Monday, February 21, 2011

Huffing and Puffing: Episode 2: Angry Hemogoblins

Thirty-seven years on this planet, overweight and sedentary, have taken their toll on my body. But I'd be naive to think that anything is wrecking my health more than smoking.
I'm Scott Simpson, reporter at News95.7 radio in Halifax, and I've been a smoker for about ten years.
My editor pitched a story on the Lung Association of Nova Scotia's Learn To Run For Smokers program. It sounded like a great story on its own, but perhaps an even better thing for me to do for myself. And if I'm going to put myself through that effort, I might as well share it with the audience and maybe inspire a few fellow fat, lazy smokers to make a change.
I'm not a morning person, and I love to sleep in until noon or later on weekends. Getting up every week for eight weeks for meetings and workouts at 9am on Saturdays would be an obvious challenge in itself, never mind all the exercise.
But here we are, week one, at the Halifax Curling Club in south-end Halifax. Upstairs at the bar is a group of people here for the same reason. To my surprise, most of them appear to be in good shape. Some are still smokers, some are former smokers, some are relapsed quitters. The group includes many repeat customers -- people who'd taken part in the Lung Association's five previous running programs. They say the camaraderie brought them back.
We go around the room for introductions, and some are skeptical that I'm here for the right reasons. No, I insist. I'm here to smoke for real and run for real, however publicly painful it might be.
We sign forms and waivers and take some measurements, and hit the road to Point Pleasant Park for the exercise portion of the day.
It's about 1.5km from the Curling Club to the park. Piece of cake. Piece of sweaty cake. Apparently walking one and a half kilometres is not warm-up enough, so we gather in a large circle and limber up. The warm-up becomes an actual workout in itself for me when we move to "Happy Feet". I'm not sure if this a proprietary trade name for an exercise, or if it's what the exercise is actually called -- it's running on the spot without the feet actually leaving the ground. We alternate that with "High Knees" -- running on the spot with knees high.
Sweating and pink-faced, I ready for the actual workout.
We split into three groups: 'A' will be the walkers, 'B' will do walking and jogging in intervals, 'C' will run.
Between our starting spot and the road that goes off to the Martello tower in the park is 400 metres. The groups head off on their respective tasks. I put myself in the 'B' group. The 'B' leader shouts 'RUN!' and we run. 'WALK!' and we walk. 'RUN!' and we run again.
Each gets harder until we've gone 400m and back. Short break, then we do it again.
I'm huffing and puffing and sweating and my glasses are fogged up. It'd be embarrassing if not the fact that I feel like this is accepted or even encouraged.
Somehow, I get talked into taking another 800m walk while we wait for the 'C' walking group to finish up. It seems I'm easily cajoled (shamed?) into extra exercise.
We finish up with more stretching, then trudge back to the Curling Club.
Everyone made it. Everyone got through the first workout. But it seems I'm the only one whining about needing a towel.
We line up for carbon monoxide testing. Carbon monoxide, the famously fatal byproduct of combustion, flows into a smoker's bloodstream, impeding the body's ability to push oxygen to muscles and organs. A non-smoker is expected to have a very low level, likely below 4 parts per million.
I take a deep breath, hold it for 15 seconds, and blow into the CO-measuring gadget. A series of beeps count the molecules and tells me I have 11ppm. Not enough to kill me, sure, but it's real evidence of what cigarettes are putting into my blood.
And that's the meeting. Aha, but there's homework!
Each of the A, B and C groups is assigned more exercise through the week. I should've expected that significant change couldn't come from one day of exercise each week.
Tuesday night is cold and windy, but I lace up my running shoes and head out into the snow for my exercise. I return sweaty, cold and numb, but proud of myself for trying.
Thursday night's exercise gets skipped. I skipped it because I finished work about 6pm and had to be in at 3:30am -- yes, an excuse, but .... yeah, I didn't do the exercise.
Week one is done. Seven weeks to go before I'm theoretically ready to run a 5km event.
Will I make it? Will I give up? Will I step up the intensity? Will I quit smoking, or try to make it through on damaged lungs? I don't even know at this point. Stay tuned and keep checking back.
Comments are welcome here or on YouTube, where you can follow along on video.
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