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Smokin’ athletes! Who says cigarettes and sports don’t mix?

ONE OF the biggest secrets of the fitness world has nothing to do with supplements, steroids or spandex. It is the almost implausible combination of exercise and smoking.

There are people, it seems, who do both. We’re not talking about mall walkers who light up once a week. These are men and women who compete in marathons and triathlons and go hiking and train at the gym — who also have a pretty steady cigarette habit.

 
In a recent online poll sponsored by Runner’s World magazine, 2% of the 2,500 people who responded said they smoked, unbeknownst to their running friends. About 4% said they smoked but that their running buddies were in the know.

Bart Yasso has seen his share of smokers in the more than 1,000 races he’s completed. The chief running officer of Runner’s World magazine and author of “My Life on the Run” says some runners light up before and after races. He even has a few friends who run and smoke.

“They’re very secretive about it,” he says. “They don’t want anyone to know, and I know they’re not proud of it. These are people you never would have guessed were smokers. I encourage them to quit. It’s that addictive element — I understand where they’re coming from.” Yasso was once a smoker himself, but quit years ago when he started running.

Smoking has something of a place in the world of endurance sports. The Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado began as a challenge in 1956 from a nonsmoking doctor, Arne Suominen, to any smokers who thought they could beat him to the top of the peak and back down. A nonsmoker won, and the three smokers who ran never finished the race.

A smoker did beat Suominen to the top, but decided to smoke a cigarette instead of heading back.

The smokers profiled here are divided on how they ultimately see their habit, with some defiant and others wrestling with how and when they should try to quit. But for now, smoking and exercise continue to run in sync.

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