Chain Smoker to Triathelete

I started smoking when I was 17 or 18. At the time I smoked just for the sake of it , maybe to be cool. But before I realized it, I was addicted to cigarettes. I still remember telling myself , I am gonna try every brand once and I will quit before I get addicted. Before I realized it I was in college and had more freedom during the day, and the next thing you know –  I was addicted to cigarettes. I came down to the US for my undergrad and since I did not have a car and I hated walking down to the gas station for a pack in the fuckin winter(my first sem in the US was a spring semester in MINNESOTA, FML), I started buying cartons and  every time  I stepped out I had a cigarette dangling off my lips. I pretty much never thought of giving up smoking, because I had reached a point where I knew no matter how hard I tried I was going to fail. Fast forward to grad school, somewhere in 2011, I was lifting weights and tried to be regular but I was still smoking as if there was no tomorrow and still enjoyed getting drunk as fuck on Friday nights! Somewhere along the line I came across nicotine patches, I tried to be extremely sincere and did not smoke for almost a month and the patches do help. The first week was the worst, I threw up, got dizzy but stuck to it and was clean for a month and then I slacked again. In the mean time one of my buddies Md Shariq had registered for a 5K and wanted me to do it. I just said yes for the sake of it and was sort of looking forward to it at least when I signed up . The day before the race I was up till 3 or 4 AM drinking old monk ( for those of you who haven’t tired it, you need to!) and was praying that my buddy does not show up in the morning to wake me up ( I am glad now that he showed up and since I said I would drive him to the race venue , I did not have a heart to say no). So that was my first 5k and I think I was coughing so much that I wasn’t able to throw up properly but all that I was coughing out was mucus.

What did I learn from the race? That I am an asshole and could not stand the fact that women beat me. My time for the race was 28:10. My buddy on the other hand won the race with a time of 18 minutes. When I looked at his time, that’s when I realized, “Oh! so all that running he does actually pays of and damn is he fast”. I figured he was fast when I saw him at the start line , but a 10 min difference between our times gave me a better picture as to how bad I sucked.

Here is a pic of me prior to the race. A complete running newbile!!If you zoom in you can tell I am wearing Jordans. I thought these shoes were as good as running shoes if not better. FML

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There was a part of me which said this is just BS , you are not meant for long distance running, just stick to lifting weights. Somehow that one 5k, turned into occasional runs in the evening with my buddy with a quest to beat my previous time. It didn’t take me long to understand, that the entire ideology of, If I don’t win I don’t see a point in running, is wrong. I, without realizing it wanted to beat my previous time and I did not care if the person ahead of me was a female, a male or a kid. I just wanted to beat my time and be a better athlete than what I was yesterday. Now that’s training mistake number 1, try and go as hard as you can every time you run! . After a few 5k’s I decided I should sign up for a 10k and since I was not dying in a 5k I should be fine for a 10k. You can tell from the pic below that I was still a running newbie, I decided to start in the front so I end up with a better time :/ Had no clue about gun time vs chip time.

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I was actually impressed with my time (50:30) even though a lot of people overtook me in the first mile and I felt I was really slow even though I was not. It’s all relative! I had done it unbroken, my pace was faster than my first 5k and was pretty close to my then 5k pace. Then came winter, and I went back into hibernation and lifting weights. I was still smoking at the time and was experimenting with nicotine patches and wasn’t really successful.

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At around 2 AM one night, randomly surfing and killing time I saw an advertisement or an article, I forget what it was , but it was for a half marathon in New Bedford, MA( I lived in New Bedford at the time). I was like, ” I should do this, I’ve done a 10K and I wasn’t dying, maybe if I slow down a bit I can pull of a 21k”. I started pestering my buddy to sign up for it, for whatever reason he decided not to sign up but he said he would pace me and run as a bandit. I never understood the logic, but I was happy that he would pace me and not run his own race. I obviously had not trained for this since I was in hibernation. So the only thing I was relying on was my overconfidence and self pep talk – it’s just twice of a 10k, it can’t be that hard.  I had a goal to break 2 hours ( gave myself an additional 10 minutes based off my last 10k race). Prior to the race I stuck a nicotine patch so I didn’t crave a cigarette before the race started and I was still smoking the night before.I somehow finished the race unbroken, but not surprisingly in pain and in agony and missed my  sub 2 hour goal by 1 min and 29 seconds.:(

Pain and Agony

Pain and Agony

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My buddy on the other hand was having a ball. He could have solved math problems at this pace.

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The icing on the cake was the medal. I remember trying to walk and I was unable to for almost a week, it wasn’t DOMS, but it was my knees ( my knees were just not ready for 21 kms of poundage). During this time I was still on and off with my smoking. Fast forward to 2014, I decided that I’ve done a half , its time for a full. I had moved to a new place and had started using Chantix consistently and was weaning off the smoking. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to muscle my way though a full, especially if I was smoking, as luck would have it I found this amazing training group in Pittsburgh – Fleet Feet. They had marathon programs where about 200 people would meet every Sunday and you would be divided into pace groups and maps were given to you and every pace group had a leader to pace you. All you had to do was show up and just follow the person ahead of you. They also had water stops set up. My goal was to break 4 hours , and during my training I had broken my goal for 2 hours in the half which I had missed when I had attempted it for the first time. As luck would have it , I missed my goal by 34 seconds. I had almost given up smoking during this time all thanks to Chantix. Now I had no idea what to do, I certainly did not want to run another marathon anytime soon just to break the 4 hour mark. Had you asked me in 2012,  whats the difference between a 5k and a marathon I would have said a marathon and a 5k are the same thing, and had you asked me to run 42 km, I would think you’re just fuckin stupid and why would someone even want to do it. My brain would not have been able to comprehend the fact that someone could run 42km. So, after the marathon I wanted something challenging and new to break the monotony and something which was less stressful on my body. I was sort of aware as to what a triathalon was all thanks to google/youtube suggestions and the rest was taken care by my curiosity. So.So I asked my buddy , to sign up for the half Ironman ( 70.3). It took some convincing but I finally talked him into it. We signed up for Ironman Muncie 70.3 2015. In the time leading up to Muncie I had relapsed for about 2 weeks and then started Chantix again. At the time I could only doggy paddle 2 lengths of the pool and did not own a bike.  While training for the 70.3, I had set a new goal to break 1:45 in the Pitts half marathon. The timing was perfect , the Pitts half was about 2 months before the 70.3 which meant I got to train with fleet feet again. All I did was show up to the sunday runs and tried to hold an 8 min pace for as long as I could. Considering how unlucky I am, I missed my goal by one second, my net time was 1:45:01 in the Pitts half, but I wasn’t really upset since I had broken 1:45 in a prep race about 2 months ago and I had just recovered from a flu and pittsburgh is a pretty tough course. I later went on to complete my half Ironman in under 6 hours and felt- “this wasn’t that hard, and was probably easier than a marathon”.

Click here for the article on the comparison between a 70.3 and a 26.2.

I still wasn’t completely smoke free after my 70.3, I was still bumming cigarettes if I stepped out with one of my co workers who smoked .I still have some chantix left over, in case I ever get drunk and buy a pack and before heading into a downward spiral I get up next morning and pop in a chantix to kill any cravings I might have. My buddy and I have now signed up for IM Coeur d’alene and I have moved to Philly because of work.The winter is going to be brutal but I guess I have to suck it up, I am still looking for a group like fleet feet which has organized runs and has everyone training for a common race, that way everyone is consistent and you run with the same pace group every week and you get better as a group.

A lot of times I have wondered why haven’t I gotten faster if I’ve been running for 3 years? Well I did get a bit faster, but consistency is the key. You are not going to get significantly faster in a 5k if you are training for a marathon and putting in long slow runs and not doing tempo or intervals. They key to getting faster is to run faster which means track workouts and tempos! and I never did them. I did however learn to sustain a certain pace for longer distances as a result of the Sunday runs. After my marathon I haven’t really raced a 5k, so I do not know how much faster I am over the shorter distance. Also after my marathon in 2014 and my half ironman in 2015, I did not continue to run. I took a break and played soccer, lifted weights, traveled . As of now ( late 2015) I am not really lifting, I’m just focusing on my swim and plan to start running seriously in Feb. Till then I plan to bike indoors and just swim and lift occasionally. Also, I haven’t bought a pack in over 4 months now. I occasionally still do crave cigarettes and try not to give into to the urge.

Here are my race times in the past 3 years

My first 5k – 28:10 (April 2012)

My 10k – 50:30 ( Oct 2012)

First 13.1 – 2:01:29 ( March 2013)

My PR on a 5k – 22:42 (April 2013 )

My average 5k race time then : ~ 24 minutes and 30 seconds

Second half marathon – 1:54 ( March 2014)

Pitts Marathon – 4:00:34 ( May 2014)

Pitts Half marathon  – 1:45:01 ( May 2015)

Ironman Muncie 70.3 – 5:56 ( July 2015)
or you could just check my races out at athlinks 🙂
http://www.athlinks.com/athletes/238147739

So that has been my journey in terms of races and getting faster and/or running longer. It’s been an enjoyable journey so far, looking back I have no regrets of going to bed early on Sat nights so I could get up at 6 am on a sunday for my long runs. I never even thought in my wildest dreams that I could quit smoking or run a marathon or sign up for an Ironman. But I’ve realized that besides consistency in training, one of the most important things is to believe in yourself . I remember spending 6 weeks in the pool , 4 days a week and all I could swim was about 75 yards and was wondering how am I ever going to swim a mile. Well I never gave up and believed that I was going to do it, that lead me to be consistent with my training and before I realized it I was swimming ~2500 yards in the pool easy.

I still have not quit smoking, I might smoke or bum one from someone once in a month or if I come across a buddy who I used to smoke with. I hope to be able to resist the urge moving forward, as a back up I still have chantix with me. But from smoking a pack a day to smoking maybe 1 or 2 in a month is something I am proud of. I still do crave cigarettes occasionally, but the urges are not that bad where I need to go and buy a pack immediately. They wear off within 15-20 minutes. Hopefully by Aug 2016 I am completely smoke free and am ready for my Ironman.

At the end of it I would just like to say, take small steps at a time. Quitting smoking is hard, its not impossible. If need be talk to a doctor about options for quitting smoking. Had you asked me in early 2011, would I ever do a marathon I would have said a NO, had you asked me will I ever do an ironman? Even before I said a no, I would have failed to believe that normal people can do it. Had you asked me, would I be able to cut down smoking to a point where I would be fine if I did not smoke for a week? I would have laughed and lit up another cigarette. Your body and your mind are remarkable. Your body adapts sooner than you think and you need to believe that what you are aiming for is achievable. If other people have done it , so can you. It is possible to quit smoking and lead a healthy lifestyle and even participate in endurance sports even if you have been a smoker all your life and have been a couch potato for a while .

Failure is the stepping stone to success, if you fail in your first attempt to quit smoking, keep trying . If you could not run a 5k unbroken, be patient and keep trying. It’s only a matter of time before the persistent efforts pay of.

#chantix, #smoking

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