Fresh off the heels of his second New York City Marathon, Eric Lugo has become an inspiration to many who have known him since he started a transformative journey two years ago. His interest in running was kickstarted when he and several friends challenged one another to a tough mudder competition. That competition led to a dozen other races over the last two years including three marathons, four half marathons, and multiple obstacle courses. In addition to helping Eric feel accomplished, blessed, happy, and energetic, running has transformed Eric through weight loss that many of us at The Caledonia have noticed and have been inspired by. Eric took some time to speak with me about his love for running, what his favorite routes are, and the surprising ways he has inspired others.
Lance: How did your transformation begin?
Eric: I guess I could say that the first seed was planted several years ago while I was working at the reception desk. A resident came in on the day of the NYC marathon after running it himself. He was in a hurry and didn’t have time to stop in his apartment to drop off his medal, so he asked me if I could hold onto it until he returned. I looked at it in my hand and thought, “26.2 miles? That’s crazy. I could never do that.” That turned out to be very untrue for me. I’ve often wondered how many people have had an experience like that where something seemingly impossible later became a hobby.
Lance: So how did you start running?
Eric: I saw an ad online for a mud run and I had wanted to do one for a long time but never thought I would. My friends and I challenged each other to do it and we actually stuck with it. It was a 7 mile obstacle course. When we finished, we just kind of looked at eachother like, “Wow! We did it!” We had such a good time that we have kept it up and have done many runs together since. That was the beginning of my transformation and a couple of my friends also went through a transformation as a result. Then one day, very last minute and spontaneously, I did a half marathon. I had never run that distance in my life. The most I had ever run was 10 miles. Once I completed the half I realized, “If I can do that, I can do much more!”
Lance: How many marathons have you done?
Eric: My first marathon was last year’s NYC Marathon through the Team for Kids Charity. This year I did the “Beat the Blerch” marathon on a trail through the woods in Morristown, NJ. It was started by a man, Matthew Inman, who is a cartoonist and writes a blog called The Oatmeal (check it out). He loves sweets so when he organized the marathon, he planned it so that instead of water and granola bars, the marathon route had grape drink and cake. I did that marathon the day after running the Bronx 10 Mile Run. I also completed my first triathlon this year, the NYC Triathlon, in July. The Hudson water was filthy but the experience was wonderful. This year’s NYC Marathon was my third marathon.
Lance: You’ve become an inspiration to others! Tell me about a time that you realized your transformation helped motivate someone else?
Eric: I honestly don’t think of myself as that much of an inspiration to others. But I remember lots of folks (especially at work) were surprised by my weight loss. I guess I don’t notice the difference as much as others do. Many people would ask me what was my ‘secret’. My response would usually be something along the lines of “I just run. Not fast. Just consistently.” It would be a shock to most when they realized my diet hadn’t changed much, except that I grew a taste for seltzer and carbonated waters. One day, after coming back from a dinner break, I ran into a resident’s ex-boyfriend. At first, I didn’t recognize him. But he recognized me and was ecstatic to see me. He’d lost so much weight, that he looked like a completely different person. He gave me a big hug and told me that it was thanks to me that he looked the way he did. He told me that I inspired him and that things I said had changed his outlook and approach. I couldn’t even remember specifically what I said, but I realized it had a more positive effect on him than I’ve seen in anyone. He was the most energetic I had ever seen him and he currently runs laps around Prospect Park on a daily basis. It was probably one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had associated with running.
Lance: What has running done for you?
Eric: Running gives me a runner’s high, endorphins, good energy. I feel good when I run and it clears my mind. It is a lot of fun and I know that there will come a time when I won’t be able to anymore, so I take advantage of the ability to run now. Sometimes I see someone walking with one leg or someone too old to walk, or too heavy, and it inspires me and gives me will power. It reminds me that there is no reason I can’t do it.
Lance: Where do you run?
Eric: When it comes to routes, I started doing laps around my local park and soon realized parks are actually designed with a distance in mind for the sake of runners. Tompkins Square park (0.5 mi) was my starting point. It was great in that it’s familiar, not too intimidating, and still gave me a sense of accomplishment. Shortly after I started running in Central Park. It has an incredibly welcoming running community and a perfect place to practice a 10k distance or more. When 5-6 mile distances became a regular routine for me, I would make it part of my commute home. Working in Chelsea and living on the Lower East Side are both very close to the FDR and West Side Highway. So I make my way down to Battery Park via West Side Highway and cross over to the FDR. If I ever need to increase the distance, I cross back and forth between either the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge or The Williamsburg Bridge. When weather permits, I explore other areas. Coney Island, The Cloisters, Palisades Park (and trails), Flushing Meadows/Corona Park, College Point in Queens, Randalls Island (A great hub to switch between boroughs by the way), The Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Boulders, The Bronx Zoo, New Roc City, Prospect Park and all the Local Beaches. Aside from getting to try a local neighborhood cuisine that I might not normally go to, the destination itself is its own reward.
Lance: Do you ever get bored with running?
Eric: Sure, there are times when I have to force myself to run because I’ll think, “I don’t want to do this today. I’m tired. I don’t feel like it.” But then I go anyway because I’m training for a race and there may only be a few weeks left to train. I also get bored sometimes when I need to change my route or the time of day I’m running.
I watched a great documentary, Run for your Life, about Fred Lebow, the man who founded the New York City Marathon. He said he got bored with sameness and that running is for life, so that if you don’t mix it up, it will not be as enjoyable. This is probably why a lot of folks, including myself, try greater distances and do triathlons and obstacle courses. They add variety. The different races push my limits and help me not be afraid to take a chance. It’s kind of like, “I didn’t know I could do that!” The worst that can happen is that I will fail. Whatever!
Lance: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me and for inspiring all of us. Keep up the great work.