An interesting thing happened to me this week: I became the runner I was when I first started.
For most of my adult life I was a dedicated chain smoker. To give an example of how much I enjoyed smoking, Vince would often lament the fact that he didn’t have a single photo of me without a cigarette held loosely in my hand or dangling out of my mouth. To add to this I was considerably underweight due to my lack of interest in food (oh, how times change!) and gained the majority of my calories from beer down the pub. Any activity was limited to walking to places. That was it.
My life changed when I started Tae Kwondo classes on a whim. My first lesson was a struggle not to faint and throw up, but I went back. I kept on going back as I moved up the belts, then to First Dan. But I still smoked. Sparring was becoming increasingly difficult, and I would be dying by the end of each two minute round.
I took up running to try and increase my cardio fitness. My first run, I had a cigarette before hand, ran down the road 30 metres and then had to stop as I was wheezing and had a stitch. I started then with the walk/run technique, maybe doing two or three miles a week. At the time I was training for my black belt grading as well and it was clear that something had to give.
I had started to hate being a smoker. I hated the hold it had over me, the fact that I would feel stressed and anxious whenever I couldn’t smoke. The continual counting down of hours until that next cigarette. Every meeting I was in, I would gaze at the agenda, plotting my smoking breaks. I would project hatred onto every person who said ‘just one more thing before we finish…’ Aaargh shut up shut up I want to smoke!
Of course I had tried to give up a few times. I had thrown out my tobacco in a rage, only to rummage through ashtrays again to smoke a dogend later on. I know you’re judging me. I’m judging me.
I gave up in the end. I read Alan Carr’s The Easy Way To Stop Smoking and that was it. I haven’t smoked since, or even thought about smoking. And it’s been six years so its fair to say that I’m over it. The book was great and I recommend it to people all the time, but I think the real reason I quit is because I was sick to the back teeth of being a smoker. I resented the impact it was having on my performance and sport. I hated the fact that the habit owned me, rather than the other way round.
Why have I become the runner I was when I first started? Over the last week I’ve had bug…not a bad illness, just a wheezy cough and the desire to sleep it off. Yesterday I felt a bit better so joined the local running club for a trail run around the estuary (always beautiful on a spring evening). It was like going back in time, wheezing, heavy legs. No matter how hard I pushed there was no speed there, no strength. I was at the back of the pack the whole time, struggling to keep up.
Sometimes its hard to see how much I’ve improved over the last few years, it’s easy to forget where I’ve come from. I can remember as a smoker being amazed that I had ran (shuffled!) two miles. I imagine now going back and telling that person that she would be entering mountain ultras, 100ks and 100 milers. I wouldn’t have believed it. My family would have laughed me out of the room.
But here I am. I’m not too worried about my weakness last night since I’ll be back to normal in a few days. The run served a purpose though…its made me realise how remarkable the body is and what it can achieve-even when you’ve thrown a load of crap at it!