This past Saturday I ran the Hawthorn Half Day Relay. It’s a little unique as far as relay races go, wherein teams are camped out in one location and everyone runs the same 5k loop over and over again, trying to tally the most miles in the 12 hour window. It gets real interesting, and exciting, at the end when the last 30 minutes is transitioned into an 800 meter loop, so all the teams gather and cheer on athletes knocking out 800 after 800 on incredibly compromised legs and lungs. Somehow, even after all the intense, consecutive trail 5ks, runners find a deeper reserve of energy and strength to lay down really fast 800s. It’s definitely a unique, “I can’t believe I’m doing this” kind of experience.
I’ve never been much of a relay runner, preferring intense, measurable, solo efforts to the party atmosphere of relay racing, but, well, cancer has thrown a significant hurdle into my running path and I’m more apt to take on anything I can get these days. I’ve come to really enjoy these efforts, and just appreciate the experience more than trying to gauge fitness or walk away feeling supremely accomplished. With that said, the appreciation I had to be running this specific race was greater than most of my past races as I had a connection to this race through my Personal Best Training teammates.
The summer following my diagnosis, my teammate Jesse Davis entered into the Ultra run category of the race, in part, as a fundraiser for my needs post-surgery. Never having run more than 26.2 miles, he managed to break the course record and complete 77 miles, raising a significant amount of money for me in the process. The same summer, a team formed to support me in spirit, calling themselves The FC (fuck cancer) Crew, winning the event by completing 118 miles in 12 hours.
I can’t underestimate what these two gestures meant to me. It may seem like a bit of lip service, just naming their team after my struggle, but I can assure you the encouraging words and recognition helped push me through darker times of treatment and recovery. On those days where I could have just stayed in bed, opting not to make it to the gym and run, I would be compelled by the many gestures of support by friends and strangers alike, who were putting in efforts of their own for me. The sense of obligation and reciprocation I felt got me out of bed, out of the house and compelled me to push myself to a new state of strength and recovery. Those gestures kept me pushing ahead, finding new levels of fitness, and had me back running and closer to the life I wanted to lead sooner than ever. Sometimes, just a few supportive words are gestures can have a positive effect you never imagined. Who knows, if it wasn’t for the accumulated support over the past two years, I may not have found myself running this race last Saturday. So to actually be out there, running myself, was more important than most probably realized.
Then there was the financial support from Jesse, who received donations and pledges-per-mile (I wonder how many people regretted doing that!) on my behalf, and even offered incentives for breaking the course record, which he did. On a personal level, I wish I could have been there to watch, but I was deep into recovery and treatment and was not able to make it to the race. Being out there this year, however, suffering a bit myself, and then watching the ultra runners keep going and going and going really brought home the degree of sacrifice and suffering he endured to reach his own personal achievement, but to also aid me in the process. I am wordlessly grateful for his literal endurance.
The benefit of the finances he raised through this effort were immeasurably important to me all the same. In concert with all the other fundraising and financial support offered to me during this time, I was able to maintain the stability of my life as it was prior to diagnosis. I could pay my rent, keep the utilities on, buy good food, and parent my son when he was with me. I was also able to concentrate on getting stronger and recovering well while I was unable to work. The emotional comfort of knowing that your only responsibility is to keep living and living well, while all the potentially disastrous economic obligations have been taken care of, can’t be understated.
I don’t want this to sound like I was taking an extended vacation. Believe me, no matter how good things may be, chemo is no beach resort. I actually did try to get back to working while going through treatment, but the ravages of surgery on my body were just too much. I accepted a couple jobs, only to back out at the last second when my body let me know it was too early. I truly couldn’t work. As someone who takes their self-reliance seriously, being helpless to provide for myself in some way did not feel good at all. Fortunately, the financial donations from Jesse’s ultra run and all the other benefits allowed me to continue waiting out my recovery and building my strength to a point that I could get back to work without issue…mostly.
But…here I am. I’m working (self-employed as a graphic designer and distance running coach…which is perfect for future surgery and treatment)….and running. I don’t have the speed that I did prior to diagnosis (still searching!), but I officially have the endurance. I’m knocking out 90 mile weeks and hitting 20+ mile long runs…and running consecutive 5k loops during relay races. And I dare say I might not be at this point if it wasn’t for the gestures of teammates in both word and financial action.
The same as those 5k loops during the Half Day Relay, things have come full circle, as I’m now able to use my strength and abilities for the benefit of others during my Because We Can ultra run down the state of Indiana. I feel a great responsibility to use every able moment I have for the benefit of others and this run is, personally, a gesture of reciprocation for all those that helped me in the past. During my training runs lately, especially as the heat and humidity has risen, I’ve drawn from the inspiration of those who will benefit from the money raised in the coming months, but also from the recognition of what others have gone through on my behalf. I know what it is to suffer and endure, so for others to do that for my sake is forever humbling, and it would only feels right to use my current strength for the same selfless purposes. Right now, all this drives me towards August 23rd when I’ll begin my run down the state for Family Reach and the patients and families they serve. Even if part of this run is, admittedly, for myself, the greatest impetus has been by those that have helped me in the past and for those who it will help in the future.
I ran the Hawthorn Half Day Relay this past weekend because it sounded like an exciting (and absurd) running experience…just how I like it. And although every run is a victory now, and I never forget the importance and appreciation I have for each effort, I was caught off guard by how much the experience would resonate with me due to the efforts of my teammates in previous years. I only hope I can reciprocate the appreciation for others all the same.
Thanks for everything friends.