I would like to say that I’m outrunning cancer….in the physical sense. But that’s not true. There is no evidence or study to really draw from, to determine that strenuous physical activity actually helps kill cancer. On the other hand, there isn’t the converse either. But that’s not what this post is about.
I do outrun cancer, mentally.
I have had the privilege of using my parents car while they’ve been out of town for the past two weeks and I’ve taken full advantage of that privilege to get down south and run the trails that are my second home, my cathartic escape from the abstract construct of our world, my heart even. They are where I feel most content, calmed. Which is funny, since they take a great amount of effort to surmount and do no small amount of damage on my legs from all the climbing and descending. No matter, the post-run calm is unparalleled. The experience is always the same too. I can count on the trails, rely on them to give me the escape that I need, the difficulty to hone my concentration and the finish to provide the relief.
These past two weeks of trail running, it has also dawned on me that the amount of concentration it takes to battle the endless singletrack, to reach for that precious relief, gives me no time to think about my cancer. I don’t run thinking about upcoming infusions, the specter of dying that always lies beneath me, or the degenerative process that is taking place inside me…even while I’m out there running. Cancer simply doesn’t exist when I’m running.
Sure, I can will myself to think about it, but even when I do it’s awkward. People that have cancer aren’t supposed to be running as far and as fast I am in that moment. We aren’t supposed to run without feeling even a twinge of the process, a small piece of the dying. Right? I mean…right?
But there I am, fighting my way up the switchbacks of Hesitation Point, pushing me knees toward my chest as I leap over the rocks intersecting the path, laboring my breathing to a controlled exhaustion….and somewhere in me is cancer. But I don’t feel it. I don’t even acknowledge it. When I’m out running I’m thinking of two things. Running. And food.
That’s usually it.
I’m thinking of how great it feels to be running, about a race I’ve signed up for, about an imaginary competitive scenario where I break the tape triumphantly, about..just…about running. It’s like my inner dialogue is somehow fused to the trail beneath my feet and I’m no longer separated from the complete environment around me. The forest doesn’t have cancer. The deer bounding and crashing through the brush don’t have cancer. The chipmunks flashing across my path don’t have cancer. The dirt, the plants, the decaying trees, the birdsong…they don’t have cancer. So somehow, when I’m out running, neither do I. I’m just a part of that distinct world that lies deep in the forest of Brown County.
Don’t think I’m being exaggerated or hyperbolic about this. Ask any trail runner. They’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s an entirely different EXPERIENCE, so distinct, so cathartic, that every stress and strain falls away as soon as you begin concentrating on where to put your first steps, and then every step that follows. There is no room for worries about work, about relationships, about dying and disease. There is only the trail and what it takes to complete the run.
So, forgive me when I take every opportunity available to get into the woods and onto the trails, whether that is after my less than encouraging CT scan, whether it is after a few weeks of accumulating concern, whether it is a spontaneous urge conjured up just before falling asleep…because I’m going to outrun cancer. I’m entering that canopy of leaves, those towers of skyward trunks and the white noise of communicating creatures to get rid of my cancer, even if it’s only for an hour, an hour and a half, two hours. However long I’m in there, no matter how reset and relieved I feel when I’m back to the car and the world comes crashing back in, at least for the time my feet crossed each other on the trail, my lungs and heart beat back and forth….cancer didn’t exist. It didn’t exist in my head and so it didn’t exist in my body.
I can’t describe how important it is to feel that, at least temporarily. To feel life without the sword precariously dangling above, always. To just feel normal again.
Again, pardon me for my excesses and freedoms right now, because I’m going back to the trails…as often as I possibly can. I’ve got unfettered living to do and certain unmentionables to outrun. Meet me at the trailhead.
With all this in mind…I’ve been filming Run Journals for my Legs & Lungs project. You can see the first two videos and come running with me, sort of, at the following: