Switching Addictions

By Andrea Karim on 6 February 2007 (Updated 10 June 2007) 6 comments

Hi, my name is Andrea, and I read Runner's World magazine.

[Hi, Andrea].

I started reading it a couple of years ago. At first, it was just a glance or two when I was at Barnes and Noble trying to pass a cold, rainy Sunday. Then I started looking at it more carefully, actually reading the articles and analyzing the nutrition charts. After that, I maybe tried a few of the lunges and ab crunches. Finally, I bought and issue and took it home. I was hooked. I even started subscribing, and I read it religiously for two years.

What I love about Runner's World are the inspirational stories and columns that seem to come standard with every issue. And these are my guilty pleasures; pleasures, because I feel inspired by the stories of the struggles and victories of people who have faced much harder circumstances than I have, and guilty because despite the inspiration, I never quite seem to get myself in gear.

The Shame! The Joy!

Because I'm not a runner, I hide my issues of Runner's World from everyone save a few people who already know me well enough not to laugh outloud upon seeing a stack of running magazines beside my bed. It's sort of my Chicken Soup for the Lazy-Ass Soul.

Past issues chronicled the weight loss regimens of a number of people, from the famous to the everyday. One story that I particularly liked was the one about Arkansas governor (and presidential hopeful) Mike Huckabee. Even though I pretty much disagree with everything Huckabee says, does, and believes, I was really touched by his story, and by his elation at finally being considered an "athlete" after having spent his life as a chubby guy who got picked last for team sports. Other winning articles included stories about organ transplant recipients running marathons together with their donors' families. I rarely get through these types of stories without some weeping.

One regular feature in Runner's World is called "Real Runners", and it provides brief stories about "Regular people doing amazing things". It's usually attached to Warmups, slightly longer articles that tell inspiring stories.

It was the Warmup article in the March 2007 issue of Runner's World that really made me think. "Home Run" introduces us to Brent Ion (best. last. name. ever.), a marathoner who is also a part of a homeless advocacy group in Palm Beach County, Florida. Brent started a running group for the homeless citizens of Palm Beach County, hoping to reach people with drug addiction problems and teach them about how structure and discipline can lead to accomplishments and self-confidence.

Homeless people who have joined Ion's group, known as the HomeTeam, have found that running and marathon training has helped them overcome their addictions to drugs and alcohol. Even though many of them admit that they only joined because each HomeTeam member gets a free pair of sneakers, these people have overcome meth, cocaine, and alcohol addictions as a part of their training and friendship. I was really impressed by this: I can't go a day without coffee, and these people are kicking meth AND running half-marathons.

I know that support groups can help people overcome obstacles and acheive goals, and I understand that regular aerobic exercise will help to alleviate depression and distress that can cause people with addictions to relapse. This is true for people with chemical dependencies, gambling addictions, and eating disorders.

Switching addictions

Something that isn't mentioned in the article, however, is the idea of switching addictions. I know this harks back a little too much to a junior high health class with your locally designated D.A.R.E. officer ("What you need is a NATURAL HIGH!"), but there is such a thing as a positive addiction. I know this, because once in my life, for a very limited time, I was addicted to running.

When I say that it was for a limited time, I mean really limited. When I got addicted to running, I was in high school. Now, I was a good sprinter when I was a little kid, but I developed severe asthma when I was 10 years old, and that sort of cut my athletic career short. After asthma, even sports that I loved, like figure skating, were unbearable. I felt pretty much tied to my inhaler. And, if you know anything about kids between the ages of 8 and 16 years old, it's that they are really understanding and gentle when it comes to helping kids who are physically weaker, right?


Anyway, so during my sophmore year in high school, I started running around the inside of my high school after school was out. A lot of sports teams did this when the snow got too deep outside, and I sort of went at my own pace and pondered the meaning of high school life. It wasn't too bad - I found that if my mind wandered to other things, I could run a mile without feeling it.

After a few weeks, I was feeling pretty good. And then one day in gym class during our jogging warm-up, I experienced a runner's high. It felt GREAT. I had never had one before, and it was so exhilirating. Even though we were supposed to be lifting weights that day, my P.E. teacher allowed me to just run laps around the gym for the whole hour. He had asthma, so he knew what a gift I was getting by being able to run without wheezing (you can consider this a shout-out, Mr. Campbell). The strange thing was that I didn't want to do anything BUT run, and the elation that I felt when running stayed with me for a long time.

About a week later, my appendix exploded, and that pretty much put an end to my running career. I was in and out of the hospital for two months, first with the initial appendectomy, then with follow-up operations to remove the resulting infections. It took me a long, long time to be able to climb the stairs again without seeing spots, and I never really started running again.

It still totally haunts me. When I see the photos and read the articles in Runner's World, I know that there was a time, well over 10 years ago, that I was a part of that, however briefly. I had the high. Or at least, I knew what it was. And I've felt that, ever since then, there's a runner inside of me that really wants to get out there and race.

Such thing as a "good" addiction?

But back to the addicts in Runner's World. Brent Ion, the guy who headed up the group, started running in 1998 to help him kick his addiction to nicotine. From what I can tell, it seems that Brent traded one habit for another - he took up a positive addiction in lieu of a negative one. And all of his recruits seem to be doing the same thing.

This isn't a new idea - the term "positive addiction" was coined quite a while ago, and there's a decent (if lengthy) analysis of what the term means here.

Running as an addiction isn't a new idea, either. Other people have managed to form different positive addictions. Many smokers find that their nervous fidgeting can be calmed by crafty undertakings.

Of course, calling yourself a "running addict" can be construed as annoyingly cutesy, or a sign that someone has an exercise addiction. If someone can't stop running, then that's not a good thing either, but my guess is that exercise addiction is more rare than, say, alcoholism. And it's probably not a stretch to say that people who replace a bad addiction with a good one, like running or knitting or whatever, probably have the need to keep participating in their good addiction, less they feel the pull of the old, bad addictions too strongly.


Thus, addicts have an impetus for remaining active, or crafty. The best part, from my standpoint, is the money saved.

Now, I'm not directing this post at any particular Wise Breaders who may want to quit smoking, but I just want to say that chicks (and probably lots and lots of guys) dig a man who can knit. It's becoming popular across all ages, and considering that I can't knit without stabbing myself in the eye, I'm impressed by anyone who can do it.

The best part about a positive addiction (or a replacement habit, or whatever you want to call it) is that the replacement habits are usually inexpensive. Unless you go from, say, cocaine addiction to model train obsession, then you're probably saving a bundle.

The cost of smoking varies depending on how much you smoke, but a conservative estimate of the yearly cost in cigarettes alone is upwards of $1,700 a year. And that's among the cheaper addictions, really. Alcoholism is an even more expensive addiction to suffer from, even before counting the cost of health care associated with treating the disease.

Running, juggling, knitting, bird watching, obsessive Scrabble playing; these habits are virtually free after initial investment of maybe $100 or so (knitters: stay away from the alpaca yarns - that's where they getcha).

I don't have any truly health-threatening addictions, unless you count caffeine and sloth, so I'm hoping to replace sloth with running. I went for my first run last night. Maybe "run" is a bit of a stretch. I went for my first "jog for a block, walk and gasp for a block", but I'm hoping to turn it into an addiction if I can. I'm sure that sloth costs me something, but it can be hard to tally. Anyway, my addiction to reading Runner's World may have finally become a truly positive one. Or at least, I might get something more than inspiration from its pages.

I should mention that I obviously don't advocate that people with very serious drug addictions merely get up and start running all over the place. Even more common addictions, such a nicotine, can be helped immensely through medication and medical intervention. And they always say that you should start an exercise program only after consulting your doctor, so consult away.

Some running links:


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Will Chen's picture

"All laywers are either alcoholics or marathoners."

To which I replied:

"But they are all a**holes right?"

I love running stories too.  My latest favorite is the story of Dick Hoyt.  And me being me, no post would be complete without a link to a giant chicken.



Guest's picture

Since I'm really into personal development and growth right now, this article gave me some inspiration. I too used to "run" until I found out I had "sports induced asthma" which is an excuse I then used for about 8 yrs for why I couldn't work out. Go figure.

Anywho, I recently started a life changing transformation, I started eating healthier and working out. I lost 10lbs so far and saved a ton of money (.99 candy bags add up!) I'm able to do small sprints between my walking, but I hope to start running again one day. I would looooove to do a marathon. This article came to me at the right time. Thanks again!

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm totally in the same boat. Baby steps - you'll get there.

Asthma is a royal pain in the rear. It ruined my figure skating as a kid (cold air + asthma = hospital fun), but these days, inhaled steroids are so great that if you take them regularly, you can usually make it through normal workouts without a flare up.

Anyway, breathing is important, so problems breathing can totally seem like a legit reason not to run. But then, a heart transplant is also a great reason not to run, yet people do this all the time! So we can totally handle it.


Guest's picture

I just wanted to add my three cents worth. I'm a fat guy who just started running in May, 2006 and finished the Marine Corp Marathon 5 months later. I'm cataloging my trials and tips in a series on my site (see link below). I recognize I'm not a professional in any way, but I want to encourage people that if I can do it, then they can too.

I'm still not a runner. I've run about 4 times since the marathon last October, but it feels great each time. We were going to "start a family" this year, but now we decided to run one more marathon and pay down a good bit of debt before hopefully bringing a child into our lives. I want to best my time of 6 hours by at least an hour, maybe more. I won't wait until May to begin training this time.

If you want to begin running, give yourself a goal, like being able to run a 10k in 6 months. It's even better if you can sign up and pay for it. Then there's a financial reason attached!

Marathons for Beginner Runners

Andrea Karim's picture

Always good to hear about someone who has done what I keep thinking I can't. Thanks for the link to your site.

Guest's picture

What's up A-Dog? Thanks for linking my "addiction" to your article. While I don't really think I'm addicted to juggling, I do think it is a positive outlet for myself. I mean, I could stop juggling... I just don't want to. All my friends do it too. They do it way more than me. I'm just a lightweight. You should see some of my friends juggle. They're crazy. I'm totally in control. I only juggle for 2 hours, 4 days a week. Really, I'm okay... But seriously, the real deal is doing something you love, even if that changes from time to time. I think all of us will die, but not all of us will live. Check out my new video: 4b Multiplex Families Demonstrational