Saturday, July 21, 2012

In the "Spotlight" with Rocky

Meet Rocky who's on journey to 52 marathons in 52 weeks.

”NEVER AGAIN”, were the words that kept going through my head that early March 2002 morning as I struggled through what was my first marathon, the unseasonably warm L.A. Marathon.  Had I even known it was possible to DNF a marathon, I’m sure I would’ve done so, but, as they say, ignorance is bliss, although ignorance was mostly painful in this case.
I felt prepared for this marathon, having run a couple sub 2:10 half marathons leading up to the race, and thought that breaking 5 hours would be easy enough.  At the time, I had gone from about a 250 pound non-runner, to a 220 pound casual runner and trained for about 8 months for my first marathon.  Instead, however, after opening with a 2:15 opening half, I walked and cursed, a lot, for the remainder of the race and finished in 5:37 with a scowl on my face.

Somewhere during that race, however, my brain must have short circuited for there I was lining up three months later, with very little training in between, for the 2002 Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon and despite a 10 pound weight gain in the interim, I would shave 31 minutes off my marathon time and finish in a time of 5:06.

Even so, I did not respect the marathon and took the distance for granted, signed up for another marathon, the 2002 Maraton De Pacifico in Vina Del Mar, Chile, in early December and, once again, did very little training and, once again, managed to pack on another 10 pounds to do the race at 240 pounds on my 5’10” frame. 

This race was a disaster and I was DFL (Dead F***ing Last) for the first 20 miles of the race, amongst about 130 runners, and had the sweeper ambulance on my heels that entire time.  When I did finally pass a runner, a young man in his early 20’s who I outweighed by 100 pounds, I could not help but take out my frustration on him, yelling at him in broken Spanish and asking how he could let a fat old guy like me pass him.  I’d pass a few more runners, but not many, on my way to a 5:17 finish time, but it hurt badly enough that I wouldn’t run another marathon for more than half a decade.
During that half decade break, my weight only continued to climb and by September 2006, not only was I the heaviest I had ever been but I was also at the tail end of a crumbling marriage and I only awoke from my slumber when my then wife, who was struggling with her own weight, walked through the front door, empowered from the Overeaters Anonymous class she had attended, and announced, “First I am going to lose weight and then I am going to divorce you!”
That announcement was nothing short of a blessing for it was then, on September 01, 2006, that I was never more determined to lose weight and start a new chapter in my life.  By the end of December 2006, determined to make a fresh start, I had dropped 30 pounds, filed for divorce and signed a 1 year lease on a penthouse apartment in Old Town Pasadena.  Equally important, though, I had started running again.
In 2007, I would run a few half marathons but a marathon wasn’t really on my radar, as quite honestly, I was still scarred by my marathon experiences of years earlier.  Plus, really, my weight was still yo yo’ing due to too much dating and not enough training. 
By Spring of 2008, however, I had put together a few good months on training and my weight stabilized around 230 pounds.  Not ideal, by any means, but I felt I was ready to give the marathon another go and signed up for the 2008 Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon which I would go onto run in 4:43 for a 23 minute PR, despite being no lower in weight for it than when I ran it 6 years earlier.
Once again, however, I did not respect the marathon, and while I would go onto run another marathon eight weeks later, the 2008 San Francisco Marathon, and shave off another 8 minutes with a respectable 4:35 finish, not learning a thing from my first incarnation as a marathon runner, I wouldn’t run another marathon until December 2008 and would struggle to a 4:51 finish at the Tucson Marathon, despite the 2,000’ drop in elevation from start to finish.
I saw a familiar pattern emerging and I did not want history to repeat itself—I had run 3 marathons in 2002 and then didn’t run another one for 5.5 years, and now I had just run 3 marathons in 2008 and did not want the next one to be 5.5 years later.  It was then that I got what then sounded like a completely crazy idea in my head and that was to run a marathon a month in 2009.  At the time, it sounded nearly impossible, but I was determined to reach my goal.
Along the way in 2009, in what has been instrumental to my running, I discovered and became a Marathon Maniac and by the end of the year, I was on a quest to achieve 7 Maniac Stars by way of running 13 marathons in 78 days.  By late 2009, I would lower my PR to 4:09 at the Santa Barbara International Marathon, but, as my trend was, despite all the marathons—19, in all in 2009—I still did not really respect the distance and was just going through the motions, meaning that my weight was still averaging 225 pounds. 

The lack of weight loss was little surprise because although I was running plenty of marathons, I was still eating too much and my social life was every bit as important as my running.  It would not be uncommon for my wife and I to go out whether to a party or a wedding into the wee hours of the morning, only for me to get up and struggle through yet another marathon.

Although in 2010 I would go onto run even more marathons, 21 in total, I really wasn’t in the greatest shape and wouldn’t come close to my then 4:09 PR, and people would continue to be surprised when I said I ran marathons and, why not, as I was still obese and hardly looked like a runner.  But, I was happy to be running and even introduced running to my beautiful wife, Renee, and we would run most all of her marathons side by side and she, too, became a Marathon Maniac (#2200). 

Despite 21 marathons, however, I would gain a dozen pounds in 2010 and while it bothered me enough not to really want to look too much at my marathon photos, it didn’t bother me enough to actually do something about it.  By the time I would run the Kauai Marathon in September, 2010, it was a minor miracle that I could still break 5 hours and on the toughest road marathon I’ve yet done, but somehow, I managed just that with a 4:55 finish in Kauai on the hilliest, most humid and warmest marathon course, I’ve done to date.
2011 was a rude awakening, but a long overdue one, and by the time my wife and I ran the Paris and London Marathons on back to back weekends, I was terribly out of shape, approaching 235 pounds, and struggled mightily to sub 5 hour finishes at each race, actually holding my wife back from a faster time at Paris, and that was a first as I was usually able to run circles around her.  My photos from the Paris Marathon served as plenty of incentive as I could hardly believe how big I allowed myself to become and I felt nearly as bad at the end of the Paris Marathon as I had felt that March 2002 day at the end of my first marathon in L.A. 

If my photos from the Paris Marathon were not enough incentive, a photo of me at around 235 pounds, munching away on a waffle cone in Armenia, an extension to our Paris and London (and midweek Venice) trip, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I saw I certainly had no business wolfing down a waffle cone when I could barely still fit in the clothes I was wearing!

That was the wakeup call I needed and I worked harder than I had in the second half of 2011 to get back in decent shape and I would finish the year at 220 pounds and would run a semi respectable 4:13 at the Tucson Marathon, returning to the scene of the crime that was my mediocre 4:51 marathon finish of two years earlier.
While the start of 2012 was a challenge, as I was killing myself in the gym yet gained a few pounds through late February.  Fortunately, I was finally able to get my diet more under control in March and that would translate into my first PR in nearly 2.5 years with a 4:08 at the 2012 L.A. Marathon, nearly 90 minutes faster than I had run it a decade earlier. 

A month later, I was more determined than ever, after being told countless times that PR’ing at the Big Sur International Marathon would be nearly impossible.  I used such talk as incentive to work harder than ever in the few weeks leading up to Big Sur, especially hill training, and I went on to run a 4:05 PR at Big Sur and knew then that a sub 4 marathon was just around the corner.

2012 has also been a year of volunteering and that has come in the form each of pacing other runners as an official pacer as I have done at each the Carlsbad, Surf City, San Luis Obispo and O.C. Marathon and also simply as a race volunteer, racing to put together as many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fill as many hand held bottles as I could for trail runners.   To be involved with running in this capacity, while partially selfless, has also been of tremendous benefit and helped my growth each as a runner and a person and I look forward to more pacing and volunteering opportunities in the future.

Success after success has come in recent months and I give partial credit to others such as my wife for all her support, to other runners like the one and only Walking Diva, Yolanda Holder, who makes it look so effortless and is at nearly every race I would do, to Nadia Ruiz Gonzales who is living proof that a runner does not have to run 60+ miles a week to turn in solid marathon performances and to others like race director extraordinaire, Charlie Alewine, whose nearly weekly races allow me to get out there and push myself on any given weekend.  To this very day, I am adverse to running double digit miles unless I get a race medal for my efforts and without Charlie Alewine Racing, there is no way I would running at my current level and still improving.
My breakthrough moment as a runner would finally occur on June 03rd of this year, at the Ojai To Ocean Marathon, as I had my most perfect day ever as a runner, and with my weight down to 200 pounds, I pounded out a totally unexpected 3:43 finish for a 22 minute PR, with my wife and other Maniac friends cheering me on and running much of the first half with my Maniac friend, Steve Hernandez. 

With the sub 4 marathon finish monkey off my back, my goal has now shifted to join so many other incredible runners such as Yolanda Holder, Larry Macon, Ed “Jester” Ettinghausen and Tony “Endorphin Dude” Nguyen, just to name a few, and earn my place as a 10 Star Maniac, and with my wife’s continued support, I expect to reach that goal possibly by the end of this year, despite a slow start, relatively speaking with “just” 16 marathons through the first half of the year. 

One of the highlights of 2012 was running four marathons in seven days with many runner friends—all tougher than me—who were running seven marathons in seven days as part of Charlie Alewine Racing’s “Summer Seven” races.  Unexpectedly, I would finish my fourth marathon in seven days with just my second sub 4, a 3:55 at Summer Seven Marathon #7.

At this point, down to about 195 pounds, my lowest weight since my college years, I feel like there is no going back…no going back to 270, 250 or even 200+ pounds, no going back to 5 hour marathons, no going back to a time when I did not respect the marathon, no going back, period…only going forward and going forward with a big smile on my face, blessed to be a fixture at Southern California races and beyond, with so many other incredible runners and with so many more great runners yet to meet and so many great races yet to be discovered and run!

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