by Norman Aceron Garcia
Let me tell you my story of how I discovered the beauty of the running life.
I had been running on and off since college but only got serious with it after an enlightening realization in Christmas 2009. There was an influx of parties from different social circles, which I all diligently attended. I binged on food and gulped bottles of beer as I celebrated the yuletide with good old friends. At the end of the season, I stepped on a weighing scale and got horrified upon seeing that I have reached the overweight zone with a bulging waistline.
Then suddenly I had a recollection of my physical transformation. When I was in elementary, my classmates teasingly call me bangkay or palito for being the thinnest boy in our batch. In high school, I was only 90 pounds and was often bullied by bigger boys. However, I started to gain weight in college when our freshman block discovered a canteen that served free rice refills. My average rice intake then was three cups every lunch. Then, a popular pizza restaurant had an eat-all-you-can promo for just 99 pesos ($2.50). My org-mates and I trouped there weekly and the person who consumed the most slices was treated. Although, I never won a bet, the calories from those pizzas tremendously contributed to the expansion of my belly.
That wake-up call I had in Christmas 2009 prompted me to sign up for a membership in a posh gym and request a thorough fitness test. I fared well in most fitness parameters, but the results of the body composition analysis showed that I have 25.1% body fat, which placed me in the obese category. I was shocked. Never in my life was I told that I was obese. From there, I vowed to get into shape and made it a New Year’s resolution to loose fat.
I cut a weight-loss training program from a popular health magazine and followed strictly what was written there. It basically consisted of gruelling 30-minute weight lifting circuit training followed by a 20 to 30-minute high intensity cardio workout either with running or spinning. I did this workout after work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I reduced my food quantity intake but increased the frequency of meals from three to six times a day. I ate in small portions every two hours or so, and stopped when I felt that I was about to get full. I carried a sports bottle wherever I went to ensure that I met the minimum 10 glasses of water everyday. Just after the first week, I was able to lose one pound that motivated me even further to level up the training intensity.
The following week and in between circuit training days, I started pounding the road following a 5K running program that I got from the Internet. I bought stability running shoes appropriate to semi-flat-footed runners like me and drove to the UP Diliman academic oval as my new playground. I struggled in the first week as I got acclimatized to intervals and tempos, which I thought were easy. As I ran around the oval, many runners simply overtook me as some were easily cruising with iPods in their ears. The only people that I overtook were those who are walking with their dogs and runners who were doing either their warm-ups or cool-downs. I consistently kept the routine and in a matter of weeks, my pacing and rhythm started to peak and I could navigate three rounds around the academic oval (6.6 kms) without walking.
I also squeezed in some time to revive my swimming strokes that I learned from college P.E. days. Being a non-swimmer proved to be a big challenge. I was gasping for air every 50-metre lap and needed about five to 10 seconds to recover. I decided to retake swimming lessons to correct my form. It somehow improved my efficiency in the water a bit, but still not enough to come close to seasoned swimmers. Nevertheless, I also began to love swimming as it gave my knees some time to recover while providing a good whole body workout on “rest days.”
With the support and encouragement of my loving wife, Grace, I was able to increase my metabolism to an average loss of two pounds a week. By April 2010, I achieved my target weight of 130 pounds. Determined that I would never go back to being big again, I gave away all my big-sized clothes to charity and had the waistlines of my jeans altered to 30 inches.
Now, I’m on my ideal weight and I’m keeping the healthy lifestyle by running on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. To avoid getting injured, I steadily increase mileage not more than 10 per cent a week. I participate in at least one race event every month to assess my running shape. Not as many as other running junkies are doing, I suppose, because my focus is more on following the distances prescribed in the running programs. I start tapering one week before the race and three days before it. I start carbo-loading with my favourite pasta, pesto. The night before the race, I drink lots of water to prevent cramps. My favourite pre-race food is banana and wheat bread.
My most memorable race was when I struggled in the second run leg of a duathlon (5K run, 30K bike, 5K run) in May 2009. I didn’t hydrate much the day before so when the race day came, cramps enveloped my quads and calves in the middle of the bike leg. In the final run leg, I was running with cramps towards the finish line. It took me 53 punishing minutes to do a measly 5K-distance, which consisted of alternating runs, walks, and calf and hamstring stretches as I laboured toward the finish. This was where I realized the importance of hydrating one day before the race, which I neglected to do.
In August 2009, I tested my endurance by doing my first sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20K bike, 5K run) race. Although I was one of the tail-enders among finishers, I enjoyed every stroke, pedal and stride that I made in that race.
I did my half-Ironman triathlon distance (1.93K swim, 90K bike, 21.09K run) debut in November 2010 at the Tri United Triathlon in White Rock, Subic. When I reached the finish line, I was already thinking of the next race. The triathlon bug had bit me, I didn’t want to stop racing!
To supplement my triathlon training, I cross-train by continuing the strength training, Pilates, and climbing a mountain at least once every quarter. I join long bike trips to Timberland Heights in San Mateo, Rizal or to the scenic suburb roads of Antipolo. I don’t run without my heart rate monitor, hydration belt-bag, and a native choker necklace, which I have a lot in my collection. From time to time, my wife and I go to a spa together to relax and recuperate faster.
My family has a history of diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney failure. By getting hooked into the fitness craze, I lower the risks of getting these diseases when I get old. I want to enjoy my hard-earned retirement fund through travelling with my family and not spending it on hospital bills. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since 2007, when I my wife was pregnant with our first baby Kima. I bear in mind that our bodies are gifts from God, hence, taking care of it is a way of showing gratitude to His blessings.
I always tell my friends that regular exercises are as important as board meetings. That there are many CEO’s, despite their busy schedules, still managed to be active in sports. That health is more important than wealth. And that keeping a healthy lifestyle is a great investment as it prolongs the time we can be economically productive to society.
Nothing is on my mind when I run. Running for me is meditation and time to reconnect with God and nature. That is why I don’t wear mp3 players when I run. I just want to listen to my breathing and let the beautiful sites I see along the course amaze me. I always start and finish any workout by doing the sign of the cross and thanking Him for giving me the opportunity to train that day.
My goal is to finish an Ironman race (4K swim, 180K bike, 42K run) before I turn 40. Yes, it’s a long shot but I have the patience and will power to strive for it. One stroke, one pedal, and one stride at a time, I know I shall eventually get there.
“Run Forrest, run!” as my favourite character does, so shall I do.
This article first appeared at the running book Sole & Rhythms (2011), reprinted with permission. It may be purchased on line at http://central.com.ph/bookstoreplus/products/AAB936/