Leave It On The Course

It was exactly one year ago I sat in a hospital bed, drifting in and out of a drug induced awareness, freshly cut in two and placed squarely back to square one. The Mother Of All Surgeries was relatively successful (however one defines that when cancer remains) and I was just beginning a process of slow healing. I could do little without intense concentration and a deliberate steadying of myself with every step. Walks to the bathroom were like crossing a tightrope. Every railing within reach was used to keep me upright. Relieving my body of gravity’s pull when getting back in bed felt like a race victory.

Eventually I made it out of the hospital and repeated the efforts at home, though mostly I just laid in bed all day, only taking precarious trips to the kitchen for futile attempts at eating anything my scraped and scarred insides could tolerate. Netflix and the kitties were my continuous entertainment. And the abrupt shift from pre-surgery running to a passive, disabled existence was taking it’s toll on my psyche as much as my body. I found myself drawn to watching extreme sports documentaries and anything that distracted me from my inabilities, creating the momentary illusion that I wasn’t cut in two, that I was able to embrace life, that all the possibilities of the world lay before me.

And then the credits would roll.

But that momentary illusion was, I knew, also only abstractly momentary, and with time I would build my body out of it’s weakness and back to the active life I refused to let slip away. How far I could take my body, I certainly didn’t know at the time. If you told me then, that at the end of the year I’d be running 50+ miles for 7 days straight…I’d think you were taking more of the pain pills than I was. But here I am…only slightly more resigned to the reality of this possibility than if I was told so a year ago.

On today’s strong, fast 6 mile taper run I was struck by a memory from that year ago passivity. I had found myself watching the documentary about the 12 year old girl sailing around the world…by herself. I remember laying in bed thinking, “What am I doing with my life? I should be doing something like this! Why am I holding myself back?!” Admittedly, I was on a consistent schedule of vicodin ingestion and maybe the sweet relief was timed with the watching of this film…but I know it wasn’t JUST the drugs. This feeling, this realization of life’s possibilities isn’t foreign to me. The idea that our obstacles, no matter how real, are not fixed, are not immovable, has always informed my motivation to make the most of my existence, and the feelings unleashed by this young girl’s ability and drive to do something absolutely unhindered and incredibly were not romantic. I know what a genuine motivation is, and I was feeling it.

Honestly, I can’t remember WHAT I was thinking might be possible. I might have considered running across the country, around the world, SOMETHING. I don’t remember…I probably soon fell asleep as was common after a couple hours of feeling well. And as time went on, I fell into the routine of my life, getting stronger, trying to get back on top of finances, sharing my life with Laura, parenting my son, and figuring out how to make the most of my days.

I had forgotten about the film and the compulsions it developed within me.

But maybe it had seeded itself deep in my conscious, stored with all the other romantic ideals that become too much for their compartment in my brain and ultimately spill out into some wild-eyed, hair-brained idea of mine. Because as I got stronger and stronger, my running becoming more and more consistent, the reality of my ambitions and a massive undertaking was growing at the same rate as my fitness. No doubt pressured by the immediacy of a coming surgery, an idea struck me at the same time a moment of romantic motivation did. I needed to make the most of my ability, my time to do so, if for no other reason…because I can.

But there were other reasons. My friend Chelsea had been rediagnosed with cancer (rest in power, friend) and I saw the opportunity to help. And then I considered the opportunity to help others in the same position as well. But at it’s root, I was going to do this because I can, because it was monumental, because it was a new boundary for me, because I had found the time and means, because…why not?

Too often we let measured reason and grounding dictate our decisions, pull us from the edge, keep us from turning those annoying, big talk internet memes into an actual reality. It is safer in that space. It is comfortable. It is “respectable”. It’s also, to me, boring as hell. That space is the reality that keeps us from thinking outside of convention, from believing in and shaping the world we want to live in away from politicians, authoritarians, fundamentalists, and scared children turned adults in charge of society’s prisons.

So when the forces that cross romantic moments and extreme ideas together found me last winter…I ran with it. It happened on a plane actually, and before it had landed, I was sketching out the outline as to how all this was going to come together. I knew it was going to take work, primarily in the form of running lots of miles, but I believed I could do it. And I did.

It wasn’t always easy, the heat and humidity drowning my attempts at strong running during the worst of the summer months, the overrunning injury I worked into my leg, and the derailment of a focused training plan late into the game, but pushing through the effort and getting to this week gave me a taste of what’s possible when the low points come at me next week. I’ll make it through.

I’ll make it through because I have the obligation of completing this run for everyone who supported me to this point, for everyone who donated to the fundraiser, for Dylan, for Chelsea, for all my friends and family affected by cancer, for all those I told I would I do it…and for myself, because when I decided to run down the state last winter, it was for the most simple realization that I COULD. It was because I had rebounded from one of the most invasive surgeries in the medical field, because I had a running life I refused to leave behind, because I simply could. And it’s an insult to those that CAN’T should you have the ability and leave it unfulfilled.

And so, no regrets. I’ve set a goal that, at this time, feels at the boundaries of my abilities. It is not a goal I can cruise through with only mild discomfort. It won’t be easy. It will be hot. It will take concentration, intelligent decision making, patience, fueling, recovery, and persistence. It will be an effort that fulfills a potential, that will leave nothing wanting when all is said and done.

In 2 months I’ll be laying back on that hospital bed, cut in two, placed firmly back to square one, walking the tightrope again…but I will do so with no “what ifs”, no “should haves”, no regrets, for I will have taken full advantage of this window of opportunity, I will have “left everything on the course”, I will have developed my abilities and used them to their absolute fullest.

In short, I will have lived as much as I possibly could…because I can.

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3 responses to “Leave It On The Course

  1. I hope everything goes well when you have your operation in 2 months! Sometimes we really take things for granted. Sending some good thoughts your way.

  2. Hi-
    You are always one, an exceptional one. I am with Cancer25K in Chicago. When I filled out the registration form it asked about any running experience. My truthful response was that I ran track in school. It was 51 years ago, but I am back to loving it. I probably won’t return to hurdles (yet.)
    Everyone at Ullman, the coaches and sherpas here are kind beyond description. I have cancer, but all I got back from it was wonderful friends who showed me more than how to get active again.
    You are indeed capable of anything.
    Good run, have fun!

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