Monday, March 22, 2010

The Bataan Death March

We left to New Mexico from Lubbock on Saturday, March 20, 2010. The weather was bleak. It started snowing - of all days, on the first day of spring! Not a good day to drive. Luckily, I went with two fun guys, Alec and Chris, and they made the trip quite entertaining. These guys were so awesome, and they ran a fantastic race!

I was delegated the responsibilities of trip photographer. Here I am, hard at work:

We played something called the "hot game." It works better in the summertime, but we made do. Here's how it goes: you turn up the heater in the car as high as it will go, put it on full blast, and direct the air stream directly at your face. First person to call it off loses the game. Simple. Now go try it.

Another game that worked quite well in the cold weather: roll down the windows while going 70 miles per hour, and stick your hand out in the rushing, 27 degree air. Whoever can withstand the cold the longest wins. Simple. Now go try it.

Along the way, we stopped in Roswell for a bite to eat. A gas station attendant recommended a Mexican joint nearby. I don't recall the name of the restaurant, but it was inside an abandoned Sonic. The food was somewhat dubious, but it made do.

Now, you know those little fifty cent machines that kids put money in and toys come out in little plastic casing? Well, I got a fake mustache from one at the restaurant. Alec and Chris wanted their own. So they got mustaches, too. We put them on and the waiter took our picture. Here it is...

Aside from the mustaches, there wasn't much to Roswell - no offense to anyone living in Roswell!

We stayed at the home of the parents of another law school guy and runner: RB Nichols. RB does triathlons and he is a wonderful runner. His parents were the nicest people! They had dinner ready for us when we got there - spare ribs, green enchiladas, potatoes, and a dinner salad. It was delicious and oh-so-filling! These wonderful people live on a ranch up in the hills. The view at sunset was glorious. Here it is...

Here is the view during the day...

We left Alamogordo at 4:30 the next morning to the White Sands Missile Range. It was very cold outside - 27 degrees! Runners huddled around outdoor standing heaters.

There was a quick ceremony and then the race got started. I started off at a nice, quick pace of about 10:00/mi. I had to tell myself to slow down a bit and not push off too hard in the beginning. Running with a 46.1-pound rucksack can be quite tiring after a while!

I took one GU Gel every 45 minutes and three Hammer Endurolyte pills every hour. By afternoon, the sun was up and it was quite warm - beautiful running weather. The scenery was gorgeous. The mountains just beyond the base were impressive to view. The course even took us up the side of one of those suckers. I didn't do a whole lot of hill training prior to the race, and so going up the mountain was a struggle. But, I had practiced power walking with the pack and that's pretty much how I got through that portion of the race.

I hit a low at two points during the race: at mile 8 (when we started ascending the mountain) and at mile 20. It was particularly challenging to run through the loose gravel and sand.

A side note: I used Drymax Trail Running socks for the first time and they were AMAZING! Not a single blister or hot spot. I will definitely be using these socks again for my next race.

I did regret not buying a pair of gaiters. Pebbles were getting into my shoes during the sandier portions of the course. I just kept running because I felt stopping to clean my shoes out would take too long. It was uncomfortable for a bit, but after a while, I ceased to notice. Nonetheless, a pair of gaiters would be beneficial to me, I think.

I started cramping up a little in my calves at about the 20 mile mark. But, I popped some Endurolytes and I felt fine after that. All things considered, it was a great race. I had a lot of fun, and I would definitely do it again next year. Maybe with less weight to get a more competitive time. In the end I came in 14th civilian male, 5th in my age group with a 5:27:45 marathon time, or an average pace of 12:31/mile. Not too bad. Here is a link to the official results. Looking forward to doing this race next year - this time with less weight in my pack, more hill training, and of course some cool gaiters!

Note: My friend RB Nichols, ran the honorary march (15 miles long) and placed 2nd overall!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Losing Weight - Part 2

I started losing weight the summer before I entered law school. At first, the results were slow. Then, they came faster. I had tried dieting many times before, but nothing stuck.

I had always been a chubby kid growing up. Sure, I played basketball and baseball. But I was never really any good. Never really athletic. And my eating habits were poor. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs, sausage, bacon, chorizo con papas, tacos, etc. Junk food was a staple, as were fried foods. Coming from a Mexican background did not help: Mexican food is rife with saturated fats and cholesterol! My parents never taught me good eating habits growing up, probably because they were never taught themselves. All that changed when my dad had a heart attack.

He was in the hospital for a few days. The doctors gave him an eating plan to follow. They warned him about the dangers of eating unhealthy, of not exercising and managing weight. As a family, we became a lot more conscientious about what we put on out plates. We became educated on why it is important to eat well. But, it didn't stick.

We got caught up in our old ways. Things returned to how they were: all-you-can-eat buffets, sweets, fatty foods. Only this time, we ate with a sense of guilt. Eventually, we fell into a spiral of yo-yo dieting. We'd do really good for about a month or so, and then fall back to our old ways again, eventually gaining more weight than we had to begin with.

In college, things got worse for me. I lived right beside a 24-hour Whataburger. A typical day of eating might have included the following: no breakfast, but a very big lunch of two foot-long Subway sandwiches (usually I got the BMT, which is made of pepperoni, salami and ham), double meat and double cheese on both sandwiches. With that order, I would get two bags of chips and eat them as well. I ordered two sodas because I didn't want the employee checking me out to think all that food was for me. I wanted them to think I was ordering for a friend. Sometimes, I would even pretend I was on the phone while ordering for my "friend." Then, I'd take it all up to my dorm and eat by myself. Dinner might have been two burritos from Chipotle, again, the second one ordered for my "friend." And for a midnight snack, usually at 2 or 3 in the morning, I'd walk over to Whataburger and order the Triple Meat Cheeseburger and a large order of fries.

I never exercised. My waist size reached 56 inches.

It is with a certain amount of shame that I look back on how I used to be. My lifestyle. My eating habits. I put my body through such horrors, I can't even tell you. It makes me sad to think back to that time period. I think of all the opportunities I missed out on, and it makes me dizzy! But, it is never too late to change, to flip your world upside down and really rework and revamp your life.

People ask me sometimes how I did it. How did you lose all that weight? I really don't have any secret answer or magic formula. It was just something I did. I watched what I ate and I exercised regularly. Persistence was key. Some weeks I saw no progress. Some weeks I would backslide. But, you have to keep the big picture in mind at all times. If you fall down, get back up and keep going.

Before long, the pounds were melting off. I knew after I lost 50 pounds that I was on a roll. It was kind of scary, too. I was so afraid that I would yo-yo again, that something would happen and I would gain all the weight right back. It felt like a last chance kind of thing, that if it didn't work this time, then for sure I was a hopeless case!

Luckily, nothing like that happened. Instead, I learned to love exercise. Running became my thing. When I started, I couldn't run from here to there without gasping for breath. Over the summer, I would go walking at the high school elliptical track by my house. I would do eight laps. Two miles. Eventually, I tried to run some. It became a game. A challenge. Little by little I was running more and more. One day, I ran the entire lap without stopping. It was a tremendous accomplishment for me!

Losing 180 pounds was definitely one of the toughest things I've ever done. But, the rewards have been great. Aside from being healthier, I simply feel better.

Nonetheless, I think I still have some issues with eating that I have never quite worked out. I still feel guilty sometimes when I eat out. Sometimes I catch myself binge eating or doing some emotional eating. Sometimes I still see myself as fat. These are things I struggle with. They are serious problems and I need to address them. I will write a new post on these issues soon.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Losing Weight - Part 1

I used to be fat. The picture on the left, that was me. A year and a half ago, I was clinically obese. At 5'4, I weighed over 340 lbs. I wore 56" waist pants. It was a bad thing because diabetes runs in my family. My dad has it. My aunts have it.

The weird thing is I never saw myself as fat. I knew I wasn't skinny, but I never considered my situation a dire one, or even one deserving much thought or attention. Then my aunt died.

Her name was Maggie, my Aunt Maggie, and we were very close. I don't have a big family. It's just me, my parents, my sister Becky, my two aunts, and my cousin Isaac. That's it. My Aunt Maggie never got married or had kids. She struggled with obesity and diabetes for most of her life.

Then, her kidneys failed her. She had to go to dialysis. Twice a week, every week. I remember going to drop her off some mornings. She had to be at the clinic at 5 am sharp. She'd stay there for three hours or so while they "cleaned her blood." Six long and painful years. I remember the tears.

Aunt Maggie had been on the list for a kidney transplant. She carried around a beeper. It would buzz if the hospital received a matching donor. It could ring at any time, day or night, and she would have to be at the hospital within minutes: the donor kidney doesn't keep long. So she had to be prepared. She kept a bag ready in her closet, packed with clothes and toiletries. For six years, she waited. Then one night, she got the call! A mad scramble to the hospital. She got my dad to drive her - bless her heart. My dad is a beast behind the wheel.

We were all very excited. We waited patiently for news. How did the surgery go? Was she okay? Did the kidney take? We waited. And waited.

Aunt Maggie never came out of the hospital. Something had gone wrong. Her body rejected the organ. Things got complicated. Doctors came to see her. They poked her with needles. They ran tests. She wasn't allowed to leave

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. We went to see her every day. Some days were good. Most days were not. Little by little, her body was shutting down. Before long, the doctors were preparing us for the worse: there was nothing more they could do. Her situation was hopeless. She was going to die. They would give her medications to ease the pain.

That was a hard blow to my family. In her last days, her lips were blue. Her skin was pale. She couldn't recognize us. She couldn't even talk or move. My Aunt Mernie, her sister, went to her bedside. "Do you remember me," she asked. "Do you know who I am?" Nothing.

By this point, the doctors still had my aunt on life support. Chemicals were being pumped into her body on a daily basis just to keep her alive. One day, the doctors gave my family a choice. They could cease administration of all medications, all treatments, and allow her to live out her last few days without being poked and prodded. She wouldn't feel pain. She would die with some peace.

My family would hear nothing of it. The anger we all felt was overwhelming.

My Aunt Mernie sat at her sister's bedside, defeated, not knowing what to do. She looked at her sister. She tried to speak to her. Nothing. Aunt Maggie hadn't been out of it for weeks. They told us she wasn't even conscious of what was going on around her.

But then, she moved. Faintly. Slowly. Her eyes started to open. This startled my Aunt Mernie. "Are you okay, Maggie," she asked. "Do you know who I am?" My Aunt Maggie looked at her. She actually looked at her! Her lips moved. She wanted to speak. The words formed slowly... "It's... okay," she uttered. That was it. A faint smile came across her face and she closed her eyes.

My Aunt Mernie told the family what had happened. She told my grandfather, too. My grandfather, who has since passed away, was in his 90s when this happened. He was house-bound and confined to a wheelchair. A very religious man, her spent most of his days praying and meditating. My aunt explained the situation to him. For a long time, she had been trying to spare him the details. But, she couldn't anymore. "They want to stop medications. They want to let her pass." My grandfather wouldn't hear it. "I don't think she is here with us anymore, dad," my aunt told him. "I think her soul is with God." My grandfather said he wanted to see his daughter in the hospital.

We took him. He sat at her bedside. He held her hand. He prayed over her. When my Aunt took him back home, he told her, "I didn't want to believe you when you told me what you did. But, I can see you were right. She isn't here with us anymore. I believe she is with God right now."

We made the decision to cease treatments.

My aunt passed away on September 12, 2008. She was in the hospital for six months. Her favorite color was red. She loved Elvis Presley. We all miss her intensely. We still tell stories, stories about all the funny things she said and did. Stories of her kind and courageous nature. Her vibrant spirit.

She was a powerful person. A strong person. She was one of the reasons I decided to take control of my life and lose weight. Her strength and power emboldened me to make some big changes...

Mission Possible

Running saved my life. And that's the truth. It's how I lost weight, and it's how I got out of my depression. Now, when I'm angry or down, I run. When I need to free my mind, I run. When I need to cleanse my soul, I run.

I am not the fastest runner, nor do I have the most endurance. Far from being a "born" athlete, I struggle daily to get better, stronger, fitter. But, I do have a dream, a goal, for which I am willing to go the ends of the earth to achieve. That dream is to run the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon.

For those of you who don't know what that is, an ultramarathon is any running distance over 26.2 miles - standard marathon distance. Most ultra races are 50k, 100k, 50 miles, and 100 miles.

The Badwater Ultramarathon is 135 miles long. The toughest thing about Badwater is not just the length of the race, but also the conditions. It takes place in Death Valley in the middle of the summer, when temperatures can reach over 120 degrees. The pavement gets so hot that the soles of your running shoes can literally melt!

People come from all over the world to run this race every year. These are elite, world-class athletes. My heroes. In order to run Badwater, you have to submit an application and be accepted. I do not have the credentials to apply. Yet.

This blog is my journey to Badwater. My journey to my dream. I don't know how long it will take me, but someday, I will toe that particular starting line. Here we go...