A Runner Is Born

7 Mar

When I was sixteen, I started smoking due to peer pressure. Although I was not quite a pariah in high school, I was not exactly popular either. I was one of a handful of girls who who kind of hung around on the fringes while the pretty, popular, sociable ones traveled in packs. All my life I have suffered from social anxiety, and high school was, for me, a time filled with awkward social angst.

Many of the popular girls would go to parties and smoke. They made it look cool, like the thing cool kids do. And so, in a misguided attempt to fit in with this crowd, I started smoking too. Throughout the next decade, I made the occasional token attempt to quit, but these attempts were never really sincere. They were driven more by guilt than anything else.

It was a lot easier to be a smoker in those days. You could legally smoke just about anywhere: in bars and restaurants, in airports, in shopping malls. You could even smoke in the workplace, although out of respect for my non-smoking friend Gary, who sat in the workstation beside mine at the office, I refrained from smoking at my desk. If I wanted to light up, I went to the communal coffee area and smoked there.

Shortly after I turned 26, however, something in me changed. It was a something that would prompt me to try quitting for real. It was not a concern for my health, even though – as my parents pointed out to me many times as they desperately tried to get me to quit – several family members had died from smoking-related illnesses. It was not the cost, which even back then was astronomical. It was not the nagging to quit that my family and friends subjected me to (in fact, because I can be stubborn and perversely bloody-minded, the nagging was probably my biggest deterrent to quitting).

I simply woke up one morning and realized that I was tired of being a smoker.

That was all it took.

I knew that I was not the kind of person who would just be able to go cold turkey. And if I was going to quit, I wanted to do it properly, in a way that would ensure that I would never smoke again.

Common sense told me that in order to break the habit, I would need to replace it with something else. Instead of having a cigarette with my morning coffee, or after my meals, or during my work breaks, I would have to do something else. I also realized that my endeavours would be a lot more effective if I took steps to ensure that I wouldn’t actually want to smoke.

So instead of quitting there and then, I picked a date six months in advance and decided that I would quit then. I used the six months to prepare myself, mentally and physically.

I took up crossword puzzles, to get into the habit of doing something else with my hands, and also, quite frankly, with my mind.

I told everyone I knew that I was quitting and when, to ensure that I would be mortified by embarrassment if I didn’t follow through. This also had the advantage of securing support from friends and family.

I recruited a friend to quit on the same day as me, just so that I wouldn’t be doing it alone. I have since lost contact with that particular friend, but I have heard through the grapevine that he has quit several times since then.

Most importantly, I made changes to my general lifestyle. I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal: if I was going to improve my lifestyle in one area, I might as well go all-out. So I cut back on the junk food and started eating fruit. I kicked the Coca Cola habit and switched to water. I couldn’t bring myself to give up coffee entirely, but I did go from eight cups a day to about three.

It was at this time of my life, while I was preparing myself to quit smoking, that I started running for the first time. To be fair, the term “running” is a little grand for what I was doing. Bear in mind that I hadn’t exercised in years. I was overweight and unhealthy, and the smoking had put ten years’ worth of crap in my lungs. When I started running, I was really putting in about thirty seconds of wheezy plodding for every ten minutes of walking.

My friend Gary (the same Gary for whom I had given up smoking at my desk), who happens to be a marathoner, said to me, “Some day you will be running races.” Gary was unbelievably supportive of my venture to quit and be healthy. While other people at the office were telling me that I would never quit, Gary had complete confidence that I would succeed. He gave me tips on improving my lifestyle, and he provided me with beginner training programs that would help me make the metamorphosis from “plodder who can barely put one foot in front of the other” to “runner”.

At the same time, I was drinking in advice from my Dad, who had been a marathon runner in his youth. He showed me how to pace myself, how to breathe while running, how to handle hills.

I gave up smoking on the day I had scheduled, almost fifteen years ago. I have not picked up a cigarette, or even had a craving since then.

One day, about four months after I had quit, I woke up and went for a run. By that time I was walking and running in more or less equal proportions. I would walk for five minutes and run for five minutes. I felt myself making progress, but I still didn’t really feel like a real runner.

Anyway, on this particular morning, I set out on my usual route, and I found myself focusing a lot more on how I was running. I set myself little targets: just get to that traffic light. Just run as far as that tree. You can make it past those apartment buildings. I gradually became aware that my breathing, which had always been a little jagged from all the years of smoking, was now regular and strong. I took stock of how my legs were feeling and realized that the gradual build-up of exercise had made me stronger.

Eventually, I looked at my watch, thinking that my first five minutes of running must have elapsed by now. I was stunned – for the first time ever, I had run for ten consecutive minutes without stopping, without even slowing down. I took a one-minute walking break, even though I didn’t feel as if I needed it, and then ran my second set of ten minutes just as effortlessly as the first.

That day, for the first time ever, I felt that I had earned the right to call myself a runner.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “A Runner Is Born”

  1. bearrunner March 7, 2011 at 12:36 PM #

    Excellent job, good post. I smoked too, attempting to quit. Running is a great sport I take alot of enjoyment from doing…

    Love the blog

    cheers

  2. runningforautism March 7, 2011 at 12:48 PM #

    I am officially addicted to running. It’s funny how things can change. Someday, when the kids are old enough for me to have more time, I will hit the big time and go for a marathon.
    Good luck with quitting smoking, and thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: