Inspired to run--one former smoker tells how running changed lifestyle

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Mike McGuire
  • 934th Services Squadron
As we transition into twice-a-year Fit-to-Fight testing in 2010, I thought I would share with you some running inspiration I've found helpful with trying to get back into running shape. True, we know the FTF test consists of more than just running. But we also know that the running portion of the test carries the most weight. Most of us will pass or fail based on how we do on the 1.5 mile run. That's where our primary focus should be.

For me personally, this has been the most challenging running year of my life. Injuries to my feet, ankles and Achilles tendon have kept me back this year. For a guy who is used to running at least three times a week, 52 weeks a year, this has been a tough year for me to live with. I am just now rounding back into running shape again. Until this year, I have never had any long term injuries that have kept me out of my running shoes.

To give you some background on my running past (not trying to boast here!), I have been actively running for the past 29 years, and have kept a running log during all that time. To date, my logs tell me that I have recorded over 10,800 miles, run seven races, run on 19 Air Force bases, in 21 states, in three countries, I have run 866 four-mile runs, 761 three-mile runs, 650 runs on Mondays, 507 runs on Fridays, runs to celebrate the births of my two boys, runs to honor the lives of close friends and/or relatives gone before me, etc, etc. Now, am I saying that everyone who runs should keep a log? Absolutely not. Some like to do so, some don't. In my case, I found that keeping a log is just another way of helping me stay motivated.

Before I added running to my life I was a three pack-a-week smoker and didn't like where my life was headed at that time. I determined to make some changes. One of the areas I wanted to change was to try and quit smoking and get into good physical condition. Something I was far from at the time. I had no previous connection to running. I did not run cross country in junior high or high school. The only running I did was the occasional jogging we all did in our grammar school and junior high phys-ed classes. Truth is I knew nothing about running.

Fortunately for me, the quitting smoking part came easily. I just quit cold turkey and have been smoke free ever since. At the time, I was also toying with the idea of joining the military. Believe it or not, the Air Force was not my first choice. No, it was the Coast Guard. I was all set to enlist in the Coast Guard but due to some past habits, I had to wait six months before I could join. You know how life can change in just six months. So I visited with an Air Force recruiter, and, well, the rest is history as I just completed my 28th year in uniform.

I knew that if I were to join the military, I would have to be in good physical condition to survive basic military training. So I set out on trying to get in shape. Where would I start? I was playing a lot of basketball at the time but basketball alone does not get you into top physical condition. Not the kind of shape needed as a runner. And I determined at that time that I wanted to run because it was something I could get used to doing and would probably provide me the best exercise based on my size and build. So I started a personal running program. I started out slowly by running just a block or two. Then I kept at it and was soon able to run a mile, two miles and so on. The rapid improvement made me feel really good about myself, like I was accomplishing something. Running still makes me feel that way today. It's one of the reasons I continue to pound the trails.

If you are struggling with adapting to a running lifestyle, like it or not, a lifestyle for those of us wishing to continue serving in the Air Force need to adopt in our lives, then I have some advice for you. This is taken from a book titled, "The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life," by John Bingham. This is a real motivating book. You may want to pick up a copy. In the book, Mr. Bingham chronicles how he started adopting running to his life and states, "That I continued to run astounded me. Over the first days and weeks I shifted from walking for a while to mixing some running with the walking to mixing some walking with the running. I kept repeating that cycle until I kept myself moving for about thirty minutes at a time.....I began to set goals for myself. When I could easily run a quarter of a mile, I tried for a half-mile. Much to my surprise, my body continued to adapt. Soon I was running a mile, then two, and finally three miles at a time, three days a week. It wasn't pretty, but it was a start. I learned a lot in those first weeks.....As the effects of being a runner became more obvious, as I lost thirty, fifty, and eventually one hundred pounds, I wanted more.....Runners are of all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders. Some are fast. Most are not. But what unifies us as runners is our commitment to using running as a way to find the best in ourselves and those around us. Every runner has had to take that first step. Each of us in our own way has had to find that can you!"

So there you have it. Hopefully this has inspired you. My point in this story is that if I can do it, so can you! If you need more advice, feel free to talk to me.