Saturday, September 29, 2018

Going the Extra Mile

To many, it might have been just the proverbial walk in the park, but to me, it was a milestone. Two days ago, I walked my first 5K, and I say first because I'm already planning on signing up for a second.

Now I realize a 5K is a mere 3.1 miles and that any reasonably fit person should be walking that in any given day during the course of their normal activities. Or perhaps they might even be doing some kind of fitness activity such as walking, jogging, running, or cycling a similar distance or more each and every day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, let's face it, most Americans don't. In fact, according to a 2013-2014 NHANES survey of the National Center for Health Statistics, a whopping 70.2 percent of all men and women in America are considered overweight or obese, a full 2/3 of the country's population are not at a healthy weight, which means they probably aren't exercising regularly either. Until recently I was definitely a member of the non-exercising category of Americans, and while I'm still no fitness guru, I find myself wanting to move more and more.

So, there's the problem. I, like many Americans, was (still am but am definitely making steady and significant progress to reverse that with 67 pounds lost so far) obese and didn't move more than I had to during any given day. In fact, I was in pain much of the time. Just six months ago, it was painful to stand in place for any given amount of time due to piriformis muscle syndrome. Walking and stretching relieved the pain a bit but I was too heavy and tired to do much of that and so I didn't. I kept going to my chiropractor for relief and then a massage therapist, both of which helped temporarily, but it wasn't until I started dropping the pounds, stopped eating inflammatory foods, and started moving my body daily that I found permanent relief. I am now free of pain. I stand, walk, bend, move in any way I need to for extended periods of time without any pain whatsoever and it feels nothing short of miraculous to me.

The piriformis muscle syndrome was actually a blip on the radar compared to what I had dealt with the two years previous. In October 2016 I had microdiscectomy surgery on my L4-L5 for a herniated disc but not until after 18 months of excruciating pain with treatments including everything from epidural cortisone injections to physical therapy which did very little to give me any relief. I did everything I knew to do at the time to avoid surgery but eventually, I did have the surgery and did find relief from the herniated disc only to have the piriformis syndrome rear its ugly head. See, my body was beaten and battered by highly refined and processed foods, abused by lack of discipline, and unnurtured by the care and love that comes from feeding it wholesome plant foods and moving it daily.

Fast forward to a few months after I started my whole foods plant-based journey and having lost about 40 pounds, I got the urge to start exercising. I wasn't sure whose voice that was in my head nagging me to move at first, because I was pretty sure it wasn't my own but I listened to it and started walking around my neighborhood. At first, I walked around the circle once. Easy. So I went twice. A little bit more challenging but I was feeling like I was up to more of a challenge so I rather quickly increased it to three times around, which was one mile. I did that for a couple of weeks and increased it to four times around, which was pretty comfortable. I kept this going for several weeks. It was a nice, comfortable exercise routine that I completed three or four times a week while listening to a health podcast, usually the Ian Cramer Podcast, the Plant-Based Cyclist. If you haven't listened to him, you really should. After doing this for a while, I was starting to get antsy and decided I would save for a bike because I wanted to exercise more and more and walking long distances didn't seem like it was in the cards for me. I knew running wasn't something I was going to ever do.

Walking is sometimes uncomfortable for me because of the peripheral neuropathy I have. I honestly don't know if the numbness and tingling in my toes and the balls of my feet is from years of uncontrolled blood sugar, nerve damage from very low B12 levels undiagnosed for some time, or extremely low vitamin D levels (I was at a 6 when it was first discovered and normal is 30-50!) or from all three, but the cause really doesn't matter since all three of those issues are resolved now. I'm hoping against hope that I can reverse the neuropathy. There is at least one study that showed that a WFPB diet can reverse peripheral neuropathy so I am optimistic. More about this in a future post. But walking is sometimes, actually almost always, uncomfortable if not painful, but I keep walking. It's good to walk to improve circulation to the feet, but I do take care to wear well-fitted shoes (I go get them specially fitted at a store that knows what they're doing), I wear socks designed not to rub on my feet and toes, I inspect my feet each and every night, and I also use lotion on my feet nightly because my feet tend to dry out more than the average person's and I don't want to get cuts or sores that may not heal due to poor circulation. I sure wish I would have taken all of this care and concern for my feet before I had nerve damage and lost feeling but I didn't. It truly is frustrating to have the gumption to finally move and have my feet limit me a bit; however, for the most part, I push forward.

The 5K came about when STLVegGirl, Caryn Dugan, posted on her Facebook Page about the St. Louis BizDash 5K scheduled for September 27. She was getting together a team for her company and was asking for people to participate. I had recently completed Caryn's Forks Over Knives class and thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, Caryn and her willingness to help me find resources to continue my journey to health and wellness, and her encouragement have been instrumental in my continued success. So, when I saw her post about the 5K, I thought, "Heck, yea! I'm doing a 5K!" I messaged Caryn to make sure I could walk it because I wasn't crazy enough to think I could run and she was just as supportive as I've always known her to be and welcomed me to the team. And so I had ten days to "train" for a 5K, which meant that my four times around my neighborhood really would need to be nine times to equal a 5K. Hmmm...what exactly had I gotten myself into? The three or four times a week walk became an every night thing, sometimes even a morning and an evening walk. Sometimes I posted pictures of myself before my walks on my social media pages to keep myself accountable. I was in the habit of listening to health podcasts while walking to keep myself motivated, which I continued to do. And I kept walking and walking and walking. Four days before the 5K I did actually walk a 5K in my neighborhood so I knew I could do the distance but then I fretted about the elevation of the actual 5K. I reversed my path in my neighborhood to find a steeper incline and was pretty satisfied that it was giving me a better workout. I also found the Map My Walk app and discovered I liked the accountability I got from tracking the stats of my nightly walks. All in all my "training" was going well.

Thursday, the day of the 5K, I was to meet a group of women whom I had never met at a Schnucks parking lot in Des Peres so we could all carpool to downtown St. Louis. Caryn had started an email to facilitate the carpooling. I chimed in that I would carpool with them, which was remarkable to me since I didn't know them and just a little more than a year ago I was suffering from some pretty severe social anxiety with even close friends I had known for years. But I knew that getting to the race on my own and dealing with parking was going to be more stressful than just carpooling with a bunch of Caryn's friends who I was sure were nice people. After all, they were Caryn's friends. When I got to Schnucks at the appointed time I couldn't find the van with the carpooling driver nor any of the other women. We hadn't exchanged phone numbers (it didn't really occur to me that they all knew one another but they did) and I didn't know what the van looked like, so I drove around the parking lot aimlessly for a while. I emailed the group and tried to reach someone to see where to meet them and got a reply but I still couldn't find anyone in the parking lot. This is when a little panic started to set in. I actually was worried I wouldn't get to walk in this 5K. I wasn't relieved, I was upset. My GPS said traffic was heavy to get downtown and I wasn't really sure where to go so I thought I might Uber it. Now I've never taken an Uber but I had the app thanks to my daughter's insistence a few years ago. And because of her I also had Venmo, so while setting up an Uber account something caught my eye to my right and what do I see but a bunch of women scurrying around a mini-van. Surely these are the 5K women! Before I could think to feel nervous or awkward I got out of my vehicle, grabbed my water bottle, and walked over to them and said, "I'm Kara, are you ladies going to the BizDash?" And who do I see but Elaine, a woman I met online in an Engine 2 (another plant-based group) Facebook group a year ago and who I had subsequently met in person a few times and who led me to Caryn. Ah, yes, they were indeed my Bizdash ride and away we went. Phew! Crisis averted.

We made it to downtown St. Louis after minimal traffic. They were welcoming and kind to the only newcomer of the group and any trepidation I had about riding with complete strangers melted away. Once we got downtown and parked, we walked about a mile to meet Caryn to pick up our T-shirts and race bibs and then we hiked the mile or so back to the starting point of the 5K. We didn't have long to wait before the 5K began, just a few minutes to get excited and take a few selfies. The crowd felt massive and the weather was ideal, cool and breezy. With the 5K beginning at 7 p.m., the sun was low and you couldn't ask for a more pleasant evening. I grabbed a selfie with Caryn, who I am eternally gratefully to for so many things but particularly for offering this opportunity and opening up a new concept to me. And then it was go time! Let the walking commence.

People started pulling ahead and two of the STLVegGirl team members and I were talking but I sensed they wanted to move ahead and I honestly was okay with that. I am so accustomed to walking alone, at my own pace, and listening to a podcast to keep pace, and I was more than a bit worried about deviating from my routine and making it through the course. So I convinced them that it was okay, in fact preferable, if they left me and they did. And I had a perfectly delightful 5K, walking by myself, water bottle in hand, Map My Walk chiming in my ear every mile reached, Ian Cramer and his guest Dr. Steve Lome espousing the benefits of a plant-based diet with every step I took, people in front of me, people behind me, and with each step I got stronger and stronger and knew that there was no turning back in this journey to transform myself and my health. As I walked across the finish line (with sore and swollen feet but without fatigue or the huffing and puffing of days past), Caryn, ever supportive, was there to greet me with a big hug.

If you're reading this and you're overweight, or even morbidly (Oh, how I hate saying that!) obese like I was, if you're tired, sick, and feel like you're dying each and every day, you CAN feel better. You really can. I had all but given up hope. It's almost hard for me to believe how good I feel these days. And even more remarkable is that while I've reversed hypertension and am off blood pressure meds, am now on the lowest dose of diabetes medication (Metformin) with an A1c of 5.1 (which is remarkable), and have lost 67 pounds, I still have about 95 pounds to lose. How much better am I actually capable of feeling? I didn't know I could feel THIS good...what does life have in store for me this time next year? I can't wait to find out. Here's to living a plant-powered passionate life!

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