Eielson packs in smoking habit, piles on the miles
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – It’s July and you’re out in the middle of Death Valley in the broiling hot California desert. It’s 120 degrees, and you’re running through searing heat.
You’ve already run 35 miles, your feet are blistering, and you still have 100 miles to go. Not only that, but you’re running uphill, from the lowest point in the continental United States – Badwater, Calif., at minus-282 feet – to halfway up the highest peak in the country – Mount Whitney’s portal, at 8,300 feet.
And one more thing: You only have 60 hours to complete your entire run.
Is this some sort of hot and sweaty nightmare from hell? Hardly.
It may sound like a bad dream to some, but for Ken Eielson, an addictions counselor at Colorado West Substance Abuse Services in Glenwood Springs, it’s a dream come true.
Eielson is one of 75 ultra-runners invited to participate in this year’s Badwater Ultramarathon, an endurance race that pits men and women against some of the harshest elements found on Earth.
Testing the limits of his body is just one of the reasons Eielson is taking on Badwater. The counselor, who specializes in tobacco and nicotine additions, also wants this desert run to get another message across.
“Running Badwater is not just about me,” said Eielson. “Through running Badwater, my priority is to raise awareness of tobacco issues.”
Why Eielson wants to connect his 135-mile desert run with tobacco use is personal. The addictions counselor used to be a smoker. He started when he was 14 and smoked up to a pack a day.
Eielson remembers boot camp for the Marine Corps when he was 20.
“We got in really good shape there, but we’d always be taking smoke breaks,” he said. “We’d be hacking our way through camp.”
In 1988, Eielson finally decided he’d had enough. But nicotine hadn’t had enough of him.
“I’d do well for a couple months, and then something would come up, or I’d have an argument, and I’d pick up the old habit for comfort and relief,” he said.
While working in Grand Junction, Eielson decided he’d take up running again. He thought maybe that would help him kick smoking for good.
“I always liked running,” he said. “So I went out and ran a quarter of a mile and smoked a cigarette. It didn’t taste quite as good as it did before.”
Eventually, Eielson increased his distances running and decreased his cigarettes per day. From the time he decided to stop smoking in 1988, it took him two years to finally smoke his last cigarette.
“Some people can go cold turkey,” he said. “Other people need assistance. Ultimately, people need to find the tools they need to move to another level.”
Training in a sauna
Now that Eielson’s lifestyle is all about helping people with their addictions – negative addictions, that is – the former smoker is thrilled to be training for Badwater.
“Addictions get a bad rap,” he said. “To a certain degree, most of us are addicted to something.”
Eielson hopes to demonstrate that unhealthy addictions can be replaced by better ones. Since he’s stopped smoking, Eielson has run seriously for a dozen years, in 5Ks, marathons and now, Badwater.
“Training for this race is about discipline and routine,” he said. “I’m learning how to endure long periods of heat by walking in a circle in my girlfriend’s sauna. I spend time in the Vapor Caves to get my body used to humid heat in case we confront storms at Badwater.”
Eielson has an all-woman crew lined up to aid him in his Death Valley run, which includes his girlfriend Stephanie Willingham, Alene Nitsky and Mona Gutierrez, all seasoned runners.
And Eielson is running – a lot. Besides lots of running at home, this Saturday, Eielson will be running for 12 hours on the road between Cisco, Utah, and Interstate 70.
This is the first time Eielson has raced at Badwater, but he’s seen the effects of the run on competitors.
Eielson crewed in July 2002 for friend Rick Nawrocki, a five-time cancer survivor who ran the ultramarathon just five months after receiving a bone marrow transplant.
And Eielson is using the race to reach community groups, youths and individuals about tobacco. He’s asking for pledges per mile or straight donations that will initially go towards the costs of running the race – which he estimates to be between $2,000-$3,000 – and towards ongoing anti-smoking campaigns that go beyond his counseling job at Colorado West.
“I want to address tobacco use in our community,” he said. “That includes involving students in art and speech campaigns, discussing the effects of secondhand smoke, youth prevention, and providing an ongoing anti-smoking message to all our city councils.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
running and smoking
Information about the Badwater Ultramarathon, July 22-24, 2003 can be found at http://www.badwaterultra.com.
To reach Ken Eielson and find out more about sponsoring his Badwater run and his tobacco cessation programs contact him at 945-8439, Colorado West Substance Abuse Services, 711 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.
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