I was into sports right from my childhood. Not a lot, but it was a part of school life. I was into skating till the 6th grade, having won a few events at the Maharashtra state level, then I participated in my school athletics events. My mom used to take me on walks, and that’s where I started jogging a bit. Just 2-3 loops of a 400m track. That was all. But when I graduated from school, and moved to Kota for my entrance exam coaching (like many other Indian kids), I threw my health away on smoking. Being away from my family for the first time, and getting to discover the world on my own, it felt like smoking was a cool thing to do. It started off as something I did for fun. I still remember my first smoke; I took a drag just to see how it felt. With no one to question me or stop me, it became a habit. I still used to run and off. After wasting a good amount of time in Kota, I came to Manipal.
Manipal is a great place to be. It either makes you, or breaks you. For me, it did both. The Manipal environment is very conducive. I started running the very week I came to Manipal. I also happened to increase the number of cigarettes I smoked, and the growth was exponential. I didn’t realise the harm smoking was causing to my body. The runs were still going pretty well, but I couldn’t increase my speed. I would run a slow 5K, but the breathing was too laboured. It would always end up with me gasping for air. By the end of 1st year, a good relationship I was involved in ended, and that’s when I got to smoking up to 7-8 cigarettes a day. The only thing I found joy in was smoking. I hanged out with people who smoked a lot. Class breaks would end at ‘Sutta Point’, and evenings were spent with a cigarette and chai in hand. I was wasting my money and time. Friends questioned how I could smoke and run together. Well, looking back, I think I was just lucky to do both.
The turning point came when I ran my first half marathon. I was overwhelmed, watching the runners, the crowd, and the super athletes. I was astonished to watch people way above 50 years of age run past me and finish comfortably. That’s when the thought of quitting smoking first came to me. But it wasn’t an easy journey. Quitting is a path riddled with hurdles. Every cigarette was my ‘last’ and I would light up another soon after it. This was the time when my training mileage also increased. I lessened smoking a bit, but I just couldn’t quit it completely. The emptiness of life post quitting frightened me. I completed my second half marathon with an improved timing, and I lit up a cigarette to celebrate it. A few months post this HM, I wound up with a severe injury. And I had another half marathon and my debut full marathon lined up. Doctors advised me to quit smoking to improve healing. I was out of action for 4 months. That was a serious setback to my plans of quitting. I was off running, and all I really did was keep lighting up.
After I recovered from my injury, I got back to running, and it was like starting from scratch. After smoking for so much and so long, I couldn’t run beyond 5KM, and that was painful. That’s when I realized both these lifestyles can’t go hand in hand. So now, whenever I craved for a smoke, I went for a run. I ran twice a day. The running left me exhausted, and didn’t give me any time to even think of a smoke. At this point, I didn’t quit completely, but I had come down to 2 cigs a day. And that was a huge achievement for me. In between I ran a few half marathons, and all were around the 2hr timing. That got me really motivated to ramp up my training, and bring down the smoking further. The biggest hurdle were my friends. They just couldn’t understand my motivation to quit smoking. Their usual dialogue would be, “Kya karega be daudke. Le sutta pee.” So one day I had to confront them, and had to politely tell them my plans. And yes they understood. They actually saw the improvement in me, and then stopped asking me to go smoke with them
Quitting smoking is not a sudden process, it comes gradually. My training mileage ramped up to 50kms a week. And that actually helped me a lot. I took on small targets at first. My targets started from running a 5K without break, to running a 10K without break. My training at present is at a point where I can run a HM without a break, and with minimal hydration. And a major improvement for me from my past self. I still get the urge to smoke sometimes, but I try hard to convince my mind not to pick up a cig. Every time I get a craving, I immediately motivate myself with training plans for the next day. My running group was a great help. Though they didn’t know about my smoking (I was a closet smoker), they really motivated me to keep improving. Getting a friend to run along with a similar target, or even better, running in a group is really of immense help.
Running has given me the confidence to quit smoking, and the ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. I’m more conscious now about my lifestyle. Let me tell you, SMOKING IS NOT COOL. I have realized it now. I run to get rid of stress. I run when I’m in a bad mood, I run when I’m elated. All the things that made me light up a cig now make me put my running shoes on. Running has been my therapy. Life seems more enjoyable with running shoes. I wish I’d known running could be this fun. I might still be slow, yet I’m faster than what I was when smoking was messing with me. To smoke or not to smoke, is a personal choice, but I would like to say this: running is more fun than sitting with your gang and talking shit over something that is already killing you. Everyone knows the hazards associated with smoking, yet they just ignore it, and eventually destroy their bodies. And abusing your body is the last thing you would want to do.
So for those among you who want to adopt a healthier lifestyle, here’s some advice:
- It doesn’t happen all at once. Quitting is a long process, full of hurdles. It’s your mind which has to be strong. So make up your mind, write down your targets, and let your friends know, so they can act as progress keepers.
- Start slowly. It’s fine if you don’t see results immediately. Keep your runs slow, stop if you feel any pain or any discomfort. You’ll slowly improve.
- Get a friend to run along, or run in a group.
- Even though smoking is bad for you, don’t let that be a factor that keeps you from running. Your lungs will start to feel better and you’ll get more oxygen in comparison with smoking.
- Remember you are doing this for you and nobody else. So stop comparing yourself with others.
People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life — and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree
― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running