Sport? No, thanks! How PARI RunAIR René went from smoker to half-marathoner

René took up running after experiencing a punctured lung, but he still kept smoking. Today the PARI RunAIR has not only given up smoking for good, he is also actively helping the 25 PARI RunAIRs by adding kilometres to the group challenge. Next goal: Dresden Half Marathon (if it is not cancelled because of the coronavirus).

PARI BLOG: René, when did you take up running?

René: I started running in 2004 after experiencing a punctured lung. It was my birthday and I had actually wanted to celebrate with a few mates. But all of a sudden I felt a sharp tug under my right shoulder blade, like I had pinched a nerve. Needless to say, I had no desire to celebrate my birthday any more. I was a professional soldier at the time and told a friend about my pain, and he listened to my chest and said he couldn’t hear any lung sounds on my right upper torso. He immediately suspected a spontaneous pneumothorax, so drove me to the hospital.

PARI BLOG: How did this impact you?

René: Unfortunately, my friend’s diagnosis was confirmed at the hospital. In addition to the pain, it was very hard for me to get air and I had a bad cough. I hadn’t expected this at all. I just thought my lungs were a bit congested. That was the first time I ever thought about quitting smoking. I had been smoking a pack a day at that point. But then you could smoke everywhere, not like today.

PARI BLOG: What treatment did you get at the hospital?

René: I got a drain put in so a pump of sorts could first pump fluid out of my lung and then re-expand it. An incision was made for the tube and air was pumped into my lung. That felt really good, like surfacing after being under water and finally being able to take deep breaths again. The only time it hurt was how the doctor pulled the large tube out. I never want to experience that feeling again! But today the only reminder I have of this is a scar.

PARI BLOG: How was it that you started running after that?

René: The doctor at the hospital was very clear that I had to exercise my lungs to strengthen the tissue. Just before I was discharged, he said – and I still remember exactly what he said – “In the future you will even be able to run marathons.” Marathon? Me? This sentence somehow became burned into my brain.

PARI BLOG: From nought to 60 – was it as simple as that?

René: No. When I got out of the hospital, I was not allowed to go all out right away. So I first did a lot of research and reading about running. I ended up ordering a book on running with training plans. It also described half marathons and fun runs – I didn’t have to go straight to running marathons like the doctor said (laughs). In the beginning, my training runs were tough because not only was I out of shape, but I also had to get my breathing back to normal. But I took it slow in the beginning and ramped up cautiously. My training plan was: Run for 1 minute and walk for 30 seconds 5 times a week. Starting the next week I increased my minutes every week until I could do 20, 30, 50, 60 minutes. This way my running time increased, as did my total time running. I highly recommend this method for people who want to take up running.

PARI BLOG: That sounds very disciplined. Were you able to stay motivated the entire time or were there also times when it was hard?

René: When I really don’t feel like running, my running shoes stay in the cupboard. But in general I am very disciplined, and of course there were different phases. When I have gone through rough patches, my goal got me motivated again: the half marathon in Dresden. Then the day came and I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 13 minutes. A fantastic feeling and a really good time, and that as a runner who still smoked – or a smoker who runs.

PARI BLOG: What should think of when you say a “smoker who runs”? Did you light up a cigarette right after crossing the finish line or even while you were running?

René: (laughs) No, I didn’t smoke until I was back home again. I didn’t smoke before runs either. But I wasn’t able to completely quit either, even though I fully intended to after the pneumothorax. I just was not consistent enough.

PARI BLOG: Have you never thought about quitting smoking to improve your pace (editor’s note: in running pace is how fast a runner covers a certain distance)?

René: I just ran and didn’t really keep track of my time or pace. After that, I did more half marathons, in Berlin, for example, and 10K races. Even when I was stationed abroad as a soldier in the German army in Kosovo, I trained. I even ran a half marathon with the Americans. It took place at all of the American bases around the world and also in Venice Beach in Los Angeles. No matter which bases the Americans were on, even in Guantanamo, this half marathon took place and I ran in it once. However, running in the hot air was really hard for me. Then in 2008 my tour of duty ended and I transitioned to the civilian workforce and became the father of a daughter. From almost one day to the next, sport no longer played a role in my life. I had also continued to smoke until I hung up my running shoes in 2010.

PARI BLOG: Was your child the reason you gave up smoking?

René: To be honest, no. I had thought about it, yes, and I of course no longer smoked in the car, etcetera. I always went out on the balcony to smoke and washed my hands afterward. But I didn’t want to quit entirely “yet”.

PARI BLOG: What was the turning point?

René: In 2013, in January, my mother died completely unexpectedly, which really threw me off track. I gave up the independence of being an insurance broker and started working as an employee at a company. In 2014, I simply gave up my vice of smoking and have not smoked any cigarettes since.

PARI BLOG: How did you end up quitting?

René: I was in the hospitals for gallstones, I was separated from my then wife and had found a new partner. That was what was happening when I said, okay now you are going to quit smoking. This is it. I found about a company 5K from a co-worker and I began to train again. I thought – this time I’m going to stick with it! After the company 5K, the half marathon in Dresden called to me again and since then my medal collection has grown steadily. And to be a PARI RunAIR and to donate air to breathe naturally also motivates me with my history.

PARI-BLOG: René, many thanks for talking to us.

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Note: The statements made in the interview are the individual views of the interviewee. They do not necessarily reflect the PARI view or the general state of science.

An article written by the PARI BLOG editorial team.

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