For those of you who don’t know me, I am relatively new to running. I didn’t start in middle school or high school like most other runners. It wasn’t until much later in life that I stumbled into running and fell in love.
In the summer of 2016 (when I was 26 years old), I was hit with life-altering news; I had been diagnosed with SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus). To say I was shocked would be a complete understatement. Little did I know that diagnoses would actually save my life.
You see, at that point in my life, I was anything but healthy. I was a 1/2 pack-a-day smoker for nearly 11 years with no quitting in sight, a greasy food/candy junkie, a daily McDonalds lunch eater (I am not exaggerating, just ask my coworkers!) and an ‘allergic’ to exercise type of person. The most physical activity I had seen since probably high school was my almost daily walk to the nearby 7/11 to grab candy, chips and any other greasy food I could put into my mouth. Even though I was only 120lbs and may have seemed relatively healthy on the outside, my cholesterol was through the roof and my joints & kidneys were deteriorating due to my lupus. I was heading down a dangerous path. Deep down I knew I needed to make a change and my lupus diagnosis was the unfortunate push I needed to force myself to finally improve my health.
The first on my list was to start eating healthy. So after a week of self loathing that’s exactly what I did.
This was probably the easiest change to make. Mostly because the medicine I was taking for my lupus would send my stomach into a fit if I ate anything remotely greasy. This meant that I could no longer make my daily McDonalds trips, but I was okay with that. I substituted veggies for candy and fruits for junk food. I started eating protein enriched foods, taking daily vitamins and nearly tripling my daily water intake. I started to feel better almost instantly. Within one week of making this change, I was less fatigued and sluggish throughout my day. My lupus flares had subsided and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once my body and mind felt adjusted to this drastic change, I knew what was next. I had to quit smoking.
As I am sure you can imagine, this was not easy. In fact, it was probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. I already had numerous failed attempts under my belt and the odds were not in my favor. It took me a little over two weeks from my initial diagnoses to finally build up the courage to quit. On June 28th, 2016, I smoked what would be my last cigarette. The following morning I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. I could not stop thinking about cigarettes and when my mind did start to distract itself, it was with thoughts of McDonald’s and anything deep fried. It’s as if God was playing a cruel joke on me. I had to do something to get my mind off of smoking and now food. So I went outside and ran.
I only made it .23 of a mile before my lungs felt on fire and my legs cramped up. I couldn’t even make it a full quarter of a mile! I vividly remember stopping, gasping for breath with my hands on my knees thinking to myself, “this is PATHETIC”! I looked down at my phone and realized that I had only been running for 3 minutes. THREE MINUTES….
After what seemed like forever but in reality was probably only a few minutes of catching my breath, I picked myself up and limped home in defeat. My plan definitely worked, the absolute last thing on my mind was a cigarette. Sitting on my patio at home I decided that I was going to make a goal of running a full 5k. I didn’t care how long it was going to take and I needed something else to focus on that would offer me a challenge and help me quit smoking. So for the next two weeks every time a craving entered my mind, I put on my shoes went outside and ran. Soon after that my mental cravings subsided and a new addiction began. A month later I met that 5k goal, so I set another goal, then another and another. Soon I was up to running 8 miles straight and I was hooked. The challenge of pushing my body to its limit and beyond became a rush and smoking became a thing of the past.
Now, three years and several races, PRs, triathlons, marathons, & first place finishes later, I still cannot believe how something that was initially a way to pass time and a distraction from smoking transformed into a way of life. Now I run to feel complete and to feel free. I run to feel alive and to overcome my fears. Most importantly, I run to remind myself & others that our limits may not be where we think they are.
In two of the darkest times of my life, the unexpected loss of my little brother Nathaniel and a year later my mother, running has helped me to cope and heal. Running is now my escape, my stress relief and my daily reminder of where I’ve been and where I am going.
Written by RLAG Ambassador: Alyssa Hansen