My feet pounded the pavement, still moving in a steady rhythm though my legs were starting to feel heavy. The warm southern California air seared my lungs.
Up ahead, tall palm trees flanked the road. I couldn’t see where the road ended, but what I did see made me breathe a little harder. A sign with big letters: Mile 18.
I was running the L.A. Marathon—my first race ever—and I dreaded what was coming. The wall. That point of utter exhaustion around mile 20 when the body reaches its limits of endurance.
My niece Ruby-Ann and her husband, Fernand, who had talked me into signing up for this race, had warned me about it. And I’d read plenty about it online. When you hit the wall, it’s like your body and brain quit on you and you just cannot summon the energy and will to go on.
What if that happens to me? I worried. What if I can’t make it to the finish line?
I thought back to where this all started, that day two years earlier when my doctor gave me a talking-to. I knew my 220 pounds were too much for my five-foot-two frame, but even though I’m a nurse and had seen the toll obesity took on my patients’ health, I wasn’t prepared for the test results from my own physical.
“You have borderline diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol,” my doctor told me. “If you don’t lose weight—soon—we might lose you.”
His words jolted me. It was the first anniversary of my father’s death. He’d died of a heart attack. Was I headed for the same fate? I wasn’t even 40 years old!
I had to admit, my lifestyle wasn’t healthy. After a long shift at the hospital, I’d go to the drive-through or grab a few candy bars. And exercise…who had energy for that? All I wanted to do when I got home was snuggle on the sofa with my husband, Kenneth, and watch TV. I knew I needed to change my habits big time. The question was, how?
I turned to the first place I would turn to in any crisis, to the faith my mother instilled in me back when I was growing up in the Philippines. God, I want to live, I prayed. Show me how to change.
I went to the library and checked out a stack of diet and fitness books. The more you know, the better you do, right? On the way home, I joined the gym in our apartment complex.
That evening I told Kenneth my plan: I would lose weight and get healthy the sensible way, by eating right and exercising regularly. I even found a journal to keep track of my progress. I would start with a walk the following morning.
The next day my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Stifling a groan, I rolled out of bed, pulled on an old T-shirt and sweats, and headed down the block toward the gym. A few minutes in, I was winded. That’s what decades of zero physical activity will do to you. I asked a trainer at the gym for help.
“Start out slowly,” she told me. She put me on the treadmill. Even on the lowest setting, my calves ached. By the time I got to the weight machines, my muscles were on fire. I couldn’t believe that some people actually enjoyed all of this!
I sat down to a breakfast of oatmeal and fresh fruit. My stomach growled in protest. I packed my lunch: tuna on whole-wheat and an apple for dessert. That entire meal turned out to be about as filling as an M&M. At the end of my shift, it took all of my self-control to drive by instead of drive-through my favorite fast-food joint.
This was so much harder than I first thought! But I stuck with it. Sometimes, though, I would sit down to dinner with Kenneth, take a look at my plate with its carefully measured portions of lean protein and vegetables, and sigh. What I really wanted was a large pizza with everything on it!
Good thing Kenneth was there. “You can do this, Rose,” he told me. “You’re stronger than you think.”
But I wasn’t so sure.
Two weeks after that jarring doctor’s appointment, I anxiously stepped on the scale. I watched the needle hover then stop…at 219. “One lousy pound!” I cried. “How can that be possible?”
Clearly I needed to pray about this again. Lord, maybe I’m just not cut out for this healthy living thing. I really need you to show me what to do. I’m lost.
Learning more couldn’t hurt, I figured, so I did more research online. I discovered that I could still eat some of my favorite meals, just in smaller portions. I started experimenting with recipes and spices and even tried some tropical fruit (like those I’d eaten as a little girl in the Philippines) for dessert. Who knew that healthy food could taste so good?
I made progress with the exercise too. After about a month, I could jog twice around the block without gasping for breath. We had some gorgeous views here in L.A., views I had never seen from the sofa.
Each night I wrote in my journal, reminding myself of why I was working so hard: “Today, I was tempted with cake at work. Then I remembered what the doctor said. Being around for my family is more important.”
Six months into my new lifestyle, and I had dropped 60 pounds. My scrubs hung loose, and late shifts didn’t tire me out so much. I felt a lot better than I had in years.
Kenneth noticed a change in me too. “You look so great,” he told me. “But the best thing is that you’ve been smiling a whole lot more.”
By my annual physical, I had lost 80 pounds. Eighty! My doctor was delighted with my progress. But my routine of eating healthy and exercising was becoming…well, routine. You can probably guess what I did: I asked God to show me what to change next.
Not long after, Ruby-Ann and Fernand came to visit. Fernand got up early one morning and saw me jogging. “You’re pretty fast, Auntie,” he said. “Ruby-Ann and I are competing in the next L.A. Marathon. Why don’t you sign up and run with us?”
He must be joking! I thought. A marathon wasn’t exactly what I had in mind to shake up my routine. “No way,” I told him. “That’s over twenty-five miles. I can’t go that far. I just run around the neighborhood, maybe a couple of miles.”
But I’d prayed for a change, hadn’t I? What if the marathon was my answer? I had nothing to lose—except maybe a few more pounds. So I signed up. I trained. Hard. The more I ran, the more I loved it—setting goals, pushing my boundaries, gaining confidence.
But here I was at mile 18, my knees feeling like creaky hinges, doubts crowding my mind. Fernand and Ruby-Ann had had to drop back because he was cramping up. I was on my own. The wall was coming up. Have I pushed myself too hard? I took a deep breath to steady myself.
Just then another runner sidled up beside me. “Boy, you make this look easy!” he panted.
That was just the boost I needed. I couldn’t give up. Not now. This race wasn’t about how far I had to go—the next six miles were nothing compared to how far I’d already come.
Reinvigorated, I focused on my pace again. Before I knew it I crossed the finish line. I’d completed the L.A. Marathon in six hours and 31 minutes—not bad for a first-timer. Kenneth wrapped me in his arms, and I burst into tears of joy.
That wall? I ran right through it.
And I’m still running. I run 60 races a year, five of them marathons. I’m one of the top runners in my age group in the Los Angeles area. I’ve lost 110 pounds, and hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol are things of the past.
Me? A marathon runner? Sometimes it’s hard to believe, myself. Then again, I shouldn’t be so surprised. I asked God to help me change, and he showed me that when we believe in him—and in ourselves—anything is possible.