The “cancer dates” catch me off guard now, but on this day 2 years ago I ran my last pre-surgery / pre-chemo run, which despite being nearly fatally filled with tumors and cancerous mucin, I was at almost full capacity and could run without concern. My legs remained strong and my lungs could fill completely with oxygen. I had no concerns and runs were swift, powerful…and enjoyable. No matter, that evening a pain filled my abdomen that never really subsided until about 3 weeks later when I found myself lying on my back and being wheeled into surgery. What followed has been 2 years that, at times, seems to have gone at snail’s pace, and then at other times, seems to have passed in a blink.
It has been, despite all the complications and struggles, a very rewarding and fulfilling time in my life. I’m not afraid to admit that anymore, despite the perception that I may actually WANT cancer. I don’t. But there is something to be said about making the most of a shitty situation. Still, not all is so great, despite my ambitions.
I always said, no matter what cancer takes away from me, I won’t let it take away my running if I can help it. Mostly, I’ve kept to that promise. I ran as soon as I could after the first surgery. I ran through chemo. I prepared for surgery by running. I started running very soon after the second surgery. And now I’m back to training, trying desperately to push my thresholds back to previous levels…and that’s where my trouble and apprehension begins.
Something isn’t right. I can’t tell you what it is, and I can’t point to any articles that might explain away my struggling, but I can tell you that running isn’t anywhere near what it used to be. Now, I’m not saying cancer has taken running from me. No, I’m certainly not admitting defeat that easily, but it has changed what running is at this moment. To be succinct, it’s not easy….at least not in the way it used to be or how I want it to be. And I’m struggling with this.
Right now, despite the full on training I’m carrying out with my coach, it seems as if I’ve hit a 7:00 / mile wall, that simply won’t budge. I’m used to running into a wall of abilities and incrementally pushing it forward, but this time it’s not moving. No matter how many miles I run, how many workouts I stack on top of each other, no matter how many sub 5:00 intervals I run, the 7:00 / mile threshold is not dropping. Other competitive runners might be compelled to point out training volumes and the coming taper period and all those sports science considerations, and believe me, they run through my mind as well, but I also know something else is going on. It’s just different.
I don’t want to blame cancer…or more realistically, cancer treatments, but the more I run and the more I stay at this level, it’s hard to ignore. To describe it physically, it feels like anytime I dip under 7:15/7:00 pace, my heart rate sky rockets and I can’t manage in legs or lungs. Everything just turns into a full on effort. 6:00 is no different than 6:30 is no different than 6:45, and it’s only until I get back to 7:00 or 7:15 pace that I feel I can manage any endurance. It’s quite demoralizing. I have no range and I have no speed. I just have running at 7:00 / 7:30 pace as if it’s a walk in the park…and that’s it.
So yeah, something isn’t right. And that worries me, because every physical issue always raises the concern of cancer. I can’t deny, with another CT scan on the horizon, the concern of my cancer growing has me worried. I don’t think about it often, really, but it’s never too far out of reach, and although I try not to get comfortable in my physically able state…sometimes I get a little too optimistic, or naive, or distracted.
Right now I’m running in what I keep calling “a window of opportunity”, which lies between my last surgery and this chemo-free period of time before my next surgery. I’m trying to make the most of it, hence this fundraiser and running outside of any previous limits, but I need to be careful not to get too comfortable, because I also know, with cancer, this window can come slamming shut. I’ve seen it happen to other friends and I certainly don’t want to deal with it myself.
I’m not internalizing this concern, however, or accepting it as a “fear” of cancer. I’m physically able, and the demands of this benefit run, no matter how testing they will be, I believe are within my range of possibility. I’m just more frustrated that, at this moment, running isn’t the experience it once was and I’m finding that I have to adjust to my circumstances and abilities in order to bring it back into perspective, give it longevity, and find the same value I did with progressing my competitive abilities as I did in the past…but this time in different ways.
Cancer hasn’t taken running from me yet, and I’m going to work to make sure that doesn’t happen. In the present, the treatments have taken my competitive abilities and potential to push further into faster territory, but I haven’t written off the possibilities just yet. I know the body has an incredible ability to regenerate itself, and I’m hoping I can facilitate that through continuous training. Even so, if I’m damaged enough that I can’t get faster, that I can’t maintain previous levels of intense pacing, I can still endure. I can still go and go and go, and that running experience is just as fulfilling as it is to run fast. Part of the reason I’m doing this fundraiser, to the extent that I’m running as far as I am, is because I AM confident that I have this in me, that I CAN run like this, and so it’s my responsibility to make the most of it.
Barring the window of opportunity slamming down on my aspirations, I’m going to run again and again and again, enjoying myself with each step, with each struggle, no matter that I won’t be pinning on a bib number and going for another win. For now, it’s going to be about the continuous experience and not the superhuman aspirations. I can live with cancer and I can live with that.