SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Two decades ago Greg McQuaid was not a picture of health. He picked up his first cigarette at the age of 15 growing up in Ireland, but since has completely turned his life around.

“In the 80s in Ireland, when I first started smoking, all of my friends did,” said McQuaid who let the habit develop into a pack-a-day addiction.

McQuaid left Ireland and took a job at KFOG as a producer and host. He no longer works for the radio station, but Bay Area listeners remember him as “Irish Greg”.

He struggled with asthma in his youth and smoking only exacerbated the problem. He got a wake-up call visiting his parents in Ireland.

“My mother dropped me off at the airport to come back to San Francisco and she told me that I looked really terrible,” he said of the sobering conversation. “Would you think about getting in shape and giving up smoking?”

“By the time I arrived at SFO I was like ‘I’m gonna show them.’”

Show them he did. McQuaid put down the cigarettes and committed to a new addiction – running.

That was a decade ago, and to celebrate his lifestyle change McQuaid is running 52 marathons in 52 weeks. It was an idea encouraged by his friend Dean Karnazes, the world-famous ultramarathon runner.

The mission supports Breathe California, an advocacy group that promotes lung health. McQuaid hopes to raise $100,000 for their efforts.

By the end of the year McQuaid will have run nearly 1,400 miles. Some weeks he participates in sanctioned marathons, other times he rips off 26.2 miles on a random Bay Area trail.

“Knock on wood, I feel pretty good about things,” he said. “For most of January I was wondering what the heck I got myself into.”

McQuaid actually runs less than he did before he started the challenge, but now he doesn’t allow himself to take a week off.

For inspiration he invites runners from the community to share the journey, and has gained some notoriety online.

“It’s gotten a lot of social media attention,” he said. “I’ll be running through Golden Gate Park and people are like ‘Go Greg!’”

The chain smoking Irish Greg seems like another person. Would his former self believe he was running 52 marathons in 52 weeks?

“No,” he answered. “They would find is hysterical, and they would mock me mercifully.”

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