I loved smoking. I didn’t care about the cost or the effect it would have on my body and mental health, I simply enjoyed it. Nothing like having a few drinks with friends and then stepping out for a quick cig, especially if you have one or two friends who’re like-minded and want to have a smoke too. The nicotine rush, and just general sense of relief that you got from a few good puffs.
Eventually though, I felt like I had no energy, other than to crawl down the stairs and go out for a cigarette and dredge myself back up the steps in my flat back and then try to catch my breath. I’m 25, I shouldn’t be going up two flights of stairs and then have catch my breath back, I’m not an old man yet. It made me think about when I was bit younger, and I barely drank, never smoked, and used to go running a few times a week. How I’d run for charities, improved gradually, and had that runner’s high.
I quit smoking on a dare of sorts. At work, talking with a colleague, I started to roll a cig on my break, getting ready for that comforting ritual of going outside to have a nice puff, to help me get through the rest of my shift. My friend turns to me and says, “You’re never going to be able to give those up.” But it was a bit more of a passing comment, at least that’s how it felt. Sure, people had said similar things to me before, but this time it felt different. Maybe it was just all the feelings I’d had recently had snowballed into something I was comfortable with, or maybe it was just the last straw. So, I rolled a final cig, and saved it for after my shift, and threw the bag of tobacco away in front of them and swore it would be my final one.
Naturally, none of them believed me. They waved it off as me being emotional and silly, and that I’d be back to puffing clouds out in no time. But I didn’t. The first week was by far the hardest overall. I went through some of the typical withdrawals. Aggravation. Frustration. Sadness. But I remembered why I was doing it, and that there were infinitely more benefits to quitting than to continuing. I would (and did) save money, between £40-£60 a month. I did get a bad cough but turns out that’s pretty much standard procedure when you’ve quit smoking, and that too subsided.
The hard part was controlling my mood. On one hand I was already quite pleased with myself, but it was having a mental toll. I didn’t smoke loads, but I smoked at certain times of the day to relax, and it had become part of my routine, which was hard to crack.
But after a week or so, I decided to take the initiative. I dug up my old running trainers, downloaded a running app to my phone, and decided to run 2 kilometers. And let me tell you, it was absolute hell. I was spluttering, poorly paced, could barely control my breathing at all. But, I did manage to run 2k. Maybe not in a good time, but I achieved what I wanted to do. And afterwards, I had a shower, and relaxed, feeling somewhat accomplished with myself.
And it didn’t end there. Over the next few weeks I kept on top of it. Only running reasonably short distances at first, but I managed to get control of my breathing. Running became slightly easier. My pace quickened slightly with each new week. I got that runner’s high again and again. And it was the hottest summer we’ve had in a while in England, so it was hard work on some days. But I didn’t let it bother me. (Truth be told it was kind of glorious running in the sun with no clouds in sight.) Some of my friends who had started running found out that I was at it again, and showed nothing but support, and we started running together every Wednesday in different locations. I signed up to Park runs, that were held every Saturday at local parks, typically 5k. I decided to improve my diet too, eating more fish, having more home-cooked food, eating more fruit and veg, all that typical stuff that comes with feeling better through exercise. (Although, I didn’t feel the need to announce all this to the world whilst I was doing it, I’m a bit personal about these kinds of things. Besides, I was doing it for me!)
My friends convinced me to sign up to run the Preston 10k in late September. I’d run 10k runs before, but it had been years since I’d done that. But since I was running between 3-5 times a week, I felt confident.
A couple of months later, I felt like a different person. I wouldn’t run out of breath. My legs seemed to change almost overnight, they were muscly again. My face cleared up massively, and I didn’t get spots anywhere near as much as I had when I was smoking. My mood was unquestionably better. Having a steady flow of endorphins going through me was doing wonders. I even started to do other little workouts, maybe not as intense as running, but I thought what’s the harm in doing some more?
Fast forward to September. Unfortunately, I’d overdone it with training, and injured my right foot, and was limping for near enough 2 weeks. So sadly, my routine had come to a grinding halt. And once my foot started to get better, I came down with a bad cold. Once I got past that, I only had 1 week left to get some training in. What little training I got in wasn’t ideal, since I was still suffering a cough. I began to feel nervous about the big run but tried to focus on all the training I had done beforehand.
Race day. Nearly 2,000 people in attendance for the run itself, not the biggest 10k I’d been to, but still a lot of people. This didn’t bother me too much, since I just get into my own headspace when I start running, and don’t think about an awful lot apart from focusing on my breathing, and just moving forward. When the race started, once I got to the 4k mark, it became quite clear that I should’ve done more hill training. I didn’t think there would be so many! Okay, some weren’t huge, but I trained on flat and even surfaces and focused on endurance. I didn’t manage to get the whole way running at one single pace, as some of the hills took it out of me. In all honesty, I was aiming to try and finish in just shy of under an hour. That didn’t happen. I wasn’t far off and achieved my fastest time for any 10k I’d ever done, completing it in 1 hour 4 minutes.
*Proof! I look and felt pretty knackered at this point. But with the end in sight, you go for it.*
First thing I did afterwards was hobble into the nearest Wetherspoons and order a pint of one of my favourite pints of ale. I felt fantastic. I hadn’t gotten the time I wanted, but it didn’t matter that much. I felt and still do feel confident that I’ll be able to do it in under an hour, and I’ve already signed up to the Garstang and Manchester 10k as a motivator!
I still miss smoking. Maybe not every day, but there are definitely days that test my will. Sometimes even just walking past someone smoking or if I’m just stood with someone having a smoke, it’s enough to set off that deep feeling inside that suddenly yells out for a quick puff. Just one. No one has to know. But I would know! It’s a slippery slope. I’ve thankfully not had any slip ups since I quit, and I’m hoping it stays that way. Running has helped a lot. Okay, it doesn’t quite satisfy the feelings I have when I’m having a craving, but the endorphins sure as hell help. Running has been a tough journey, and it’s hard to always remain motivated, but reminding myself why I quit always spurs me on, even if it’s only a little bit. It’s been a weird transformation over the past few months, since I’ve officially been smoke-free for over 4 months and been running for about 3. I’ll keep it going with both, but I can appreciate there’s going to be good days and hard days when dealing with both my urges to smoke and when I must run. But remembering why you started all this in the first place is the best way to keep moving forward.