Running On Fumes
Ah, cigarettes. My nemesis. My kryptonite. My evil, twisted mistress. I’ve been unable to escape her affections since the age of 15. What started as a dalliance with rebellion, furiously puffing a pack of Marlboro Reds out of the skylight at my dad’s, turned into something more permanent. I think I can say, with some conviction, that I was never addicted. It’s been more of a habitual relationship. Albeit, an expensive, fairly constant habitual relationship. It never crept out of that zone though; I was fortunate never to experience pangs of desire or withdrawal symptoms. I’ve never liked smoking at work, as I didn’t like speaking to people when I reeked of tobacco ash and stale smoke. So, I didn’t. It was quite simple. I smoked throughout the day during my university years but following that I became more of a social smoker; a fag when I drank kind of guy. The problem with that was that I’m more than partial to a drink too. So, my consumption of cigarettes continued apace throughout my twenties and into my early thirties.
Smoking was always something I intended to knock on the head but just hadn’t got round to it yet. I could do it, I knew I could. Willpower wasn’t a problem, I just wasn’t quite ready yet. There was always this event or that; another stag do, another wedding. Basically, always an excuse. Around about the age of 28 I took up running. Mainly, this was to address my sudden and terrifying weight gain but I also saw it as a way of cancelling out the effects of my extra-curricular smoking.
What running actually did was help me to stop smoking. Of course, the desire, however latent, must be there in the first place but you need a catalyst, a kick-start, to make that nagging thought an active concern. Becoming a runner did that, and do you want to know how? Guilt. Plain and simple. Sure, it made me want to approach other aspects of my lifestyle; mainly my diet and my alcohol consumption. Any form of exercise will always do that. Your body craves the nutrients vital to be able to undertake regular, taxing exercise. This means less Findus Crispy Pancakes and more steamed white fish and rice. I stopped taking sugar in my tea (then moved from regular tea to green tea), changed from white bread to granary and began to cut a lot of red meat out of my diet. But this wasn’t because of some crazy fitness fad, it’s just what my body desired.
But my body still desired beer and fags. Kicking them wasn’t something that came naturally. Which is where the guilt came in. It seemed kind of ridiculous to make all of these lifestyle changes, losing weight and looking and feeling a damn sight healthier, yet to keep up the one thing that was most dangerous to my health. It seemed hypocritical to be jogging along some hill or dale, feeling the adrenaline buzz with wide, open lungs, knowing full well that a few hours from then I’d be chugging on a pack of twenty cigarettes. This was something I had to do for myself. No longer could I see one as a reward for the miles I put in. Imagine how much faster I would be if I stopped, how much longer I could go for.
So I stopped. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy but it wasn’t difficult. It’s a matter of breaking the habit. Having those first few pints without immediately running out of the pub with a fag jammed between my pursed lips and a lighter sparking between my fingers. I did it and I felt a hell of a lot better for it. My lung capacity increased, I did get faster and it made marathon running immeasurably easier. I recommend anybody else in the same position to do the same.
But here comes the word of warning. That isn’t the end of it. It’s very easy for me to sit here postulate and lecture on the merits of clean living and the good life but it takes patience and will power. Never two of my strongest traits. I’ve recently slipped back into the habit. A crafty cig here and a sneaky fag there and I’m almost back to the point I was before. I need to do it again, I need fresh impetus and, to be honest, I think writing this article about my experience has done exactly that. I’m almost paralytic with guilt. The fags are in the bin…
Information and support on stopping smoking can be found here, courtesy of the NHS: