Michigan resident Carlos Orosco is 41 years old, and it’s an age that sticks in his head. That’s because a couple years ago, his doctor said he’d be dead by now.
Although he’d been heavy his whole life, Orosco started to gain significant weight in his 30s, thanks to a largely sedentary lifestyle, plenty of fast food, and heavy alcohol use. He suffered from terrible joint pain, high blood pressure, circulation issues, and gout.
By the time he hit 38, he was sitting in the doctor’s office to talk about leg amputation. His weight, then 650 pounds (295 Kg), caused cellulitis—a skin infection which occurs when bacteria enter through a crack or break in the skin, leading to slow wound healing and chronic swelling. Those who are overweight or obese are more susceptible to it, because as skin rubs against skin, the chafing can create entry points for the bacteria, which doctors call “disrupted skin.”
Numerous treatments failed for Orosco, and the infection was spreading.
“The surgeon started the appointment by predicting that I wouldn’t live to see 41,” he told Runner’s World. “He told me I’d be 700 pounds (318 Kg) by then, and would die from cardiac arrest. At the time, my sister was expecting, and I was going to be an uncle for the first time. I started to think of everything I’d be leaving behind.”
To call that moment a turning point is an understatement.
Orosco was struck by the surgeon’s honesty, and turned the conversation to a different surgical strategy instead: bariatric procedures. After assessing the options, he decided to have a sleeve gastrectomy, which was performed in December 2016.
But he knew surgery wouldn’t be enough—he knew his lifestyle needed an overhaul. So he did just that.
He quit drinking and stopped the junk food, two changes that helped him drop 200 pounds (91 Kg) within six months. Then he had the surgery, and the weight kept coming off.
The joint issues and chronic pain that had been an everyday part of life disappeared—he was able to stop taking six daily medications for all of his previous medical issues—and he decided to amp up the exercise. Just after surgery, he walked a 5K in remembrance of a friend who’d died from a heart attack.
Even though he was 400 pounds (181 Kg) during that first race, he was hooked.
“I remember the atmosphere, the environment,” he says. “It caught me. Even before I finished that first 5K, I wanted to sign up for another one.”
As the weight kept decreasing, Orosco’s mileage kept increasing. He began training six days a week, adding strength training and joining a running group.
To reduce risk of injury, he added mileage slowly, a strategy that’s particularly important for those who carry excess weight, says obesity specialist Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., author of The Fat Loss Prescription.
“Excess weight puts extra forces in your joints, which can put you at risk for degeneration,” he told Runner’s World. “Also, with excess weight, you’re at risk for increased inflammation, which could potentially augment the degeneration process. But even just a 10 percent body weight loss will have an impact on pain and function.”
For those who are trying to run more while whittling their weight, Nadolsky recommends asking a professional to look at your body mechanics when walking to make sure your gait isn’t putting additional pressure on your joints, and starting slow, as Orosco did.
Now at 185 pounds (84 Kg), Orosco has done a couple dozen 5Ks and completed his first half marathon, the Great Turtle Run on Mackinac Island in October, in 3:06:28.
Seeing the time, he was disappointed, but then realized it wasn’t bad considering the conditions—30 degrees, windy, and rainy—and the terrain, a combination of road, trail, and steep elevation changes. Still, he’s looking to improve his time when he takes on the Detroit Marathon in October, his first full marathon.
But that’s not even his next race. Before that comes up on the calendar, he’s signed up for four more half marathons and the 24-hour Ragnar Trail Relay Race with some running friends.
“These races, and adding the full marathon, give me a chance to keep improving,” he said.
He no longer has to think about the effect of his weight on every movement, like he did only a few years ago. Now, he says, he can just be a runner.
“I used to have the mindset at a race that I didn’t belong, that these people were different from me,” he says. “But on race day, I know I’ve put in the time and the work, and my mind clears of everything except the route in front of me. I finally feel like I belong.”