,nrn T Run
By Harry Kirsbaum
ou can do it, too.
I was a scrawny kid, always
picked last for everything on the
playground. I ate like a bird, and had
the legs to prove it.
In junior high school I avoided gym
as much as possible by taking emer-
gency trips to my orthodontist.
In high school, I played church-
league basketball, badly.
In college, I took up smoking and
beer drinking as sport. By senior year
in 1979, Gonzo journalist Hunter S.
Thompson was my hero.
In the early 1980s, I was bartending
at one of the most popular yuppie bars
in Chicago and living a high-octane,
late-night life. Fueled by Heinekens
and cigarettes, my health was far from
I saw the light one night in the wee
hours of our 1983 employee holiday
party. I was playing a video game by
myself in the back room of the bar,
when I heard a crowd of about six
employees and regular customers
who flitted into the room and set up
shop at a high-top table. I could hear
them speaking in the background, but
I couldn't hear the words. They were all
animated, and one person was doling
out lines of Bolivian Marching Powder
on the table. After a few quick toots,
they flitted away as quickly as they ar-
rived. I found it incredibly absurd.
Within two weeks, I realized that if
I didn't change my three-pack-a-day
habit soon, my kennel cough and un-
healthy pallor would only get worse.
So on my 29th birthday, I flew to
Florida to visit my parents and threw
away my pack of cigarettes upon my
After two-weeks in a smoke-free
environment, I returned to the bar with
nicotine cravings, but I no longer liked
the smell of smoke. After two days, the
cigarette machine in the bar stopped
staring at me, and I stopped noticing it.
I took up running later that spring
because it seemed like the natural
thing to do to clean out my lungs and
feel better. I bought a pair of Nikes
that didn't really fit and hit the ground
running. Although it was tough at
first, running on the cinder path on
Chicago's lakefront was inspiring. With
runners of all shapes, sizes
and ages, I felt I wasn't alone.
With each day I became a
better runner, and once I
found a running store that
fit me with the right shoes
and provided a group run
once a week, I was on my
way to a better life.
I ran my first marathon in
Detroit in 1987. Although
the stock market crashed
a day later, I bonked at the
20-mile mark. At 5 foot-11
and 128 pounds, I didn't
have the strength to keep
my pace and was forced to
walk to the finish line. But I
After one month of re-
covery, I joined a health club, thinking
correctly that it would help improve
Although I was intimidated by all the
muscle heads at first, a trainer told me
that no one cared how skinny I looked;
they were more concerned with look-
ing at themselves. And they all had to
start somewhere, too.
I learned that—just like life — you
don't have to look too far to find some-
one who had to get out of a deeper
rut than you. A lot of people I've met
at races or in the gym have come from
much darker places. They just traded
up to a healthier addiction.
If you run a race, you always finish
ahead of somebody, and if you go to
a gym, you will never be considered
weak. You just have to find some-
thing to do and stick with it. Just put
on some shoes and start moving. Just
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28 January 2014
1 RED THREAD