If anyone can reiterate the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle to improve your health, try talking to Luis Marcial. He is racing in the 2014 Brooklyn Half along with 25,000 runners on Saturday (17), and he shares his superhuman story with worldrunning.com.
Luis, 34, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2010. To his doctors' scepticism, Luis consistently shunned conventional medication prescribed to him in favour of something which might not be particularly orthodox practice in the medical world: running.
“I really didn’t want to take meds because the doctors didn't really know the full effect this may have on the patient,” explained Luis on why he refused conventional medication. “What I knew from all the research my wife was doing was that what I ate and how I exercised were going to be the only medication I could use.”
Luis refers to his method of regular exercise as “active medication.” While he doesn't plan his training weeks in studious detail, he aims to run between 30 and 50 miles per week with the occasional double day of running, and he places an utmost importance on eating healthily by replacing all of the bad foods with healthy alternatives.
“I don’t eat regular bread but I eat Ezekiel bread made without flour or sugar but has a very similar consistency to normal off-the-shelf bread,” said Luis on his diet. “I began to lessen how much meat I ate and became more of a vegetarian. I replaced rice with quinoa, and just kept a closer eye on what is actually in the food I eat.”
The consensus among his doctors was his methods were very unlikely to reap a palpable improvement in his condition but after six months of keeping faithful with active medication, his doctors were floored when a check-up revealed his A1c score was on par with the average. Luis had reversed his diagnosis, purely through running and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“The first doctor was very narrow minded and felt that meds were the only way,” Luis recalls, although some of the experts he consulted, while trepidatious, were still open-minded to the alternatives. “The second doctor actually gave me a challenge: she said do it your way for six months and if it doesn’t work, then we will try something else. When I proved to her that my way worked, she was very supportive and impressed with the results.”
His unprecedented recovery has even prompted the second doctor to rethink how she treats patients with diabetes.
“I believe my story is one she uses as an example of an alternative,” said Luis, who lowered his A1C score from above ten to below six (roughly the average) in the space of six months. “She tells me that most people just don’t believe they can do it. This is not to say that all her patients give in to the medication. It’s difficult when you are faced with a problem most people don’t know anything about.
“We unfortunately live in a very lazy society and when exercise and diet change are options against meds which allow you to continue how you currently live, the meds tend to be the easier choice.”
As well as challenging the medical hegemony, Luis, who jests he has become something of a diabetes guru, has also had an impact in changing how his friends eat, and how they perceive healthy eating.
“Most people are under the impression that if it’s healthy, it doesn’t taste good,” said Luis. “What I have done is brought friends together and cooked for them without telling them what was in the food. After they taste how good things are, they get a better understanding of how good healthy food can actually be.”
Diabetes is not the only thing Luis has battled. He ran in the Brooklyn Half last year, but any hopes of achieving his target time were scuppered when an IT band injury flared up mid-race, forcing him to a hobble. He still crossed the finish-line, albeit in a lot of discomfort, but having since altered running gait, Luis is fit and raring to go again.
He will cut an unmistakeable figure on the start-line in Brooklyn, as Luis always races in the outfit of his alter ego Superman.
“I’ve always been a big superman fan and when I started running I thought it to be the perfect way to stand out,” said Luis. “He represents a powerful message as the man impervious to almost everything.”
Likewise, Luis has proved equally resistant to adversity. The race has an added poignancy, as Luis was born and raised in the borough of Brooklyn, and the half-marathon also acts as a stepping stone to longer endeavours, as he will be making his marathon debut at the end of the year.
“Running the NYC Marathon is one of those things that as a New Yorker you must do,” said Luis. “I feel the same way about the five borough series put on by NYRR. As a runner there is no better way to show city pride than by running in each piece of land that makes up this great city.”