Cork woman went from smoking 30 fags a day to running 30km

A year ago, BRENDA DENNEHY quit smoking after struggling to run just a mile. To mark the 12 month anniversary of giving up the habit — which had climbed to 30 cigarettes a day — she decided to run 30km. Here’s how she got on...
Cork woman went from smoking 30 fags a day to running 30km

ECHO OPINION Brenda Dennehy

ON February 27, 2020, I made a commitment to myself that I would quit my 30-a-day cigarette habit for good.

I had found that I had gone from smoking 20 a day to 30 in no time and the hole I was burning in my pocket was getting deeper.

I suppose, for the 35-year-old me, I saw myself as being relatively healthy, so I never really saw my health as one of the reasons to give up. It was always because someone else may have suggested I should stop.

I would be inundated with comments from loved ones and friends urging me to stop smoking “those disgusting things”, as they would call them. However, that wasn’t going to make me quit.

It wasn’t until I decided to go back running — a hobby I used to enjoy previously — that I knew something had to give. I remember vividly, January 2020 I went back running with my group The Wibbly Wobbly Wonders. I had done a half marathon before and sailed through it but this time I was struggling so bad I was considering having to go back to basics and start doing the Couch to 5K once again.

I just about managed the 11 minute mile group. It took it out of me big time. I was half embarrassed as my breathing was so bad — I said to myself “it had to be the cigarettes.” So I decided, I would be one step ahead and go running in Ballincollig (where I live) and get my fitness up and go back in a few weeks to the group and I will be back on track.

However, what I found was that I was struggling even more on my own. I had no one to push me. I remember stopping after 2km running up the village and saying to myself —“this is no good, you may as well give up.” I sparked up a cigarette and walked all the ways back home. Something was niggling inside me though, telling me that this is not the Brenda

I know. I love to succeed, I am not a quitter. 

I knew if I put my mind to it I could give it one last try and quit the cigarettes for good. 

So I stuck to that specific date - February 27th 2020. I said it out loud so there was no going back.

After the initial first few days of withdrawals I felt better. I had thought I would isolate myself from the world for the first week due to mood swings, but on the contrary. I continued to put myself out there and socialised and went back to my running group. I did think I was imagining it, but a few days after my last cigarette - I was running better than ever.

Sadly, come the middle of March, our group could no longer run together and I was on my own. One would think it would be the perfect excuse to be able to quit - the old me certainly would have but this new improved me was going to take the opportunity and train to be an even better runner on my own. The Regional Park in Ballincollig became my regular stomping ground.

With the pressure and stress of the pandemic - my running became my saviour. It became my medicine. I never understood why people liked running, until I came to realise - this is actually good for my head.

I always went with the saying “if you compete with others you become bitter, but if you compete with yourself you become better.” And that’s what I did. I was my own competitor. I timed my runs so that I would be better than I was yesterday.

Over the coming months I started to set some goals for myself. One was where I decided to do 15km without stopping as I had never ran that far all on my own. I felt on top of the world after I completed it.

A few weeks later, just before Christmas - I set myself a goal of 20km, Ovens to Blackrock without a break. Now this was even longer than my half marathon I did with my sister. But with the perfect Spotify playlist and weather on the day, I strolled up to Blackrock castle knowing I could have gone on further. And that’s when I said to myself - you have got to try 30km on the one year anniversary of the day you quit the cigarettes. So I called my challenge in my head “from 30 fags a day to 30k.”

When I told people I was doing it - many of them thought I was disillusioned or over optimistic. But I knew as soon as I said it out loud that I had nailed my colours to the mast and I was going to do it.

I am a big believer in positive thinking and anything you set your mind to no matter how big or small you can achieve. So on Saturday last, I woke as if it was my wedding day. I was bursting with enthusiasm. What excited me was that I jumped out of bed knowing that I was going to complete my goal.

They do say you should set a goal that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning.

I was also buzzing because I knew I had hit one year without a cigarette - and not only that but one year without a cigarette in the middle of a pandemic.

So with sunshine, fresh air and the most wonderful scenery in Ballincollig Regional Park — I completed my run.

I had a great sense of achievement but I wanted more. I hadn’t even left the car park when I got the notion to run the length of a marathon for my birthday on April 15.

Some people drink alcohol, some eat lots of cake and others go on a shopping spree for their birthday but my gift to myself is to achieve another goal. I really don’t think there’s anything better in this world than fulfilling your ambitions. As Walt Disney said, “if you can dream it, you can do it.”

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