Heat and Humidity

It’s common wisdom that high temperatures and humidity make running more difficult, but newer runners may underestimate just how extreme this effect can be. (Especially here in the Southern U.S.) In the heat of the summer, you can expect your paces to slow by one minute per mile or more. If you push to maintain the same pace that you had in the winter, you’ll see your heart rate rise significantly to keep up. …

Crossing this line could lead to disaster.

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Photo by Adam Jaime on Unsplash

When I first got sober, I was constantly searching for excuses to give up and go back to drinking. As much as I wanted to turn my life around, I was deeply addicted to alcohol, and addictions are never easy to give up.

There was one thought in particular that I was often tempted by: “Why not have just one drink?”

Searching for Justifications

I expect that most people, especially recovering addicts, can immediately see the trouble with an alcoholic having “just one” drink: Unfortunately, it’s never really “just one.”

As soon as I finish that first drink, I immediately talk myself into another, then another. One drunken night turns into two, and eventually I’m back to drinking every single day. …

How a shift in thinking helped me to quit drinking and stay sober.

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Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Building Healthy Mindsets

Three and a half years ago, I left behind a heavy drinking habit that had plagued me for over a decade. It was one of the hardest periods of my life, and I’m still impressed, proud, and surprised by my success.

The entire first year of sobriety was a challenge for me, as I struggled to adapt to a radically different way of living my life. I had gotten so used to using alcohol as a crutch that I had forgotten how to get by without it.

Part of my trouble was that I was still stuck in the mindsets that had kept me addicted to alcohol for so many years: I searched for excuses to give up. I stressed out over things completely out of my control. I daydreamed about eventually returning to my daily drinking habit. …

How quitting alcohol affected my mental health.

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Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

I’ve struggled with depression throughout most of my life. As a teenager, I treated my symptoms through therapy and prescription antidepressants. As a young adult, I drifted away from these healthy solutions and toward a far more dangerous one: self-medicating with alcohol.

Getting drunk provided a distraction from my depressed feelings, and I turned to that distraction as often as I could. At the time I didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but in retrospect it’s clear that alcohol had become my one solace from depression.

By my mid-twenties, I had practically forgotten what it was like to be depressed. The mental health issue that had plagued me throughout high school and college had been replaced with a new one: addiction. …

Despite his protestations, DeSean Jackson’s posts prove his antisemitism.

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Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

DeSean Jackson, wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, ignited a firestorm earlier this week when he shared a virulently antisemitic quote on his Instagram. The quote, which was falsely attributed to Hitler, parroted an antisemitic conspiracy theory and claimed that Jews would “blackmail” and “extort” America to cover it up.

As a Jew, I’ve witnessed plenty of antisemitism throughout my life, and I’ve directly received my fair share of it. While I’m certainly not shocked to see a famous athlete peddle this garbage to his 1.4 million Instagram followers, I am absolutely outraged by it.

The post was horrific on many levels. First, for the content itself, which spread a pernicious conspiracy theory about a frequently persecuted minority group. Jews have been scapegoats throughout history, and unfortunately we continue to be used as scapegoats to this day. …

Three steps to go from a complete beginner to running over three miles.

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Photo by Fil Mazzarino on Unsplash

Poor endurance is an incredibly common problem among new runners. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity, or one hour and fifteen minutes of high intensity activity, every week. In order to spend that much time on their feet, beginner runners need to focus on increasing their endurance.

Five kilometers (approximately 3.1 miles) is a great endurance goal for beginning runners. …

How a simple excuse delayed my sobriety for years.

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Photo by Salem Ochidi on Unsplash

I used to be an extremely heavy drinker. I spent years of my life — about a decade total — drinking alcohol nearly every night. Some nights I’d drink as “little” as a six-pack. Other nights I’d go through nearly an entire case of beer.

One of the things that confuses outsiders about alcoholics is how we can drink so much without realizing that we have a drinking problem. The truth is that I was fully aware of my drinking problem, but I still spent years doing nothing about it.

I Wasn’t Planning — I Was Procrastinating

I knew after only a few years of drinking that my habit had gotten out of control. I was still in my early twenties when I first reached the point of drinking every night. …

Developing a positive mindset towards sobriety.

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Photo by Peter Conlan on Unsplash

Relapse as a Trope

I recently finished the excellent short story collection Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. It was packed with heartbreaking and poignant moments that reminded me just how powerful short stories can be.

Unfortunately, in an otherwise nearly perfect collection, one story rubbed me the wrong way: “Only Goodness,” the story of a woman’s struggle with her brother’s addiction to alcohol.

Although Lahiri’s depiction of alcoholism is undeniably accurate, the story’s climax relies on the tired trope of an alcoholic’s inevitable relapse. It’s a plot line that I’m simply exhausted with.

In nearly every piece of media about alcohol addiction — whether it’s a short story, novel, TV show, or movie — the writers feel the need to treat relapse as the primary source of dramatic tension. As readers and viewers, we’ve been trained to believe in the inevitability of relapse, and the writer’s can’t seem to resist drawing on that expectation. …

How I keep from going insane with boredom on my long runs.

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Photo by Matteo Di Iorio on Unsplash

Tips and Tricks to Stave Off Boredom

One of the most common complaints that I hear from new runners is that running is just “too boring.” It’s a shame, because this complaint often leads to new runners abandoning the hobby altogether.

Sure, it’s easy to stay entertained during a race or a tough interval session, but how can you keep from going crazy during hour-long solo runs? For some runners, these long runs are just excruciatingly boring.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of “tips and tricks” to help make running more exciting. Many of these are sworn to by new and experienced runners alike. …

How to know when your daily coffee is doing more harm than good.

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Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

Why Quit Caffeine?

Most of us never think twice about our love for caffeinated drinks. Caffeine is the most ubiquitous psychoactive substance on the planet. It can feel nearly impossible to find an adult who doesn’t drink tea or coffee on a regular basis.

Caffeine is also widely accepted as beneficial: it helps us wake up in the morning, concentrate at work, and even perform better at sports. With so much going for it, why would anyone ever want to quit?

My trouble with caffeine arose last year, when I quit smoking and started to get seriously bad insomnia. At first I assumed that quitting nicotine was messing with my sleep, but I soon learned that this was only half-right. …

Why quitting alcohol has been an immense relief.

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Photo by Ambreen Hasan on Unsplash

Hitting a Milestone

Today marks exactly three and a half years since I quit drinking. These milestones are always a fun time to feel grateful for just how far I’ve come.

I spent so many years of my life feeling ashamed of my excessive drinking. These days, I get to feel pride in my sobriety instead. It’s a truly wonderful feeling.

I’ve written extensively about my sobriety before, but as today was approaching, I asked myself how I could sum it all up more succinctly. …

How I finally stopped letting anxiety control the way I dress for runs.

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Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

For most runners, exercising without a shirt is no big deal at all; they don’t think twice before shedding a sweat-drenched layer. For some of us though, going without a shirt can be incredibly intimidating.

This is a common enough problem that nearly every month the running forum on Reddit sees another thread about it. Those discussions are full of runners who are nervous about going for a run without a shirt (whether that’s in sports bras for the women, or completely shirtless for the men).

Until recently, I was one of those anxious runners who always kept his shirt on, even when it meant getting uncomfortably drenched with sweat. This summer though, I finally pushed through my anxiety and found the confidence to start running shirtless. …

It’s tough to quit drinking, but it’s not impossible.

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Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

For heavy drinkers, getting sober is truly a life-changing decision. Although I quit drinking nearly three and a half years ago, I can still vividly remember my first week of sobriety.

It was a scary time in my life. I had tried to quit before and failed, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that this time around would be any different. As my cravings and withdrawal symptoms increased, I spent many hours questioning whether it was all worth it. I worried that I’d end up relapsing and all my suffering would have been for nothing.

One of the main things that helped me through those early days was reading accounts of other people who had gotten sober. It taught me what to expect, and it provided me inspiration to keep going when sobriety felt rough. …

Showing up for your sessions is just the first step.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I’m a strong proponent of psychotherapy. It’s helped me through some of the toughest times in my life, and I’ve had several great therapists who changed my life.

Unfortunately, I’ve also had a couple of negative experiences with therapy. The most recent was a few years ago, when I started seeing a therapist after quitting drinking and falling into depression. After months of visits, I felt like I had made no progress whatsoever.

Every session felt like a checklist of what was wrong with my life; a litany of problems with no solutions. …

Running has more to offer than just improved fitness and weight loss.

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Photo by Brian Erickson on Unsplash

You’ve probably heard all about the benefits that running can offer: It improves your physical health, building up your aerobic system. It can put you in a better mood, and even have long-term benefits for your mental health. For me, running was instrumental in quitting smoking.

In addition to these common benefits though, running has often surprised me with smaller perks that I never saw coming. If you’re looking for more motivation to run, I hope one of these might help:

Learn the Local Wildlife

Going on frequent runs is a great way to learn more about your local wildlife. Whether you’re running on a trail or even down a neighborhood sidewalk, you’re almost certain to pass at least a few birds on any given run. …

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