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The Healthy Living Magazine

Running Strong

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Brian Long with his 2013
Boston Marathon medal.

I didn't think I'd make it through the night. One minute I'd be sweating, and the next I'd have chills. The worst part was the pain in my legs. I was in the middle of a hardcore opiate withdrawal. Come morning, my roommate and I convinced our dealer to spot us two more Oxycontin, running up our tab to $15,000. Did I care? Nope, I just wanted the pills.

But I knew that once that pill was gone, I'd be in for another night like the one before. I couldn't do it. By 9 that night, I was in detox—in the hospital with junkies and deadbeats. Somehow I'd managed to keep my job, but I'm not saying I was better than anyone there. Not at all. I'd done the same lying and deceiving. There I was, a broke, 37-year-old addict hooked on prescription drugs. From the second I woke up every day, my focus was getting high. Not for fun. I had to or I'd get sick.

With help from St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton, Mass., I managed to knock the drugs out of my life. To get clean, I had to shut off most of my friends. I'd go to work and come home. Some nights I was in bed by 6 p.m. I replaced the drugs with junk food. I'd wake up around 3 a.m. and eat cookies in bed. My weight ballooned to 260 pounds. Dating? Forget about it. It was sad. It was hard work to get clean, and I wasn't taking advantage of the opportunities that being clean presented.

In 2011, two years later, my lifestyle caught up with me. I was sluggish and incredibly thirsty. At night, I'd have to urinate five or six times. I ignored these telltale signs of diabetes until it got to the point where I was missing work. Soon I was in the ER. The diagnosis: type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes? Me? I was depressed thinking about a life filled with needles, vegetables, and uncertainty. The great hospital staff prepared me for my new life with diabetes the best they could: education about healthy foods, blood glucose–testing tools, prescriptions for metformin and insulin. My mom and sister were incredibly supportive.

After a couple of months, my blood sugar numbers stabilized. My doctor took me off insulin to help me avoid lows. With an improved diet, I started to lose weight. Around Christmas, I decided to start running. I've managed a sporting goods store for 10 years and can tell you about every running shoe on the planet, but I'd never used them myself.

At first it was brutal. I couldn't even run a mile. I kept at it, though, and my mileage crept up. By July I was running over 40 miles a week. I think people feared I was going from one addiction to another. I didn't see it that way. Yes, I was hooked on running, but it was changing my life. I'd wake up at 6 a.m., throw on some music, and run out the door.

Today, I take one metformin in the morning and check my blood sugars twice a day. I started dating and have a great girlfriend. I turned 40. This spring I ran in the Boston Marathon. I was feeling great, thinking about everything I've dealt with, until at mile 25.5 we were told the race was over. Then I was running again, through all the chaos, to get to my girlfriend and friends. It was a tragic day, but it was good to have something to run for.

Brian Long lives in Cambridge, Mass.