Shannon is a friend of mine. She lives in downtown Toronto and works for a major book publisher. Last November I followed Shannon’s 5k/day 30 day challenge and when I asked if she’d like to share her experience, she agreed. This format doesn’t follow the same suit as the rest of the #RUN30 stories; I think you’ll really enjoy Shannon’s sense of humour and her honest, hilarious account of her experience.
I started smoking when I was 15 years old. Okay, fine, I started smoking consistently when I was 15, but I actually had my first drag at the tender age of 12. In the interest of not throwing my accomplices under the bus, we will leave the facts at that.
While I inevitably went through my ups and downs with smoking over the years – a pack a day, a pack of month, none for months – in November 2017, I was in the ‘smoking when I’m drunk phase’. So when a few friends and I had the wild idea to do a Dry Month, I knew I was going to have to find something else to be addicted to.
A hard truth I know about myself is that I rarely do anything for nothing. There is always
some sort of gratification or motivation I need to – even if just in my head for pretend – be working towards in order to get up and just DO something. Even while writing this I am convincing myself that this is me getting back on track in terms of writing – something I have always wanted to do, but fail to visualize the end result.
Anyway, in order to stay on track for Dry November, I decided to pair this up with running 5km everyday. Running was something I always did – even while in the thick of my smoking days. Every April, I would ramp up my running efforts in preparation for the Sporting Life 10km race, so I knew firsthand the use of goal visualization as a survival tactic.
Running 5km everyday was just what I needed to get me through these grueling 30 days. Whenever I would think about drinking, I would simply think about the fact that my run the next day would be affected.
This really worked for the first day.
The beginning was grueling. My partner who works for the government brought me to a work event on Day Two, which I can only describe as the worst 132 minutes of my life. I was the only person not drinking, and the only person who knew exactly one other person. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. So I did pretty much that. And then bought a pack of cigarettes. Sigh. I guess people can be addicted to two things at once. So that part failed, but the rest came around.
By the end of the first week, I was so fired up by my own resilience, I felt unstoppable! On the nights I had things to do, I knew I had no choice but to hit the gym at 5AM, and when that alarm went off my internal dialogue was screeching, “Let’s! GOOOO!!!!!”
However, by mid-month I hit another slump. I had a cold and was pretty sure I was going to bail on not only the running challenge, but dry month as a whole. God, beer bubbles would have felt really good on that sore throat. But, I didn’t quit.
I didn’t quit because I looked at my Nike Run App. I scrolled through the times I had woken up at 5AM thus far. I thought about all the things I could have been doing in the evenings, and I told myself I would have sacrificed all those things for nothing if I didn’t finish.
I started naming my runs with emojis to represent how I felt at the end of every run. Some days were terrible, some were amazing, and some I was just downright proud of myself for completing an extra half kilometer, an extra kilometer, or just finishing at all. At the time, I was also keeping an Instagram account with nearly five thousand followers, so would use this as a tool for motivation. Each day I would post about my run – whether it was the song I was listening to or a GIF to signify how I was feeling – a hypothetical check mark would be there each day, available for public viewing. When I thought about quitting, I would imagine the disappointment of my thousands of fans (read: bots) when the next day’s post didn’t arrive. Very vain and naive I know, but it helped.
With the combination of both not drinking and running everyday, it was hard to tell why I was feeling so good. Part of me was running on pride, and some of it was actually the physical effects of taking care of myself for the first time in 12 years. I honestly don’t really know where the effects of one ended and the other began.
The weirdest part of all of this though, is that when the month was closing in, I thought I would be more addicted to that sensation of pride. I thought it would be so hard to stop me now that I had started. I so badly wanted that to be the case. Instead of running 5km everyday for the month of November, I imagined keeping it going until December, January… hell, why not next May?! In the end, I did exactly one extra day and then called it quits. After that, I completely checked out. The goal was complete, and just as I said, I had nothing to run for anymore.
A couple months later my doctor would tell me I have a blockage in one of the branches of my heart. Even though she assured me I was totally fine, as someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, this wasn’t the easiest pill to swallow (that pill would Klonopin!). I would try to run, but end up convincing myself I was dying. I would keep my fingers hovering about the emergency stop, just in case. When I told my doctor this she audibly laughed at me. Doctors aren’t supposed to laugh!
At time of writing, I am slowly recovering. I am working hard to get those kilometers back in, and even though it’s August, the time for patio beers and Belmonts, I am looking forward to the next time I feel like a good person again. It will come. I will be unstoppable. But until then, I watch the runners on my block like a proud parent, and keep my doctor on speed dial.
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