Twenty Minutes

I used to be a smoker. I quit when my son was born, over four years ago. Once you are a smoker it is something that will always be a part of your life. I still dream of smoking cigarettes. Two nights ago I had a dream where I never quit and I was still smoking three packs a day. The worst part about the dream was how I felt when I woke up. I was craving a cigarette as badly as I used to when I first quit. It does get betting, and four years in I barely even think about smoking, but every once in a while I walk by a smoker and I can almost taste the nicotine again.

I loved smoking. I loved the way it tasted. I loved going outside and smoking with friends at work. I loved the social aspect of throwing together perfect strangers who all shared the act of smoking so they would talk to each other. Outside of offices, bars, or any public building there stands a group of perfect strangers all talking to each other about how inconvenient it is too slowly kill yourself these days. They will always have the same gallows humor about it as well because they know the truth. I miss the instant stress relief and the ritual of packing the tobacco before you open the package.

I still knew it was time when my son was borne. I didn’t want him to ever think that smoking was acceptable because his parent was smoking. I also knew that I had to work to be a healthy role model for him, and smoking wasn’t a good start. I pushed myself by reasoning that I was also putting his health at risk and that wasn’t fair. I might choose to do something that was killing me, but he had no choice. So one day I started taking Chantix and I followed doctor’s orders and I weaned myself off of nicotine. One slow and painful step at a time, but I did quit.

I think about smoking every once in a while in a different context. Yes, I miss it and I don’t think that will ever change, but I also realize that I gave myself a gift by quitting. I gained a lot of weight and that led to wanting to lose it and that led to cycling. I admit that I chose cycling because it was easier than most other exercises. Cycling lets you chose your intensity and you can cheat. There are many ways to ride twenty miles. You can ride hard, attacking hills and pushing on descents, sprinting towards town lines and other landmarks. You can ride slow and enjoy the scenery. You can do a mix of both. When you are just starting you can average 8 miles an hour until you find some level of fitness but still put in miles that sound impressive. People hear a distance and they associate a level of effort that might not have been there. In short, you can cheat by going long, but easy on your ride. You can even cheat on harder rides by spinning easy after a climb until you are ready to go again. You can’t do that if you are a runner. Well, you can, but it’s called walking.

So I started cycling and instantly paid for smoking too much for too long. I managed eight miles my first ride, and I am pretty sure I coughed up most of a lung. My legs were sore, but my aerobic level was beyond pitiful. Fast forward a couple of seasons and I feel better, but I still was hesitant to try running. I still knew that there is always a bail-out on the bike. You can always coast until you are ready to hammer the pedals again. There is no place to hide when you are running, there is no coasting.

I committed to some obstacle course runs this year, and I wanted to do better than I did last year. I decided to join a gym with my wife and start jogging on the treadmill. I downloaded Couch to 5K and started running. Well jogging. More of a fast paced shuffle. I have no form. I have written a little about this and my struggle to find shoes. Well, I have found shoes and stuck with the program. The Couch to 5K program teaches you how to run by guiding you through interval training. At first the intervals are very short. You run for 30 or 45 seconds and then walk. Slowly they ramp up to running for 5 minutes at a time and walking for one or two minutes between each run. They program is set up to have you warm up, go through the intervals, and cool down in about 30 minutes. They expect you to run three days a week and go for about eight weeks. I have been doing this now for a while and I do okay. I do repeat days until I can complete the intervals with some level of comfort but I also always run them twice each day, so it is an extra-long session. I go for about an hour at a time, warming up, doing double intervals and then cooling down. The intervals have been getting longer and longer until I hit the Week 6 Day 3 program. Warm up, run for a single 20 minute interval, then cool down. No breaks to walk. Just run for 20 minutes. I had been looking at this day with fear for over a week wondering how I was going to make it through.

The day came and I jumped into it. Me, former three pack a day smoker. Me, who chose his first fitness activity based on the ability to coast. It was time to run for 20 minutes straight and try not to die. As I ran I kept thinking that this is not something I would have every tried to do five years ago. I might not have tried it two years ago either, but the person I was as a smoker would have never tried to run, let alone for twenty minutes. I would have been out of breath at twenty seconds. I would have hated myself for trying at all. I still wasn’t sure why I was trying. I was going to fail. I still dream about smoking! I am still fat! I can’t be one of those people that get on the treadmill and run for twenty minutes! I am just pretending to be able to do any of this and I am going to fail and fall and shoot off the back of the treadmill and leave a huge fat guy sweat print on the mirror behind me. Wasn’t I?

I did it. I ran twenty minutes straight. Not only that, I stuck to my program, walked for three minutes and did the whole twenty minutes over again. Twenty minutes, twice. Me. I guess in some ways this week’s update is a victory lap, but in others it is a simple thought. How awesome are people? All of us? My wife is going through the same thing with her trainer, she is pushing herself further than she thought she could a few weeks ago. So many other people accomplish so much more every day. People get up and decide that they are done being fat, or out of breath, or slow, or just not in the shape they want to be in and they change. They make a choice to change their entire life and do it against the weight of years of inertia. I think that this blog is a victory lap for us all. We all rock.

No go out there and do it again today! I have faith in you and I can’t wait to hear you tell me about it!

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3 Responses to Twenty Minutes

  1. That’s awesome, Joe! I love your writing style, the way you walked us through the challenge of it all, the past you are fighting against, and the overall inertia you are changing. I could see the fat guy sweat print on the mirror in my mind. Hell, I’ve made that fat guy sweat print before…just not in the gym. Keep rocking the running…great job!

  2. julia says:

    How weird! I have been having similar dreams. I feel unhealthy upon waking. Sometimes, I even feel certain it happened, and that I can smell smoke. When I walk by current smokers now though, the smell makes me feel a little sick.

    Love the positive ending. And yes, you are awesome. Your wife is awesome. Both of you are going to get the results. The added bonus is that wonderful example being set for your son.

  3. yceblu says:

    This is a victory lap! Congratulations! What a great blog this week, filled with humor and visualizations. You should save this one for your son to read when he gets older. He will be proud of Mom and Dad.

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