As published at News957.com:
It's been a week since the 5k run, and my knees still hurt. Granted, it's only when I'm moving, and worst when I'm going up and down stairs, but I wasn't expecting my knees to hurt a week later. I guess I really pounded that pavement a week ago.
I come away from the eight-week training experience of the Learn To Run For Smokers program with the Lung Association of Nova Scotia as a changed man. That sounds more dramatic than it is. I went in a fat, lazy smoker, and in most regards, I still am.
I've never called the Learn To Run class a weight loss program, because it's not. I lost maybe five pounds through all this. Most of that was probably Christmas weight that stuck around until March. But I did lose about two inches off my waist, which might suggest some change in my body's weight distribution. So, I'm still fat, but slightly less fat than before.
I'm still lazy. I'm not one of these exercise nuts who gets a high out of strapping on the shoes several times a week and hitting the road. I'd still rather sleep. But I've become accustomed to exercise. I've learned that I really can find 40 minutes a day, three times a week, to get out and do my body some good by walking or running. It's easy for me to say I don't have time. It's easy for me to make excuses. Through this program, I've proven that excuses can be overcome. I'm still lazy, but I've learned to overcome laziness for a purpose.
Am I still a smoker? Yes, sadly, I am. I've learned that quitting smoking is not simply an intellectual exercise. I could lecture on smoking cessation, the benefits of quitting, the physiology of nicotine addiction and all the rest of it. I've done everything to do with quitting smoking except quit smoking. I must say, though, that smoking has become more yucky. I'm noticing the stink a lot more. I'm feeling the effects on my lungs a lot more. I became aware of how much of my exercise incapacity was from my general lack of fitness and how much was from the sorry state of my lungs.
So, yes, I'm still a fat, lazy smoker, but I'm a slightly less fat, less lazy, contemplative smoker.
Was it all worth it? I wondered at the beginning whether I'd feel good about getting up every Saturday for 9am workouts. Giving up sleep to go running in the winter seemed contrary to my nature. But hey, my nature has led me to be a chubby dude with high blood pressure, so it's about time I fought my nature.
Yes, it was completely worth it. I got to make an improvement in my health and learn some lessons about living healthy forever. Well, not forever. None of us is going to make it out of this alive. But we might as well make the most of the years we're here.
Beyond what this whole project has done for my health, lifestyle and confidence, I've enjoyed presenting it to you every week. I've learned a thing or two more about video production. Really, it's quite a feat for me: this series has included ten web stories, at least ten videos, and three radio stories every week. Every camera shot in the series was done by me (except one time after the 5k when I was laid out on the steps and I handed the camera to my wife). As proud as I am about making it through the training and 5k run, I'm just as proud of this multimedia experiment for News95.7.
Big thanks to everyone who's helped over the past two and a half months: listeners and newsmakers around town who've asked me how it's going; family and friends back in Ontario and beyond who've been following from afar and cheering me on; generous folks who sponsored me in the Lung Run; my wife, who washed my sweaty gear, listened to me complain, showed her pride and even massaged my sore shins; my enthusiastic coworkers and editor Ruth Davenport who gave me the story in the first place; the Bad Ashes running team who were so welcoming and genuine; the coaches who made me believe I could accomplish every task; all the guests, including my doctor, who let me record them for the series; the Lung Association of Nova Scotia including Louis Brill; and team leader Jayne Norrie, who patiently endured my whining and smilingly urged me on week after week.
Wondering if you can do it, too? Heck, yeah, you can! Read all the links below and get inspired.
The Lung Association of Nova Scotia is going to do it again. Another Learn To Run For Smokers group begins in early May, and this time it's not on a weekend morning! If you even suspect that you should be in this class, get in touch and get going. Now's the time to start taking care of yourself.
Thanks for reading, watching and listening. I hope we can do something big like this again.
- News95.7 YouTube page
- The Lung Association: How to quit smoking
- Guide to Quitting Smoking (American Cancer Society)
- WhyQuit.com (Cold turkey quitting advice)
- Benefits of Exercise (Mayo Clinic)
- Scott's weight chart at physicsdiet.com
- The Hacker's Diet
- Capital District Health Authority: Nutrition education clinics
- The Couch to 5k Program - a program with podcasts to get you from sedentary to 5k-runner in 9 weeks. If you insist on doing things by yourself, go here!
- Aerobics First - they fit me with shoes, and experienced Bad Ashes runners swear by them
- Lung Association of Nova Scotia
- Bonus! "The Distance" music video by Scott Simpson
- Share this link by sending bit.ly/puffing
Can eight weeks of training turn a fat, lazy smoker into an elite level athlete? Obviously not. How about an average athlete? That may be pushing it, too. But gains can be made, and I proved that this weekend.
On Saturday, I joined more than 600 other people in the Credit Union Atlantic Lung Run. It's five kilometres through the waterfront area of south-end Halifax, from Pier 21, down through the port lands, up to Salter St. and back on the boardwalk to the seaport.
The weather was beautiful: sunny, cool, with a little bit of wind. The course was nice and flat. I got a decent night's sleep and had some lunch. After two months of three-times-a-week training, I knew that I was in as good a position to finish strong as I could be.
Of course, I'd be stronger if I'd quit smoking. Yeah, that's the part I keep putting off.
Anyway, the Bad Ashes team from the Learn To Run program gathered outside Pier 21 an hour before race time. We got our shirts! Beautiful orange running shirts with a Bad Ashes logo on the front. We walked over to get our strap-on timing chips, and back for our now-familiar warm-up routine.
It came time to get to the start line, and we piled into the pulsing mass of athletes, organized according to forecast finish time. I put myself near the back.
My goal for this run was 40 minutes. Team leader Jayne Norrie suggested that 40 minutes was a little fast, but I'd done two 5k runs before -- a few years ago -- and came in under 40 each time. Granted, I'm heavier and older now, but 40 minutes didn't seem obscenely far-fetched for a goal.
The race began and the pack stretched out as the runners ran and the walkers walked. I jogged. I jogged as far as the first corner and started to get winded. About five minutes in, I had to walk. No big deal, I figured, since that was my plan anyway. Run until I can't run, then walk, then run when I can run, then walk some more.
The lessons learned from the weeks of training started to pay off. I didn't over-run the running. My muscles responded better than I expected. My shins, which had been the most cursed part of my body through this entire program, did cramp up, but not nearly as badly as they had in the earlier weeks. Maybe the stretching and conditioning and new shoes actually helped.
I got a little intimidated when I saw some runners coming back toward me. There was a turnaround point ahead. These people were way ahead of me. I wasn't expecting to be at their pace, but I wasn't expecting them to be coming back this fast, either. There, among the first batch of runners, was Rick Howe Show producer Jennifer Casey! Good for her!
Past the turnaround and back down the street, over some railway tracks, a water station appeared. I asked how far along we were. When the water-bearers told me this was the half-way mark, I realized I was going to make it through the race in one piece.
The second half was tough. The running became less frequent as my body ran out of energy and my legs continued to tighten up. But I knew I was going to finish, and I wanted to finish by my set time.
The music in my earbuds kept pumping. Good choice of tunes, as the beat of the songs let me pop back into running at just the right point.
Finally, after running around the boardwalk with a beautiful view of the harbour, it was time for the home stretch. I wanted to finish strong. One of my teammates who'd already finished emerged from the sidelines to run with me.
I hit the gas and bolted forward. That didn't last long. The finish was farther away than I thought. Okay, fine, so I'll walk a bit more and THEN finish strong. Good plan.
I walked a bit more and then hit the gas one more time with a rush toward the inflatable finish gate. The race announcer saw the orange shirt and called out the Bad Ashes name, urging me along. I passed over the timing mats and heard a satisfying chirp as my ankle bracelet registered the conclusion of my race.
It was over.
My finishing time was 42:51. I didn't make 40 minutes, but my per-kilometre pace was only seconds over. That is, if I'd finished each kilometre a little faster, I would've hit 40.
No excuses. I trained hard, I stretched, I sweated and I worked. I didn't quit smoking, though, and I really think that if I had, 40 minutes would've been realistic.
So, where do I go from here? Tune in next week to find out. I'll be doing a wrap-up with observations and conclusions about my experience in the program. If you have any questions you'd like answered, send them in or write in the comments, and I'll try to make them part of the episode.
Five kilometres, over and done. A lifetime left to go.
Scott's 5k Running Playlist:
- Cake, "The Distance"
- Ramones, "I Wanna Be Sedated"
- Rush, "Marathon"
- Queen, "Don't Stop Me Now"
- Dexy's Midnight Runners, "Come On Eileen"
- The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
- The Refreshments, "Banditos"
- OutKast, "Hey Ya!"
- They Might Be Giants, "Till My Head Falls Off"
- Eminem, "Lose Yourself"
- Journey "Don't Stop Believin'"
I never really expected to be able to say this, but exercise has become routine.
After nearly two months of making time to get out and move three times a week, it's become a regular part of my personal schedule. Saturday mornings, I get up and go join the Learn To Run For Smokers group at SMU; Tuesdays and Thursdays I make time to go for a 20-40 minute workout outside.
It's all become disturbingly normal for me. As an ordinarily sedentary guy, that's a big change.
Maybe that's why this week seemed so extraordinarily ordinary for me. The group workout had me at Point Pleasant Park for a gorgeous 40-minute brisk walk through trails and woods and along the waterfront. Tuesday and Thursday were 40-minute brisk walks to the store. Yes, I was going to buy cigarettes. The integration of something good with something bad gets the blessing from the team leader, so nyah nyah.
I don't know if I'm about to come down with a cold, or if the aerobic intensity of the exercise is making me feel my lungs more, but I'm giving more and more thought to quitting smoking. After all, that's been the subtext of the entire program: improve all the other aspects of a healthy lifestyle until you realize that it's the smoking that's holding you back from greater success.
If that was their point, they've made it. The Lung Association of Nova Scotia wins on this one. I need to quit.
I didn't quit this week, though. Team leader and health pro Jayne Norrie of LANS was scheduled to give an educational talk about quitting smoking. As luck would have it, much of the group no-showed the Saturday session, leaving me as the lone smoker around at the end of the day. So, Jayne sat across from me and laid out some truth:
Your lungs never grow back. Once you quit, they can clean themselves and mostly revert back to their pre-smoker form, but there's some damage that will remain forever. The freshening-up happens quickly, with healthy-feeling milestones happening in minutes, hours and days. But it can take up to ten years for some of the risk factors to drop to non-smoker levels.
Nicotine withdrawal is real, but manageable. It's said that the cravings only last a few minutes, so Jayne gives me a four-D plan to get through them: Distraction, Drink water, Deep breathing, and Delay. It seems to be about doing whatever you can to escape having a cigarette for about five minutes until the craving passes. Good to know.
I've read some material that says the best way to quit is cold turkey -- all at once. The theory in that case is that you only have to go through the peak nicotine withdrawal once. If you spread it out, the logic goes, you'll be suffering sub-peak withdrawal the entire time.
Jayne says it's a personal decision. Many people, she says, find better success with cutting back their smoking day by day. A good strategy seems to be delaying the first cigarette of the day and cutting off smoking earlier in the night.
In my (limited, failing) experience, that makes some sense. Delaying the first cigarette of the day makes that first cigarette extra-stinky, extra-draining, and a little bit sickening.
One of the most intimidating pieces of advice also seems to be among the most useful. Not only is smoking addictive because tobacco contains an addictive drug, tobacco use brings with it many habits and rituals. Time to wake up? Smoke to greet the day. Time to go to bed? Smoke to wind down. Meal? Smoke to ... I dunno, smoke to toast the end of the meal. Got to get away from the desk and think? Smoke. Argument with your spouse getting a little heated? Smoke to reset.
Quitting smoking is going to mean examining each of those peripheral habits and reprogramming them. What did I do to get away from the desk before I started smoking? When waiting for a cab? When I got up in the morning?
If I had another week in this series, I'd take my camera with me through the day and document each cigarette to analyze my patterns and break it down. Since this is the last episode before the big run, it looks like I'll be doing that on my own -- whenever it is I quit.
Yes, the run is next weekend. Saturday, April 9, I'll be joining the "Bad Ashes" Learn To Run team in the 5km Lung Run. Many thanks to the folks who've generously sponsored me!
Below, you'll find the usual assortment of links to things mentioned in this week's episode, plus a few stop-smoking sites I've found interesting.
Onward to the big run! Tune in next Monday to see how I did. I'll be doing one more report with video the week after the run to share what I've learned. And if all goes well, I'll also be doing a music video. Those who've watched the entire series will recognize the tune.
- Sponsor Scott at the Lung Run
- News95.7 YouTube page
- The Lung Association: How to quit smoking
- Guide to Quitting Smoking (American Cancer Society)
- WhyQuit.com (Cold turkey quitting advice) (that's where I saw the cold-turkey vs tapering theory)
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