From Marlboros to marathons

Like most war stories, it all started on gravel and dirt.
Huffing, puffing and wheezing my way toward a single mile, any attempt to run made my blackened lungs burn and my legs feel as if they’d personally experienced the second rapture of their Lord and Savior, Glycogen Christ.
A mere three days before, I had sat stagnant — as I so often did — high atop my regular seat at the bar, sucking down cheap whiskey and cheaper beer as I funneled sweet nicotine into my lungs, courtesy of a never-ending string of Marlboro Blended No. 27s.
A pack each day had become a sad common courtesy to my foggy existence, a decade’s worth of practice congealing into one phlegmy, stinking and slightly rotund man, straight down to my bread-like midsection.
My futile attempt at a “brisk” 13-minute mile pace painted the portrait of a newly-minted 27-year-old manboy who had all but given up on athleticism.
I felt defeated.
Bloated, tired, hot, and oh, so defeated.
As cliche as it sounds, at that moment, I breathed in my own mortality.
Gasping and sick, my lanky and wire-thin frame that had never failed me before did just that.
A wire had snapped.
That very night, I became an expert in nicotine vaporizers, the toxins that plagued my body’s circuits — although, being the son of a physician it was more of a refresher course in a class that I had never paid attention in — and what I had done to myself to be where I painfully collapsed that day.
Like I had done one thousand times before, I formulated a plan for cessation and sent it spiraling into motion. This time, as I had so desperately hoped — proved to be different.
This time, I had the run and the run showed me how hurt I was.
Painfully, one mile turned into two, which then glided toward a seemingly impossible 5k.
Every step and punctured breath broke a new barrier. Every burnt tobacco wrap passed and substituted by glycerol vapor was a massive victory.
Within two short months, I felt ready to carry a banner with my now acne-ridden and sunburnt face at the mast.
Five, six and seven mile increments fell to my now unfrozen lungs. On the first dawn of 2016, I ran my first 10k in a gloriously sloppy 59:17, just barely under my hour cap.
There was no runner prouder, and none so ecstatic as I crossed my first finish line to receive, with bended head, the cotton-strung and pewter-clad fruits of my labor.
I was in love, head over heels striking.
As the son of a Boston marathoner and an Ultra, Ironman and trail-ridden, Barkley-like badass, I felt that I had finally realized what drove my father to traverse endless miles.
There is a certain meditative property to distance running. At a certain point, the world seemed to melt directly into my Spandex pocket.
The rhythm, the pace, the music and the ever-changing environment blends together in unison, always the same, and yet, somehow, always different.
Every heated blast from a passing car who didn’t change lanes, each extended twig that gently brushes my torso and every mile chirped into my ear by a melodic British voice places me farther away from the chaos and smoke that once consumed me.
The time each run takes is an escape into a world I wish I had visited from birth.
I have goals now, future accomplishments that I would have scoffed at mere months ago. For the first time in a decade, I have something to work for.
After a decade of sucking down smoke, I was trained and ready for my first marathon in Waxahachie, Texas after a mere six months off the coffin nails.
After that, my eyes are wide to set the fastest known time on the Lone Star Trail, 128 miles of Texan awesomeness that begs the speedy foot traffic and bounding cadence of me and my trusted trail partner, Lea, my sleek black lab. Even further, I happily plan to bear the heat, humidity and humiliation of the Habanero 100 50k, and once again in the Blazin’ 7s 100k in the same year.
No matter where I place, or even if I finish my first 26.2, I have guided a once shoddy vessel to a new, uncharted destination.
One that begs to be seen and then asks, ever so forcefully, to be left behind for something even greater than what I have just passed.

Author: Joshua Yates

Interdisciplinary artist Joshua Yates was born in Clearwater, Florida and moved to Houston, Texas at the age of two. He has received Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees with Highest Honors in Photography and Studio Art from Sam Houston State University while completing his Undergraduate Honors Dissertation in Performance Art Studies. With more than 10 years of experience behind the lens and a proven track record for enhancing digital and social media outlets, Yates has a passion for multi-platform journalism and visual communication in the digital space. He currently works as a Linux administrator for HostGator in downtown Houston.

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