Monday, September 9, 2013

From 100 pounds overweight to training for an ultramarathon...our very own Charles Thompson's journey

Sometimes you may be running alongside greatness and not even know it.  I know many in our group will feel that way after reading Charles Thompson's story.  We already knew he was a tough guy with a big heart, but now we get to understand just how tough he really is.  Check out Charles' story below.  WARNING:  Your excuses will seem pretty weak after this.

The display read 35 pounds. I had just put my bags on the scale at the heliport to go offshore again. As the woman behind the counter registered this, I filled out the sign-in log verifying that I had the certifications necessary to go out. Next was the part that I had come to loathe. It was my turn to step on the scale. Over the past months I had lost about five pounds, but had since lost my resolve. I stepped on the scale, making sure that the disappointment didn't register on my face. Still, I could not turn my gaze away from the scale's readout. 267 pounds. Five feet eleven inches tall and 267 pounds. "If I don't do something about this, my health will start to be affected," I thought.

 Up until that point, I really did not have any severely negative consequences due to my being overweight (obese if I am honest about what the height/weight charts read). My past trips to the doctor told me I needed to lose weight (I paid this man to tell me this?) and that I should keep an eye on my blood pressure as it was a little on the high side. The fact that I had not been to the doctor in about four years crossed my mind. "I've been fine; I AM fine," I had been telling myself. Never mind what I saw in the mirror. Never mind what I saw in the pictures of myself (I sure hoped the camera added about thirty pounds). "I'm overweight, but still healthy."

 Then my penny pinching side kicked in. My employer has a program designed to encourage you to live healthier. Each year you fill out a questionnaire about your eating habits and how much exercise you get. Tack in what your last blood pressure readings and what your cholesterol was at your last check and you can get a discount of $180 off the annual premium for your health insurance. Well, I had everything filled out except the last cholesterol readings. This was sufficient to get the discount, but my curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to fill EVERYTHING in (a little peek into my personality here). This prompted a decision, I now had to go back to the doctor. It won't be that bad, right? Appointment made, they wanted me to go into the office the week before to get my blood drawn. This way, I was told, the doctor can review my results with me right in the room in case I had any questions.

 I was ready for anything the doctor had to tell me. It was going to be just like all of my other appointments. "Charles," he was going to say, "you need to lose some weight and your chart shows that you have a history of high blood pressure in your family so you are going to need to keep a close eye on that." Just like that I would have my numbers that I can fill in on the next questionnaire; problem solved! 

Charles and his wife, Daisy.

Everything went fine with the physical examination until we started going over my blood work. My total cholesterol was fine at 158 but my HDL numbers were quite low (a good goal for men is above 40 and I was sitting at 29). My "slightly elevated" blood pressure had escalated to pre-hypertensive, and my liver numbers were "really strange" so he wanted to send me back to the lab after my appointment to have more blood drawn to test for hepatitis (What?!?). "When I see you this time next year, I will have to put you on blood pressure medication and probably something to help you raise your HDL levels, if you don't do something about it on your own." I had finally done it. I let myself get unhealthy because of my eating habits and my weight. "What can I do, besides the obvious 'lose weight'?" He told me that the only effective way he has seen to raise HDL levels without medicine is strenuous exercise. Not just exercise, HARD exercise. I needed to get my blood moving hard and fast. In addition to raising my HDL levels, this would have positive benefits like improving my liver numbers and losing weight. "Great! One recommendation would fix all of my problems! It's too bad that it involves exercise."

 I did not enjoy the prospect of being on a pill for the rest of my life. Choose diet and exercise? This was quite the eye opener. Pills or healthy living? I chose to get healthy. First I started with the diet since I could not afford a membership to the gym. Being the technology geek that I am, I started searching out a way for me to track the calories that I consumed. Of course - "there's an app for that!" Setting up the app and telling it how much weight I wanted to lose per week (I opted to go the max of 2 lbs), I started my adventure; not an easy feat since I worked offshore and had access to the Galley there. The food isn't always good, but there is ALWAYS a ton of it (or tonne as my current assignment was on a Danish flagged vessel)! The first week was not bad - not good, but not bad. I lost more than my two pounds and was feeling pretty good. Then weeks two and three reared their heads and I realized that I was HUNGRY! I continued to follow the calorie restrictions that I set for myself and after the first month I had lost 12 pounds!

 That is where my life took a turn. I lost my initial 12 pounds…and that was it for almost a month. In the back of my mind, I hear my doctor's advice again - exercise, hard exercise. "Alright…I can do this," I told myself. I had no access to any weight equipment, which was my first choice. My second choice was a bicycle, which I did not have - strike two. I had a pair of shoes in my closet - running shoes. These shoes had an "interesting" history since I purchased them using winnings from a game…the McDonald's "Monopoly" game! Odd that I would get a pair of running shoes thanks to a Big Mac and a large fry and that they would change my life.

 I crammed my feet in my shoes and tied them too tight - a runner I was not. I was going to give it a herculean effort however. I hopped in my car and drove around the neighborhood to determine the distance around (Is my geek showing again?) and came up with 1/2 mile. "Alright, I'm ready for this!" I started with a brisk walk to warm up - down to the first corner of the 1/2 mile loop. "Here we go…" I began running…and breathing…sucking air…gasping. I had made it down the stretch to the next corner and achieved victory! I walked for a minute, turned the next corner and took off running again. I didn't make it down the next leg when I felt "nature's call". I gingerly made my way back to the house, answered and then decided to take a shower. Warning: weak stomach alert! At this point I turned on the water to the shower and promptly threw-up! Overdid that one there Chuckie! Next time, take a longer victory lap and cool down better!

 I continued this routine, running from corner to mailbox; corner to corner…corner to the house. I built my way up to a mile steady running over the next month or so and was feeling pretty good about that! My exhilaration also extended to the bathroom scale - I was losing weight again! I steadily trotted along, pushing myself further and further towards my goal of weight-loss. I had set myself mini-goals of 10 pounds to lose. I also allowed myself one "Bust!" day per week (can you say Seafood Friday). Using this regimen of fewer calories, more exercise, mini-goals and bust-day, I began seeing great results. Five months into my journey I had lost 45 pounds. Month six was another good month and the scale showed 54 pounds total! I finished my first 5k and my first 10k - both under my goals of 30 minutes and 1 hour respectively.

 I lost 80 pounds in the nine months prior to my annual physical/visit to my GP. I was thrilled…and PROUD! What was the Doc going to say when he saw my success? I went in to have my blood-drawn the week prior to my appointment…excited! It was finally time to see the doctor. The nurse showed my back to the room and took my vitals. My blood pressure was great and my HR was lower than it had EVER been - a result of my conditioning and a mini-victory! Then we wait…and wait…and wait. The doctor entered and sat down next to me. He reviewed my chart, looking over my blood-work and began asking me questions about how I felt. "Great since I followed your advice and lost all that weight." He re-consulted the chart and was shocked at the year-on-year comparison of my weight. "Wow! I always make that recommendation hoping that one-day someone will follow it. You lost a lot of weight!" He asked me how and I told him that I started running and pushing away from the table. "Do you have any races or anything that you are training for?" I mentioned that I was training for my first Half Marathon and that I was tremendously nervous about it being such a far distance! "With the weight you lost I know that you have the drive to make it at least that far." Boy did that make me feel good. It was time to review my results from the lab. Blood Pressure - NORMAL. Liver numbers - NORMAL. HDL level - 43! Total cholesterol was in the 130s! JUBILATION!!  
Charles at Chicot during a trail run.

All of my hard work had paid off. I was healthy and I felt great. I no longer felt that deep disappointment when I saw a picture of myself. I was committed now and had actually begun to like running - something that I NEVER thought would happen. I started it as a means to reach my end goal. I noticed though that I was less stressed and even looked forward to the next run. I finished my Half Marathon and signed up for its big brother the very next week - the Marathon! That is how I came to be where I am today - a multiple marathon finisher who has an Ultra-Marathon on the horizon. A man who successfully lost 100 pounds through discipline, effort, grit and sheer determination. This is my story (minus a few details for posterity of course LOL). 

Charlie (left) with Randy Carlson after a trail run.
Happy Running, Y'all!