AUSTIN (KXAN) — Sunday, tens of thousands runners will compete in the Austin Marathon and every single one them has their own reason and purpose behind each step they take toward the finish line.

“Running’s my medicine,” said Shawn Livingston. He is an Army veteran who saw his life hit rock bottom as he struggled with heroin addiction.

His story begins in late 2007 when he joined the Army. During training, he said, “I just came up one time and kind of tweaked my back a little bit and the next day, I couldn’t roll out of bed.”

Livingston explained that back then, not many people talked about the severity of opioid addictions as they do now. 

“Their recourse was to give out painkillers,” he said. 

Even when he deployed to Iraq. “I thought I had food poisoning and actually I was going through withdrawals and didn’t know it,” Livingston explained. “So that feeling became all the more familiar and started happening more frequently until eventually getting sick was an everyday thing.”

When he returned, he sought treatment but continued to struggle and turned to heroin.

“Painkillers became astronomically priced and then you find something that’s cheaper in price and stronger for you,” Livingston told KXAN. “Within the blink of an eye, it gets away from you. It grabs a hold of you. It doesn’t discriminate who you are, what you’re doing. It can really happen to anybody.”

Eventually, Livingston ended up getting arrested for drug possession. He realized he had to turn his life around.

He said he came to Austin about two years ago for treatment and learned about a nonprofit called Back On My Feet. On its website, the group wrote it “combats homelessness through the power of running, community support and essential employment and housing resources.”

Livingston said finding that group and discovering running played a tremendous role. “I have been in treatment other times and I look back, what was the difference, you know, what made it different this time, and I would definitely say the physical activity.”

He said his first race was the Pedernales 10K trail race. 

“There was nothing quite like running my first race, coming across the finish line and getting a medal around your neck.”

He started running longer distances and last year, finished a 100-mile trail race. 

Sunday will be his second Austin Marathon.

“Twenty-six miles on the road is still 26 miles on the road,” he said. “I’m just excited to do it again and improve on the time of last year.”

This year, KXAN is a proud sponsor of the Austin Marathon. In addition to the 26-mile race, you can run in the half marathon or the 5K. Registration is open until 4 p.m. Saturday.