ock botton hit with a thud as I stepped on the scale in early January, 2009. I weighed 216 lbs — an all time record for me. My midsection bulged, my face was pale and puffy, my clothes were uncomfortably tight, and my mattress creaked and sagged. I also snored loudly at night, and suffered from an assortment of other sleep-related issues, including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, insomnia, and night-time sweats.
Each night before bed, I took a handful of medication to stop my legs from twitching, and then hooked myself up to a CPAP machine, which was supposed to prevent me from stopping breathing when (or if) I actually fell asleep.
A CPAP machine is a bit of a paradox. While it is intended to help you breathe while you sleep, it also makes it very difficult to actually, well, ... sleep. For some people, this isn't an issue. However, I rarely slept for more than 45 minutes at time, and I was usually tired during most of my waking hours. But occasionally there were times when I looked and felt like a jolly ol' fat man.
It was around this time that I remember somebody telling me I looked like Fred Flintstone! Barney Rubble, maybe. But Fred Flintstone?! Good Grief!! (See the picture on the left, and judge for yourself!)
January 7th, 2009. That was the day I finally decided I'd had enough. My sleep and fatigue problems had been going on for more than 20 years, and I knew things weren't going to change unless I drastically changed my lifestyle. I was tired of feeling fat, sluggish, and tired.
So I got my butt in gear. After leaving work for the day, I pulled on some sweats, laced up a pair of barely worn 20-year-old running shoes, and went for a run. Somehow, I managed to keep my legs moving for about a mile before I slowed to a walk. The next day, I went for another "run." This time, I made it about 1.01 miles. The following day, I shuffled 1.1 miles.
Throughout the winter of 2009, I kept up the running — day after day, week after week, month after month. Slowly, the mileage increased. By late February, I was up to two miles.
In April, I was regularly going three miles and was lifting weights again. By the late summer of 2009, I'd lost more than 30 pounds and decided to stop using the CPAP machine at night. Best of all, nobody was mistaking me for Fred Flintstone anymore!
As 2010 approached, I continued to run regularly and lift weights. My weight stayed steady, and I was considerably healthier than I'd been just a year earlier.
Well, sort of...
and Other Words
I Can't Pronounce
Unfortunately, despite losing more than 40 pounds, I continued to wake up constantly at night and was still struggling with fatigue during the day. Something still wasn't quite right...
In March, 2010, my doctor convinced me to take another polysomnography study (overnight sleep test). I had taken several of these tests over the years, and each test clearly showed that I had sleep apnea. But I was hoping that my weight loss and exercise program had cured me. W
hen the latest results came back, however, I discovered I still had sleep apnea.
At this point, my doctor told me I had three choices:
A) Start using the CPAP machine at night — again. Ugh!
B) Undergo throat/nose surgery to open up my air passages so I can breathe.
C) Do nothing, put myself at risk for future heart problems, and continue feeling miserable. Yikes!
I chose B — surgery. Actually, it was more like a surgery triathlon since it involved three components:
Uvalapalatopharyngoplasty: This procedure removes the uvala, which is the tiny piece of flesh that hangs down from the middle back roof of the throat. Apparently, my uvala was so large that it impeded the flow of air.
Septoplasty: This procedure repairs a deviated septum -- basically a roto-rooter of a clogged nasal cavity. Both cavities in my nose were littered with scar tissue from sinus surgery I had 20 years earlier.
Tonsillectomy: Removal of the tonsils. My tonsils were huge and should have been removed back when I was a kid.
On May 13, 2010, I went under the knife at El Camino Surgery Center in Mountain View, CA. My biggest worry? How was I going to breathe when I woke up?
Well, breathing wasn't exactly easy — at first. After the tri-surgery, the surgeon packed a couple of thick rolls of gauze up my nostrils. So breathing out of my nose was out of the question for the next couple of weeks or so. My throat was swollen, and breathing through it was painful, but I didn't exactly have a choice. With every breath I took, the sutures tickled my throat like a feather duster.
But at least I could breathe. And, after swallowing a couple of teaspoons of liquid vicodin, I could sleep pretty good too. :-)
For the next several days, I sipped breakfast, lunch and dinner through a straw. I eventually graduated to apple sauce, pudding, and soup. Three weeks later, the gauze was gone and the sutures were extracted. Soon, I was running again. I started out cautiously, but by the end of the summer I was running up to three miles. Gradually, my sleep improved and I started feeling rested during the day. The surgery was a success. Physically, I felt 20 years younger.
During the fall, I increased my running mileage and set my sights on running my first-ever 10K at the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot held on Thanksgiving morning in downtown San Jose. It turned out to be a total blast! Not a lot of grimacing from me — I had a smile on my face for most of the run and finished in 51:26. I was hooked!
My next goal was the Kaiser-Permanente Half Marathon in February. It took a lot training, but I managed to finish my first half-marathon just five seconds over my goal time: 1:51:05. Again, I had a blast.
While training for the half-marathon, I started swimming during my off days. At some point, the following thought occurred to me: "Why couldn't I do a triathlon some day?" During the holiday break, I bought a bike and started riding. I also bought an armful of books on triathlons and registered for the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon in May. I knew I had lot to learn — and a lot of training still ahead of me.
Conveniently, I noticed there was a duathlon (the South Bay Duathlon) scheduled to take place in Morgan Hill in early March. I figured it would be a great way to get a taste of doing a triathlon. I decided to do the sprint version: a 2-mile run, 10-mile bike, then another 2-mile run. Once again, I had a great time...
Then on May 15, 2011, almost exactly one year after my surgery, I completed my first triathlon -- the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon. To read an acount of this race, see my post, "A Hail of a First Tri -- Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon."