Happy new year! How are you feeling, smokers? Yeah, I'm talking to you. And I'm about to do that thing you hate more than anything else. When ex-smokers tell you how much it's changed their life.
I know, I know. But if my story doesn't convince you it's time to stop, I hope it at least eggs-on a few of you who have already decided to ditch the fags in honour of 2015. Because how smoking effects your cycling may be something you've not considered before. And I'm here to tell you that I've now fallen even further head-over-heels in love with my bicycle since I quit. And now I can blow gigantic kisses in the direction of my steed, using my new, spanking-clean lungs.
[related_articles]I gave up only a few months ago as part of the NHS's Stoptober initiative. I saw an advert featuring a comedian that told me there was an app that would help me get through 28 days without a cigarette.
I immediately downloaded the app, as I'd been considering trying to give up again (I'd already attempted it, thrice). It soon transpired the app was a bit rubbish, but the mystical appeal of doing something iTunes-approved was enough to get me excited about the attempt.
I also spent the days running up to October reading Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. I'm sure if you're a smoker someone will have recommended this book to you during a coughing fit. It's a terribly written tome, but it somehow manages to convince your brain of things I always found hard to accept: firstly, that you deserve to give up smoking; and secondly, that it's not super difficult to give up. I really recommend it to any of you that are considering trying to quit – you don't even have to stop smoking until you've finished the book.
Then suddenly I was a non-smoker. I fought the urges I got to smoke and as a result spent much less time shivering outside. Of course, the nature of smoking is that it makes you think you're missing out on something when you don't do it, so at first I felt like I'd been deprived. Then I got on my bicycle.
It took three days for me to stop coughing quite so much. I stopped having to bend over and cough during my commute, which I had previously done at least once or twice during the 30 minute journey.
Then I started needing to snot rocket. It may not sound like it, but this is actually another positive aspect that stopping smoking brought along. When friends of mine would shoot out goop from their nostrils, I would always say an internal 'thank you' that my body, miraculously, did not do that.
But I've since discovered that this was because smoking stops the cilla from working inside your nose. Cilla are like little biological brooms that help remove germs and dirt – because they weren't working to remove the snot from my nose, all the dirt was staying inside me. So actually, snot rockets = good!
I'm also now able to wake up much more freshly in the morning, meaning that my commute has become much less of a chore. In fact, when I work from home and don't get that exercise at the start of the day, I feel pretty rubbish. When I was a smoker, a day off from commuting would make my lungs and throat feel much better. Dangerous!
The other amazing thing about exercise is that it can actually minimise your withdrawal symptoms. So without realising it, I was getting myself into a positive cycle – stopping smoking was giving me more energy, which made me want to exercise, which I could do for longer because my lungs felt amazing, which in turn was minimising my need to smoke.
Six weeks down the line, I was sprinting away from the traffic lights and beating the big guys. My commute, which used to feel long, is now frustratingly short. I'm considering buying a road bike for the first time, because suddenly I can see the attraction of cycling as exercise, rather than just a right-on method of transport (it is also that too).
My boyfriend still finds me a bit slow when we ride together, but he's commented on how much I've improved.
Hills were always my nemesis, and I am still not a climber by any means. But now the pain of attacking a south London incline feels... well, worth it. It used to be that it would ruin me for the rest of the journey. Now, I don't exactly adore getting myself up a slope, but it does provide a feeling of satisfaction that took my ex-smoker self completely by surprise.
Research has shown that by quitting smoking before the age of 30, I have added 10 years to my life. In my head that means 10 more years of riding every day to beautiful places. If any of you are even considering a quitting attempt, I urge you to do so. You'll be happier on your bike within a matter of days.
Also, I have more money for bike parts now.
TWC's Stop Smoking Tips
Get the app
I used the official Stoptober app, but there are plenty of similar ones out there. It serves two purposes: firstly, an app helps you record how many cigarettes you haven't smoked and how much money you've saved, so you can see how well you're doing. Secondly, it gives you something to look at when you have a craving. I'd also recommend downloading a new game in order to give you something to do with your hands. 2048 requires dexterity and is hard to put down – exactly what you'll need.
Get the book
Not everyone is a fan of Allen Carr's famous stop smoking book Easy Way to Stop Smoking. However, it worked for me and I'd love it to work for you too. The book works by repeating various facts and ideas to you endlessly, and even if you're like me (i.e VERY cynical) and read the whole thing with one eyebrow raised and an awareness you're somehow 'being had', you still won't want to smoke by the end of reading. Promise.
Get a buddy
Find someone who will promise to take calls and emails from you at ridiculous times for a month, or longer if possible. What some people would call a sponsor, if you will. The hardest part of my giving up was when there wasn't someone around to say 'Hey, this is really hard at this exact moment' to.
Any tips on giving up? How has it improved your cycling? Tell us in the comments below!