Miles fighting melanoma

My oncologist only laughed and shook his head when I told him I planned to run a half-marathon three months after my last Yervoy treatment. I’m not even sure he considered my lack of preparedness for this race, his response was so quick. He laughed and shared stories of his wife’s determination, as a new runner, to run despite injury. He knew better than to argue with me.

I knew better than to go into this race with the intent to break a personal record. My only intent was to finish. Inflammation and neuropathy had caused me to stop running over the summer. I was happy I could walk and tried to convince myself that this too shall pass, but many times I wondered if it would.

Following prodding from the research nurse, I went to physical therapy, which produced almost instant results. Granted, I was still a long way off from 13.1 miles, but the pain was lessening. Slowly I began to add jogging into my morning walks, until I was jogging more than walking.

By the time I was released from physical therapy a couple of weeks before the half-marathon, I could run most of up to four miles, with only occasional periods of walking. To triple that distance in a couple of weeks is not the best advice for runners.

I had never gone into a race feeling this ill-prepared, but I constantly reminded myself, that I could walk as much as needed to finish. However, when out on the course, it’s not that simple.

Starting slow, I watched as many runners passed me, where on my better days, I would have been doing more passing until I settled into a pace. I consciously had to tell myself to listen to my body, to not push too hard and too fast. Going through the first four miles was like any of my daily workouts, but by miles five and six, burning started in my left foot, a sure sign that things were out of alignment.

I walked. I stretched. I walked. I watched still more runners move ahead of me. Doubt began to form in my mind. I knew I could walk the rest of the distance, but walking felt like it was taking forever!

Coming to terms with my limitations, I had no one to race against other than myself. I had to listening carefully to what my body was saying, since my brain was screaming a completely different message. Watching the miles tick off after the halfway point, I moved as fast as my body would allow, knowing if I pushed beyond that limit, I would undo weeks of physical therapy.

With one mile left, I didn’t want to walk any of that last mile. My daughter, who had finished ahead of me, came back to meet me, cheering me on for that last stretch.

I finished strong, which is what all runners hope for. As I crossed the finish line, I glanced at the clock, surprised that I finished faster than I expected.

There was no record-breaking pace. My time was 21 minutes slower than last year’s race – in the midst of treatment, but at the beginning of the onset of neuropathy and inflammation – and 26 minutes slower than my fastest time from two years ago.

Two years ago when my daughter and I ran our first half-marathon together, I blazed ahead of her. This year, she took the lead, bettering my fastest time by a minute. We both looked at our times this year and immediately set our goals for the next race.

I could have easily sat out this race, but that would be letting melanoma get the better of me.

Running gave me identity as a teenager. It gave me endurance through life. It gave me a bond with my children, something we could do together now as adults, each at our own pace, but together. There was no way I was letting anything get in the way of that bond.

Funny enough, my recovery from this half-marathon was the best I’ve ever had – because I listened to my body all along. The strengthening from physical therapy has made me a better runner.

Cancer is strange like that. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to you, yet it can give you benefits you would never have reaped without going through the battle.

With luck and training, perhaps I will smash my personal record next year. Regardless of finishing time though, every race I get to run with my family, is a blessing and a treasure. A faster pace is simply icing on the cake.

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