By Carlos Montalvo
Sometime around September 2015 I went to a special foot doctor to figure out what was going on with my foot. Back in 2009, I began my bout with distance sports and participated in a Spartan Race. The Spartan Race is a 5K with about ten obstacles. At the time I ate like a typical college student- I ate Taco Bell, junk food, Doritos, soda, you name it. Somehow I skated to work, biked to work and remained pretty active. When someone asked me to do this 5K I said, "Sure!. I’m down." Somehow, I pushed myself through it and had a lot of fun. I was hooked! I did so many races just like that. My wife asked me if I wanted to run the Peachtree Road Race (10K). I said, "Sure, why not?" I ran it in Vibram Five Finger shoes, but I’m not a runner. In the fall of 2013, a colleague of mine said they were doing a sprint triathlon. "Sure, why not?" Every single time I did one of these huge races I woke up the next day in pain; My feet would swell, I couldn’t walk for a few days, sometimes I would go to the doctor. They would tell me, “It seems like a soft tissue injury.” I’ve been told I get soft tissue injuries my whole life: I sprained both my ankles skateboarding both in high school and college. I went to physical therapy for 8 weeks for my right ankle, and I still have issues in that ankle today! I used to be on a bowling team in high school, but I later found out in college that bowling with such bad technique for so many years would tear the labrum in my shoulder, which was something I almost got surgery for. I ended up doing another 8 weeks of physical therapy for that.
So there I was in the fall of 2015- a friend of mine calls and says they are doing a 5K. "Sure, why not?" The next day I woke up in minimal pain or soreness so I skateboarded with some friends. I fell off my board and the board hit the top of my right foot mid-trick. It swelled up that night, and I had to ice my foot. I was limping for a week, and got back on my board a week later. After about two weeks I suddenly started having pains in my right foot again, which was the same foot that swelled up two weeks prior. I started bicycling to work instead of skating to try and relieve the stress- No dice. I stopped all together. I was averaging about 60 miles per month in 2015 until September hit. I hardly hit twenty miles per month post injury. Walking was a problem! So I went to the doctor and when I did, I got the same response- Soft tissue injury. There was nothing they could do. So I had to learn to manage my pain. Training, on the other hand, became difficult as well. Of course, that became the introduction of my two kids. Though they are super cute and tons of fun, it leaves little room for being diligent when it comes to physical therapy and staying in shape.
When 2017 came around depression set in. "Do I have time to race or compete at the level I was? Do I have time to train? Could I race if I wanted to?" I reluctantly signed up for the Chief Ladiga Silver Comet Skate Challenge - a 188 mile distance skateboarding race spanning from Georgia to Alabama. I told myself that, worst case scenario, I would quit. I have never raced anything more difficult. It’s 38 miles from Smyrna, GA to Rockmart, GA on day one, 56 miles from Rockmart, GA to Anniston, AL on day two, and the third day is 94 miles all the way back from Anniston, AL to Smyrna, GA. Before 2017, I finished that race four times: In 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. This year, I was unprepared, unmotivated and extremely concerned about all of my collective injuries. My knee pain started around 2015 after my daughter was born. I’ve had knee pain since high school but this time, it was different. I reached out to my friends in the distance skateboarding community and got a lot of words of encouragement from my skate family.
I’ve realized distance training is much more than putting miles behind you. It’s overcoming obstacles in many shapes and forms: Injuries, illnesses, sleep deprivation, work, school, relationships, mental health; they combine to create obstacles that stand in your way to victory. This was my Facebook post after this year's Chief Ladiga race:
Well folks. Ladiga is a rap for me this year. I couldn't skate day 1 so I skated day two. With limited training but wisdom and the will to skate allowed me to finish 56 miles in 5:30:00 (my new PR). On day 3 I ran support and skated 43 miles back and forth with almost everyone in the race. So much fun to be had. I still can't believe I skated  miles. Hopefully I will see you all next year.
I turn 30 this year and my family is beginning to grow. Life is changing fast and making sense of it al is difficult. This year was a turning point for me, however. After participating in endurance races and dealing with injuries I figured out my “secret formula” to reaching your full potential:
- Mental Health: I didn’t know how much this affected me until this year. Mental health is something we don’t talk about very much but it’s a huge deal. You need friends to support you. A family to support you. You can’t do it on your own. You think you can, but we’re social creatures. You need to get your mind in check and do something for yourself. Why are you doing this race? What does it mean to you? If you aren’t fully invested in this event you won’t do well. Overcoming a personal goal is great but it gets old fast. I’m almost 30 now. I’m not trying to be the fastest person in the world. I’m just trying to enjoy myself one push at a time. Being on a skateboard is such a euphoric feeling. I don’t listen to music anymore. I just listen to the wheels rolling and the wind rushing past my ears. I monitor my breathing and my heart rate and thank the sun and the air for giving me a beautiful day to enjoy being outside. That’s why I skate the Ladiga race. Being outside and in the fresh air and the sunshine is my home. That’s what helps my mental state. These are all great and positive things, but everything in life is about balance; balancing the negative energy with the good. Negative energy is similar to junk food. You need to get it out of your body. Talk it out. Break stuff. Get emotional. Meditate. It’s all about mind, body, and soul. If one those pillars isn’t fully supported, the whole roof comes crashing down. When you’re 75 miles in and you don’t think you can keep going, you’ll appreciate the ability to tap into that area of the brain that you’re afraid to go. That’s why I love blogging and meditating. I want to know my OWN deepest darkest secrets. What am I afraid of? You won’t find that out sitting at your 9-5 desk job, so get outside and listen to that little voice inside your head. Find out what it’s saying!
- Digestive Health: Like I mentioned before, I used to eat unhealthy food regularly- Doritos, soda, Taco Bell. I don’t eat any of that anymore. I’m not a vegan, but I don’t eat junk food. No soda, no fast food. Sure I’ll grab Jimmy John’s or even Chick-Fil-A from time to time but I drink water or orange juice and nothing else. I received Vitamix for Christmas and began drinking smoothies for breakfast. Bananas, apples, mangos, orange juice, yogurt, spinach, kale, arugula, berries -I was learning about the healing power of fruits and vegetables. One reason I have so much soft tissue injury is because of my body's inherent need to stay inflamed. When your body is inflamed or stressed, it is harder for blood to flow and heal itself. Fruits and vegetables are naturally anti-inflammatory. I started hydrating like crazy and started using Tailwind, an all natural endurance supplement. I started feeling better and exercising more. I would eat five times a day, but when I got home from work I would snack on anything I could. Chips and salsa, crackers and peanut butter, whatever I could get my hands on. So I started on Tailwind to curb that appetite. One scoop of Tailwind is 100 calories. So you could do 64 ounces of water with 300 calories worth of Tailwind and be hydrated enough to curb that appetite. I began reading about the power of tumeric and ginger to be an anti-inflammatory and put it in my tea.
- Immune System Health: I fell ill many times when my kids were young. Why? Any stress in the body is inflammation the body has to take care of. I learned that certain types of tea not only boost your immune system but would also help with inflammation. I drink ginger tea, echinacea tea, tumeric tea, and chamomile. The hot water is also good at killing bacteria in your throat, where most illnesses start. Salt sprays became a regular thing in my house. I would boil some water, throw some salt in it, wait for it to cool down and douse my nostrils with it. It is painful, but I have not been sick in ages! Diet, diet diet. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away but so does vitamin C, tea, and honey.
- Pain Tolerance: In my opinion, I’m going to have pain in my body everyday. It’s all about pain tolerance. I did 108 miles a month ago while managing foot and knee pain. I’ve learned to listen to my body- "Do I need to stretch? Do yoga? Perhaps switch up the type of exercise? Maybe start up physical therapy?" I’ve done yoga to increase my flexibility; I stretch everyday when I’m not exhausted from taking care of my children. I bike to work some days. I skate to work. Sometimes I just run around with my kids outside. I do push ups, sit ups and squats in my living room just to get a small workout. I do knee lifts from time to time. I bought a massage roller to roll out my body. I bought Tiger Balm, a pain suppressing rub, for the bad days. It’s all about removing that inflammation from the body.
- Slow and Steady: I was able to complete 56 miles on Day 2 of the Ladiga race because of my training. My longest skateboard ride up until the day of the race was 12 miles. I used to be really into P90X and Insanity training but I started reading about high intensity workouts and how they might actually be damaging to the body. Again, stress can be good but high intensity is a lot of stress all at once. You need to train your body to handle high intensity situations, but if you fill up a tire with too much pressure the whole thing will rupture. That’s what high intensity training was doing to my body. On the other hand, I would skate about 4 miles every other day to work. Some weeks I would skate and bike every day. Some days I would go swimming, others I would go rock climbing. Some days I would go for a walk with the kids, or mow the lawn (I have a non gas non electric lawn mower so it’s a pretty big work out for me) or hit the skatepark. The point is, I kept moving everyday. It’s all about repetition. I likely won’t be doing more than 5 to 10 miles in one day (so long as the kids are young!).
Carlos Montalvo lives in Mobile, AL in his one story house with his wife and two kids. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of South Alabama and teaches Numerical Methods and System Dynamics and Controls. He got his PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2014. Carlos has been skating since he was 11 years old and got into distance skating sophomore year of college. Carlos has skated in the Chief Ladiga Silver Comet Skate Challenge 5 times. Read more from Carlos on his blog, Random Hacks from Dr. C.