Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keep Running vs. Quitting Smoking: which is harder?

When I stopped smoking, it was a pretty easy thing to do. I had started smoking at a pretty young age, so I thought it would be harder. But then again, I was in the 8th grade and had only been smoking for two weeks. From what I hear, it's a tad bit harder for most people.

Why is smoking so hard? Nicotine, which hardly seems to have any noticeable effect, and yet to judge by its number of users, is easily the world's most addictive substance? For many people, quitting smoking is simply impossible.

Have you ever read a list of steps for how to quit smoking? There are lots of them. They are all over the Internet. They all have similar themes. They talk about things like schedules, deadlines, programs, support groups, dedication, positive affirmations, increased hunger, goals, buddies, and rewards.

Hell, they look just like the steps for starting a running program. That might explain why so many people find maintaining their running program so difficult. It's like trying to kick the habit.

The lists are tough to tell apart. No kidding. Trying to stop smoking and trying to start a new habit are very similar... No wonder so many people continually start an exercise or running program, and then slip, slide, stop, start again, or give up forever.

Do you think I am making this up?

1. (Quitting Smoking) MAKE A DATE and stick to it. Draw up a plan of action, considering what methods are available to you.

1. (Starting Running) Sign up for a race (Make a Date). Do it now! Having a race goal (and race fees!) on the line will be a powerful source of motivation. I guarantee it.

Both require you to set a date. One is for the actual quit date (smokers), and one is for your first race (runners). This is about setting goals. Sticking to your goals. Holding yourself accountable to your goals. Sounds easy enough. My race is the Walt Disney World Marathon. January 10th, 2010. What is your date?

2. (Quit Smoking) DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS - keep a glass of water or juice by you and sip it steadily. Try different flavours. (Really, this is from a stop smoking website)

2. (Start Running) DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS - An hour or two before a long workout, drink 16 ounces of water or a sports drink like Gatorade. This will help prevent dehydration and also keep you feeling alert. Plain water is fine if you're running an hour or less. If your run is longer, you'll need to replenish lost electolytes, so Smartwater or a sports drink are better options.

Although drinking fluids was kind of a surprise for me to find under stopping smoking, the rest is a no brainer. Jane and I went out and bought water belts, and then didn't even wear them during our first run with our new running group. We didn't want to look like the new kids with all the cool new gear. Now that I have run with water a few times, eff em if they can't take a joke. Running with water makes a HUGE difference.

3. (Quit Smoking) THINK POSITIVE - Withdrawal can be unpleasant, bit it is a sign your body is recovering from the effects of tobacco. Irritability, urges to smoke and poor concentration are common - don't worry, they usually disappear after a few of weeks.

3. (Start Running) THINK POSITIVE -That kind of confidence, of course, springs from putting in the physical work of hard, smart training between races. But on race day, even a well-trained runner can sabotage his effort with negative or unproductive thoughts. Bottom line: Believe in what you’ve done to get to the start line, focus on what is possible, and use both your physical and mental strengths to produce the best outcome on the day.

I received a comment on one of my stories a few weeks ago from a friend (Tiffany-an Iron Man Competitor) who said she had just finished one of her worst runs in a long time. They were about 7 miles into a 13 mile run when she made the fatal mistake of saying "this is one of my best runs in a long time, this just seems easy today". The wheels immediately fell of the cart. As soon as the words came out of her mouth, her superstitions kicked in and her mind filled with negative thoughts. "Oh crap, I shouldn't have said that." Then all the usual aches and pains of a long run became accentuated, painful, and difficult to run through. Negative thoughts started to play tricks on her, and the run became a painful, demoralizing event from there to the end.

Moral of this one is, just stay positive, and keep the nagging neggies away...

So far, it sounds like stopping smoking and starting running (or stopping being lazy) are running neck and neck foer degree of difficulty.

4. (Kicking the Habit) Breaking a habit can be simple - you just create a new one and then practice it again and again. If you've smoked for any period of time then you have probably practiced the smoking habit thousands of times. Every time you think about it, you practice it and cement it in further.

4. (Starting the Habit) If you struggle with making running a regular habit, try doing it every other day at the same time. Habits are easiest to form if you do them consistently, but the key is to go very easy in the beginning — nothing that will stress your body out or make you sore the next day. Also, instead of running every day, you could swim or bike or do strength training, so that your running muscles are given a rest while you continue to form your exercise habit.

If you are at all human, this is the place where it is easy to trip up. My dedication to go running tomorrow morning is without question. The next morning, when the alarm goes off, my motivation to actually get out of bed and go, is sometimes nowhere to be found. That is where our great enemy the snooze button comes in...

5. (Quit Smoking) Rearrange your routine- Many have found that if they change up their daily routine they find no time for a cigarette. If your structured this works very well for you. Many people do the same things everyday at the same time in a repetitive motion.

5. (Start Running) Write down a time plan that varies each day. Put your plan on paper by listing the days you will run, the distances and the paths you will run. Varying the lengths of time you run each day will make your runs more interesting. You might start by saying you will run for 15 minutes on your first day, 20 minutes on your second day, 30 minutes on your third day then 15 minutes again on your fourth day. Make it interesting for yourself.

Making a routine is something that can help lot's of people. In business, we call them systems. In exercise, we call it a routine.

6. (Stop Signs) Post signs in your home- Every time you think about smoking look at these signs you create. Make the signs thoughtful, draw up reason why you wish you never began to smoke. Write the negative affects the nicotine has had on your body. Keep the signs visible, so whenever a craving creeps up on you. The signs can be your saving grace behind you not giving in to temptation.

6. (Start Signs) For runners that are in need of a little help in sticking with their routine, posting positive affirmations has been found to be extremely helpful. "I enjoy listening to the sound of my beating heart in exercise. With each beat, it strengthens."•" I love the feel of the pavement beneath my running shoes." "I feel strong and in control."• "I enjoy listening to the beautiful sounds of nature as I run around the block. " "I love the wind against my face as I jog around my neighborhood."

These examples pretty much suck, but good ones actually do make a huge difference. A reminder when you walk past the mirror in the morning can make the difference between putting on your running shoes, or your Florsheim's.

7. (Stop Smoking) The first two weeks are critical, seek all the support from family and friends you can find. The side effects to quitting begin just four hours after your last cigarette, generally they peak at three to five days, and then fade out after two weeks. The symptoms are both physical and mental.

7. (Keep Running) Focus strongly on getting through the first three weeks. It takes roughly three weeks to establish a habit. If you can get past the first three weeks, your mind and body will find it much easier after that.

You probably know someone who has tried to quit smoking, and failed. You more than likely also know people who have succeeded. You also probably know someone who has started running, or getting into shape, and then fallen off the wagon and given up. What do you think the difference is between the people that succeed, and the people that don't? All I can tell you is that if I knew the answer to that, I would be a billionaire. They are both hard.

When you make the choice to go running, congratulate yourself. When you get out of bed in the morning, remind yourself that this is a victory all by itself. You are completing an act of determination that hundreds if not thousands of people fail at every day. I failed four day's straight this week. It can be a constant struggle. For me so far, it has been a whole lot harder than it was two quit smoking. But I had only been a smoker for two weeks. I have been lazy my whole life.

I think I will cut myself a little slack. If it was easy, everyone would run marathons.


  1. Great post Adam (this would make a great mag article, you need to submit this!). But, but, you forgot "JUST DO IT" :0) In the end it's strength of will/desire and discipline of action. Though I never smoked(icky! tho I might give a hookah a whirl maybe, ha), I did start running and it was really hard to overcome the mindset driven into my head by butchy Ms Beau at Olympic/Pacific jr high that I absolutely could not run a step without hurling--the "just do it" was golden. Now I have to work on letting go of my bitterness towards her, ha(bite me Ms Beau, I roost you!). Celeste

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  3. nice parallel you drew here. I was able to quit smoking using a elelectronic cigarette program. Now, i don't think i would be able to start running on a daily basis or weekly, but i am happy i was able to quit smoking.