Friday, March 03, 2006

Smoke Free

Let me begin by stating that I believe I will live to see 92 years of age. I don't know why 92, and not 93 or any other age. It's just a gut feeling thing. A vision, perhaps. This is one story about coming closer to realizing my destiny.

I'm not quitTING, I've just QUIT. I'm out. But I prefer to think of myself as "smoke free." It's much more positive.

It's been a long time coming, really. Many fits and starts. Lately I've gone on and off the gum, bought bulk lollipops, and generally ruminated about cutting back, and eventually quitting. It's been 14 years give or take. I've tried to be realistic about it, especially recently, after many failed attempts to quit. One must be honest with one's self.

I've lived the past 5 years as a runner/smoker, and not always in that order. I couldn't figure out if the combination was more or less healthy than smoking without the running. The health effects of running are obvious (good for you), and the same with smoking (bad for you), but what about both at the same time? As a smoker, I found myself thinking that I, or my lungs, anyway, MIGHT actually be better off WITHOUT the running. Let me explain.

If I smoked heavily (and I often did), the next time I got out for a run would invariably be a phlegm fest. Major lugies. I've gotten pretty good at timing my lugie spits to keep right in time with my breathing. I always try to wait until no one's around to see, because lugies, especially these lugies, from the deepest depths of my respiratory cavity, are like comets - the have tails. Often a hand is required to free the lugie tail from the face from which it came. I've gotten real used to it.

But those lugies have a purpose in the lungs of the smoker. They are protectors of valuable tissue. Lugies are the immune system at work. Without those lugies, my lungs are wide open targets for cigarette toxins. Which, though never were inhaled while actually running, inevitably followed behind, sometimes by as little as 20 minutes.

In the past weeks, I've been running more than ever, training for a 25K race in May. I haven't really tried to cut back on the smoking. The most I could say in that area is that at least the time I spend running (which can be hours on the weekends) are safe. The rest of the day is wide open to smoking. But as I ran more, I started to notice a funny feeling afterwards, in what felt like the back of my lungs. It was kind of an itchy feeling, an irritation. It was just worrisome enough to gnaw at me from time to time, but not worrisome enough to get me to change my behavior.

Meanwhile, I've really been having success with my training, getting in a long run each week, and in general feeling good about things until this week. I don't know what happened, but I just wasn't able to get myself out the door. The weather has been especially cold, and the only people I saw running were old dudes. It's always more inspiring to me to see people my age running, because I can identify. It wasn't that I wasn't thinking about it - I was, but I was so damn indecisive. Recently I spent 45 minutes trying to decide between the going to the bar or running. I changed more than twice. I finally chose the bar. Then yesterday, I had the day off, and I decided to go to the coffee shop. Between my door and the door of The Common Ground, I saw two young people running in the 25 degree afternoon. Inspiration, but I was only halfway there. It took this discussion between Miller and Gladwell to get me the rest of the way.

So I got home after dark and geared up. I stretched and warmed up with a light jog around the block. I had decided to go short but fast. I got a 5K later this month, and I need to pick up my race pace. It was cold, but it only takes seconds to warm up to a comfortable level. Within minutes I'm always sweating through my base layer. This time, I was pushing it. No slack. Race pace. Phlegmy as usual. Feeling good up the last hill, and kicked it up a notch to nearly sprint the home stretch, arriving back at the house with one of my fastest times ever.

I felt good as I cooled off with a nice easy walk around the block. It had been a good run. No knee pain, no real lapses of energy. There is usually still some loose phlegm to deal with on these walks. Last night, I thought I felt a chunk of something in my lugie. Strange, what's that? But it was gone in the dark. Got home, and felt another. I spit in the sink, and fished out the chunk with my finger. It was small, no bigger than a very small pebble, and it was beige in color. It was soft, and I smeared it on my fingertip. It couldn't be food, because I hadn't eaten in hours. It was not lung lugie; it had a more solid consistency Could this be what I think it is? I brought my fingertip close to my eye. There was a certain texture to the smeared chunk. It didn't spread like jelly, more like a deck of cards, in sheets.

"This is my freaking lung I'm looking at!" I thought.

It's said in a samurai code somewhere that a decision should be made within the space of seven breaths. I'm pretty sure it didn't take me any longer than that to decide that I was done.

But I'm not quitting, I've already quit. And besides, it's much easier to think of it as being "smoke free."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad your health will get better, but that that post was gross! I was gonna have a peanut butter and lung sandwich for lunch too! -a

1:30 PM  
Blogger Laba said...

Good luck, amigo! The insomnia is both a curse and a blessing. I remember it clearly. I'm thinking about the Detroit Marathon. If you (and I) can keep on track, lets kill it.

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Jeremy H. said...

Congratulations! You'll be hacking up the weirdest shit for the next three months before it's all worked out.

9:59 AM  
Blogger dharmarae said...

oh my god, that is the grossest shit i've ever heard! good for you though!

5:36 PM  

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