For my cousin, who I know can do it

Sometimes when I run, my knee kind of hurts. And afterwards, my hamstrings and calves are always sore. That’s ok. I have a foam roller and I’ve learned some good stretches.

What’s remarkable is that in spite of all of the things that hurt when I run long and ache when I get tired, one thing never bothers me. I’m never out of breath. (Well, unless I’m trying to run at 90% of my max heart rate for too long – but that’s a bio-feedback nerd post for another time.)

This is remarkable because I smoked, chain smoked really, for six years. The day I quit four years ago, I was up to a pack and a half a day. Sometimes two packs if I was extra upset or stressed out.

I’m so mad at myself for that. I started thinking about this over the weekend when my cousin decided it was time for her to quit smoking. (Plus, this is at least kind of a health and wellness blog so I figure a “say no to smoking” post is obligatory at some point.)

I started smoking later than most people, the year I turned 18. Why? No reason really. I broke up with a boyfriend I loved. My mom and dad got divorced. At 18, I lacked the skills to cope with life. Also, once you get through your first pack, cigarettes taste good.

I loved smoking. But, I realize now, I love being alive so much more. I love tasting things  and running without getting winded and not coughing up gross stuff in the morning.

I tried to quit many times and one day in spring 2008 it finally stuck. Because I quit smoking my blood pressure, circulation, pulse and blood oxygen levels are back to normal. The nerve endings in my mouth and nose have regrown. Cilia re-grew in my lungs.

My risk of heart disease and heart attack are half that of a current smoker. My risk of stroke is that of a never-smoker. Soon, my risk of pancreatic cancer will be too.

In another six years my risk of lung, mouth and throat cancer will be reduced to about 30%-50% of that of a current smoker. That’s better than nothing, but I’m seriously so pissed at younger me for tempting the cancer gods. There is a small handful of people – my mom, my friend Craig, an ex-boyfriend, my little sister – who tried (and failed) for years to get me to quit. Though I rarely say this, they were right, I was wrong, I wish I’d listened.

I think that’s one reason I like to run. I feel like I’m doing some kind of penance for past bad behavior. Like maybe if I run hundreds of miles a year, and don’t eat processed foods or meat, and live smoke free, the universe will decide I deserve a do-over or a get out of jail free card for the whole chain smoking and eating a lot of Taco Bell in my early 20s thing.

Not sure it works that way. But, maybe it does.

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