ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Victory at Last: From Fat to 5K

When I arrived in Afghanistan, I was 275 pounds and could barely walk three times around the 550 meter interior square of my base. By the end of these first few attempts, I was gasping, my knees and back were hurting, and I was done. I'd once had an idea of getting in shape before I deployed, running, doing martial arts, exercising, until I was once again that lean mean fighting machine I'd been before the army started to take its physical toll-- somewhere around my ten year mark in service while I was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. But when I ran, my feet hurt. When I walked, my feet hurt. When I breathed, my feet hurt.

Sure, the weight was a part of it, but my feet hurt when I was 180 pounds too. What was I going to do? After coming back to my room out of breath and almost out of hope, I'd search the Internet to see if there were others like me and if there were, what the hell they were doing to make it better. Luckily, I was paying attention to my Internet searches.

I'd long ago been diagnosed as a pronator. I also have one leg slightly longer than the other. We all know those people who can strap on the cheapest pair of running shoes and run forever without pain. I'm not one of them. I put on even expensive running shoes created for my specific issues and I'm in pain within 30 seconds that gets severe and debilitating across the top of my foot within minutes. This is the result in a long-held belief that people like me need motion control shoes-- basically the sport equivalent of metal braces in ones shoes. Think Forest Gump as a kid. This has since been proven absolutely wrong by many studies, but I talk more about that in my article Confessions of a Toe Runner: My Journey to Pain Free Feet.

But I learned. And what I learned was that I needed to free my feet. The idea that there were shoes meant to force my feet to run an unnatural way for my body was supposed to have been a good idea. But along came neutral shoes. And zero drop shoes. And toe shoes. In a feat of desperation, I ordered a pair of zero drop Five Finger Bikila's and began running.

And I haven't stopped yet.

My feet have absolutely ceased to hurt.

Are they because of the weird looking Five Finger design? Oh sure they are. Of course they are. Pain is too busy laughing at my feet to actually possess them.

Seriously. The reason is because of the zero drop and because my forefoot can spread out.

Ever feel like your forefoot is bound like a Chinese Victorian woman's? You should have room in the front of your shoe.

What's zero drop, you ask? For years, traditional training shoes have been built with a 12-15mm heel-toe differential. But in the shoe revolution we're in now, moderate minimalist shoes typically have a 4-10mm heel-toe drop and zero-drop shoes are generally those that fall in the 0-4mm range. Many studies in recent years have suggested that a significantly raised heel is one of the culprits to many common running injuries, partially because they tend to encourage heavier heel striking, higher impact forces and greater rotational forces (overpronation). (The Running Times)

Fast forward to September 11, 2013 and the 5K Memorial Run.

So there I was, in Kabul, Afghanistan, 7000 feet above sea level, a little after eight a.m., on the starting line of a race I never thought I'd be able to run in my life. Sure, I'd run 5Ks before, but only accidentally onpurpose as part of a military run where I was just one member of a larger painful mass of men and women, running until our platoon sergeant finally let us stop. This race was absolutely on purpose. This race was different. This race was going to be my signature stamp on 5 months of weight loss and training that not only saw me lose 50 pounds, but also saw me begin to run pain free for the first time since 1994.

I'd practiced the run both on the treadmill and outside. I was ready for it. I knew my pace: a little over 8 minutes a kilometer. Not fast my any means, but it is my pace for now. I was stretched. I was hydrated. I was ready.

Lap 1 - We all started in a clump. I kept my head on the road and focused on my pace. I didn't want to start out too quickly. About  halfway through the lap I checked my time. I was faster than my pace by over a minute and forced myself to slow down.

Lap  2 - I'm a little pissed right now because I was hit in the face with water from a hose. The guy was supposed to hold it out and let us run under it if we wanted, but he got bored and started aiming for us. I want windshield wipers on my RayBans. I feel sorry for the guy. There's more than 300 of us who wants to kill him. I spend the next lap angry as a wet dog and forget about any pain or breathing.

Lap 3 - I'm dry now. I ran four practice laps the day before as a warm up. My legs are feeling tight and I'm wondering if I might have sabotaged myself. I watch as two muscular security guys give up and start walking.

Lap 4 - I've been passed now by people who are super fast. I wonder if they even know what pain is? They seem to be floating. Damn them.  I remember we keep our own lap count. If I stop early, no one would no. Except me. I'd know. What kind of signature would that be? Plus, I'm only breathing a little bit hard. My feet don't hurt. Move out soldier!

Lap 5 - Holy cow! I'm being lapped by a woman 20 years older than me. Ignore it. Ignore it. It has nothing to do with you. My legs feel leaden, but my feet do not hurt. My breathing is fine. And hey look, there are those two guys, walking back the other way, too embarrassed to make eye contact.

Lap 6 - Damn. People have already finished. I have 2 laps left. Stop it! You have THREE laps left. Right. Three laps. And I am dam hot. Thirsty too. Where's that guy with the water-- ahhh. And look. There are those two guys and they're getting T-shirts!  Cheaters.

Lap 7 - I grab a bottle of water, rip off the top, drink about four gulps and toss the water to the side. I forgot to look, but since I didn't hear a scream, I'm good. I begin noticing people I know cheering for me on the sidelines. So cool.

Lap 8 - A friend of mine who has already finished joins me. He says for me to come on. He's a nice guy, but I have my pace. It's my secret weapon. Head down, eyes forward, feet in front of other, pace, pace, pace. Is that a dog passing me? It's a bomb dog on a leash.  Cool!

Lap 9 - I'm on my last lap. This is pretty amazing. My feet do not hurt. My breathing is good. I'm going to go faster. I increase speed.  I tear around the last corner and am at full out sprint. Look at that man run.

I cross the finish line and raise my arms.

No one knows how special this is except me.

No one knows what a life event this really is. I'm not supposed to be able to run. The Veteran's Administration has already formally acknowledged how badly the military messed up my body. This wasn't supposed to have happened.

I spend the rest of the day basking in the joy of my accomplishment.

And now it's the next day.

There will be more 5Ks. There might even be a 10K in my future. People are sending me emails telling me I should do marathons or ironman competitions, but I'm rational and a little worried it will all come crashing down. I haven' felt pain yet, but I'm wondering if it might show up. All my research says it won't, but I'm still taking care of myself. Still, I send them back replies, thanking them for their excitement on my behalf, promising them that if I decide to do an Ironman, they'll be the first to know it.

My next race is in early November in Arizona. It's a Run for Your Lives Race and I'm going to be a zombie. A fast zombie wearing toe shoes.  Muaahahahaha. Forget The Walking Dead... I'll be The Running Dead.

The irony is that with this death, I breathe new life into myself.

Now pain free, I'm going to take advantage of it.

Toe Shoes and a 5K?

Smells like...


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Weston Ochse has spent 29 years in the military in one shape or fashion. He's a world traveler and an internationally best-selling author of high action fiction. Please Note: This article is copyrighted by Weston Ochse. Any reproduction in whole or in part without the author’s permission is prosecutable by public law. If you'd like to borrow part of this or see it reprinted, contact me here. Thank you. © 2013


  1. Wow. I'm impressed, Wes. Congratulations! And I'm going to look into those shoes.

  2. Run Weston, Run! Congratulations on victory in both the speed and weight categories.

    Jan Harris