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Let Vic Camacho inspire you to get healthy. Read his amazing story.

By Vic Camacho

“I get tired just driving 26.2 miles.”

“Why would you do that to yourself?”

“I could probably run a marathon if I wanted to, but I don’t want to.”

There is no reply that will make sense to a non-marathoner, a non-runner.  When I was asked to write a piece about my love for distance running, I thought about my life.  I thought about the series of events that got me to this point in life where running is not just something I do, it’s a part of who I am and a part of who I will always be.

I was always an active kid, playing football for a good 10 years or so.  I played occasional games of basketball, ran once in a while and mountain biked for fun.  In 2012, it all changed and to my surprise, it was my heart.  I ended up in the emergency room at the Guam Memorial Hospital waking up to electrical cardioversion, where the doctors shocked my heart into rhythm.  Doctors told me I had Atrial Fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating.  I also was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, the presence of accessory electrical conduction pathways between my heart’s atria and ventricles.  My only treatment option was cardiac ablation surgery and a change in my lifestyle.  It was my wake-up call.

From heart problems to running marathons, Vic Camacho has pushed his heart to the limit, here finishing the Arizona Marathon this past February. (courtesy photo)

From heart problems to running marathons, Vic Camacho has pushed his heart to the limit, here finishing the Arizona Marathon this past February. (courtesy photo)

Three years ago I gave up alcohol.  I had enjoyed my share of beverages over the years, no doubt.  I gave up caffeine.  I decided to live healthier for my family.  I decided to live healthier for me.  I started eating a little better, started paddle boarding, started putting more miles on the trails on my mountain bike.  I started running regularly.  This is when my love for running truly blossomed.  I had always wanted to run a marathon, it was a goal that I never completed because I never gave the time and commitment to training.  There was always a reason not to commit; work stuff, family stuff, kids’ stuff, traveling, just plain old stuff.  I was tired of stuff preventing me from my goals, so one day I decided to start training for a marathon.

It took four months of preparation, running early mornings before work, before getting the kids to school, doing this three to four times a week.  My only expectation was to finish with a smile.  In October 2013 I traveled to Syracuse, New York and completed the Empire State Marathon.  I experienced travel delays and re-routing and barely made it there in time to run, but still finished in a respectable 4:59.  It was cold, it was tough, but that was all.  I walked at mile 24 for one mile, but otherwise ran the entire route.  It was one day, five hours.  That’s all.  I knew I wasn’t going to win, or place, or anything, I was just there to run.  And I was okay with that, and I crossed the finish line with a smile, knowing I had done what just a few years prior was just an out-of-reach dream.

I kept running after the 2013 marathon, just maintenance runs of 3-6 mile runs three times a week. I decided running a marathon would be my annual pilgrimage.  In October 2014 I traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to run the Under Armor Baltimore Marathon.  This one was hilly and tough, by Mile 16 I hit the dreaded “wall”.  Cramped and dehydrated, I crawled across the finish line around 5:30.  I didn’t have a smile.  I didn’t care to look at my time, I knew I bombed.  A training partner soon after asked me, “do you need your redemption marathon?” Answer was simple and I knew it, and I didn’t want to wait a year to get my redemption.

In February 2015 an opportunity to run a marathon in Phoenix, Arizona came about.  With three months to train I buckled down and put in the miles.  Wake up at 4 am, on the road by 4:30, three to four times a week.  I ran the perfect race for me.  I paced myself, I listened to my body.  I hydrated, I took my gels, I smiled and said “good job” to those I passed, to those who passed me.  I crossed the finish line with a PR of 4:34.  And I crossed with a smile.  Redemption.

Camacho was a standout linebacker for the Guam Eagles in 1998 along with fellow star linebacker Joe Castro. (courtesy photo)

Camacho was a standout linebacker for the  MFL’s Guam Eagles in 1998 along with fellow star linebacker Joe Castro. (courtesy photo)

Returning home from my marathon, I decided to continue training and transition into the 44th Annual Guam Running Club Marathon, five weeks away.  First up was the Hafa (half) Marathon, then Gate-to-Gate (Big Navy to Andersen AFB), then GRC Marathon.  Perfect!

On March 22nd, I completed the grueling and hot/humid race in 4:53.  It wasn’t a goal time I was going after, it was the experience of running this particular marathon.  It was on my bucket list, and I finished with a smile good for 6th place in the Male Master’s Division.

Each of these marathons was different from one another.  They each offered their successes and their challenges, each offering the same reward after the finish, knowing you did what you set out to do.  The last 0.2 miles of each marathon is the most rewarding 0.2 miles of your life.  Whether you cross the line as planned, better or worse, you can always look back, smile and say “I did it!”  Chances are you’ll ask yourself right away when the next race will be.

Understanding my body and my limitations, I know now is the time for rest before I begin training for another marathon, so there is no Guam International Marathon for me this year, I don’t want to risk injury.  Active rest though, I’ll still run, paddleboard, play hoops, bike and I’ll still participate in XTERRA Guam, one of my favorite things to do.  Next marathon is in October.  I don’t know yet where, but I do know I will put in the miles in training, and when I cross that finish line, I’ll be sure to cross with a smile.

Friends sometimes tell me I motivate them.  I’m 45-years-young but I feel better health-wise than when I was 25.  If that’s the case then great, I want everyone to consider living healthier, but I don’t intend to preach it, it is something that must come from within every individual.

Start now, start slow, start with a goal that is achievable for you.  Maybe it’s a 5K, whatever it is just do it, even if you have to walk.  Guam’s running community (especially the Guam Running Club) is filled with so many good people who will help motivate you.  The people who you meet in the running community may be Olympians, CEOs, doctors, or students, cashiers or retired.  They may be fast, they may be slow, young or old, men or women, but you will never meet a friendlier group of like-minded individuals.  The first to finish is the first to congratulate the people finishing last.  The elite runners mingle with the beginners, trading training advice and conversation.  In the end, we all run the same distance, and there is respect for everyone, fast and slow alike.  My 26.2 miles is the same as theirs, and once I realized this it all made sense.  I run for me, it’s not so much a race against competitors, it’s a shared accomplishment when we all cross that finish line.

Camacho even finished the super long Gate-to-Gate Run from Naval Station to Andersen Air Force Base earlier this year. (photo by RunGuam)

Camacho even finished the super long Gate-to-Gate Run from Naval Station to Andersen Air Force Base earlier this year. (photo by RunGuam)

So my advice is simple.  If you want to live healthier, if you want to run a particular distance, if you want to push yourself and commit to something out of your comfort zone, then go out and take a step in the right direction, and take these steps every day.  Be smart, respect the training.  There are countless different training programs designed to get you were you want to be.  Find a free online training schedule, get a good pair of running shoes that fit properly and get out there. You can spend $50 or $175 on shoes, but the right shoe is the one that fits you and is designed for your foot.  Ask someone, try out different brands, what works for others might not work for you.

It will take time to get to where you may want to be, so give the time and don’t rush.  Don’t push you’re your limits too hard.  Listen to your body, know your body, respect your body.  But whatever you do, don’t live with regret.  If you don’t start, you are destined to fail, so if you do start and you give your commitment, there is no failure.  While you’re out there training early mornings or after work, say “Hafa Adai” to those runners who you pass, they are just as motivated to see you out there too and will probably respond enthusiastically.  When you finally cross that finish line for whatever distance you trained for, just make sure you smile.  You earned it.


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