Going the Distance

By Shawnn Slaughter

Originally published on Advocate.com November 16 2007 1:00 AM ET

People ask me why
I train for and run in marathons. My reply is,
“Because I can.”

I’m Shawnn
Slaughter, a 43-year-old single man and native Las Vegas
resident. I am a 22 year survivor of HIV. This marathon is a
testament to my survival and ability to bring
awareness of and assistance to people living with HIV.
That’s why I do it. Because I can.

I'm a substitute
teacher working mostly with emotionally challenged and
autistic children -- it’s a great challenge but I
love my job. I am also a versatile artist. Among other
talents, I have produced and recorded a solo album,
appeared in numerous community theater and professional
productions, and appeared in two long-running Las Vegas
comedy reviews. Most recently I dabbled in narrative
stand-up comedy in the Un-Cab Lab Show at the M-Bar in
Hollywood.

Experience as a Runner

In January 2006,
I began training for my first 26.2-miler, the San
Francisco Marathon with the National AIDS Marathon Program.
Before I started conditioning, I had been on
testosterone replacement therapy for three years. My
doctor stopped the treatment because he felt I was on it
too long and prolonged use could cause stroke or
cancer…like I need that, too. I thought if I
did something physical, I could jump start my
testosterone. In the lobby of the doctor’s office was
a display about the National AIDS Marathon Program. My
piqued interest became a running obsession.

I lived in Big
Bear, Calif. when I started training for my first race. I
would drive west about 100 miles to Los Angeles on Friday to
train the next morning. Then I’d turn around
and come home on Saturday afternoon.

In the middle of
my training season, I moved back to Las Vegas, but
continued to go back and forth to L.A. every other week. In
July of 2006, I completed the San Francisco Marathon
in six hours, two minutes and four seconds. My t-cells
were 108 and my hypothesis was right: my testosterone
levels were normal. Wearing my medal around my neck was
worth the time and effort.

Last December, I
ran the Las Vegas Marathon. I trained completely on my
own this time and had some difficulty completing the course,
which left me sore for days. The race was so
intense that my toenails turned black and fell off,
though they eventually grew back. Soon after, I
completed the St. Patrick’s Day Marathon in Boulder
City, Nev. I started training for the San Diego
Marathon but my medicine caused me to lose my
motivation and hang up my running shoes.

Six months later,
I got the running bug again.

I really enjoyed
my experience of training with the National AIDS
Marathon Program so I decided to do it again. I am currently
training for the Los Angeles Marathon. There are
differences this time. I head to L.A. on Friday,
stay overnight, and go to training on Saturday
morning; but now I drive home to Las Vegas. Sometimes I
stay the weekend. But I only do this for training runs
that are ten miles or greater. The rest of the time, I
am training on my own in Las Vegas. I carry a small
camera with me as I run and post the footage on my Web
site, RunShawnnRun.com to share with my pace group since I
don’t get to train with them too often.

Meds

I am currently on
a cocktail of three HIV drugs. I also take meds for
bi-polar disorder and benign tremors. Some meds have
interfered with my training. I discontinued HIV meds
right before training for the San Francisco Marathon
-- they were continuously making me nauseous and gave
me diarrhea -- yet, I ran the entire marathon. I have since
resumed HIV meds and am tolerating them well.

Training

I run for
endurance, not time. I do it for the challenge and
take a psychological approach to training. When I
run, I let my body relax. My upper body is
stress-free. My arms are bent without tension and my hands
and fingers are not clenched. I breathe normally. I do not
work or flex my leg muscles. I simply let my legs do
the work for me. I imagine a bungee cord suspending me
from my head and that I am bouncing up and down
without my feet touching the ground. I find this technique
immensely helpful.

In training, I
run with a pace group of ten participants. We average a
pace of 13:30 per mile. Running with such a friendly and
motivated group helps me stay on track. It’s a
morale booster.

So stay on the
lookout for me over the next few months here on
Advocate.com. I’ll let you into my world as an
HIV-positive man defying the so-called impossible to
finish my fourth 26-mile race. I will share my
obstacles and triumphs. I’ll examine my diet,
sleeping patterns, and my life in general as the big
day, March 2, comes closer and closer.

Thomas Carlyle
once said, “Endurance is patience
concentrated.” If anyone can attest to that,
it’s me.