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Going the

Going the


The Advocate's new resident marathoner shares the intricacies and the joys of training for the Los Angeles Marathon (his fourth!) as an HIV positive man.

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 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, to share with my pace group since I don't get to train with them too often.


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.


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 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.

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Shawnn Slaughter