Oct 11, 2010

Running for my life

This is an article I wrote for the June 2010 issue of iRun magazine:

How many experiences in our lives can be classified as monumental enough to be destiny shifting - the kind of moments that are so powerful, they can move us all the way to the foundation of our core values? And if or when one of these events happens to you will you view it as hardship and misfortune…or perceive it as opportunity?

When 2010 began, the most pressing challenge facing me, or so I thought, was how to schedule the necessary runs to ensure hitting my 1:30 half-marathon goal in March. But as noted, life has the ability to humble you beyond belief at any point in time, and just a few weeks into the year my world was irrevocably rocked. At 36, I was staring in the face of - what I assumed would be decades away - my own mortality.

It’s too bad it often takes something life threatening to give us a glimpse of divine insight. And I’d like to say I’m different, but obviously not, because like many before me, my proverbial eyes were opened in a doctor’s office. When you’re diagnosed with cancer - in my case, a large intestinal tumour - two things immediately happen to you. The first of which is nothing; literally. You simply go blank, as if everything you thought you knew has come to a screeching halt. And second, the instant things do begin to move again, it’s with a mind jarring explosion of emotions; fear, anger, disgust, and in this case, surprise - a lot of surprise.

Yet, this isn’t a story of my emotional battle with and/or triumph over cancer, which at this point is still a daily struggle; it's about one very simple realization. Because, although there were a barrage of voices bellowing in my head after the news, there was one yelling louder than all the rest; and it was saying “you really, really need to go for a run.”

Like an addict needing a fix, I did need to run, and the next day had possibly the best of my life. Hopefully you’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy one of these surreal episodes and can relate. As I moved along - or more appropriate, glided - my body, my whole being, was in a higher state of awareness. Everything felt fantastic, connected, perfectly synchronized. The air going in and out of my lungs, my heart as it pumped in my chest, the rhythm of my feet hitting the ground, the feel of the wind on my face... It’s possible I could have gone on like that forever.

I used the run. Milked it for all I could, from its therapeutic effect, to its power to heal and strengthen. After all, it’s what we do, we use our runs to remedy all manner of ailment; it’s part of the allure and magic of our beautiful and peculiar obsession. And just three days later that notion was reinforced to me by a woman taking the 10k clinic I’d been teaching. I’ll never forget - as we jogged through the night, snow falling around us - how she shared with me her journey into the world of running. She explained how last year she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and after the initial shock wore off, felt absolutely compelled to prove her resolve, if only to herself. Now, here was a woman with zero running background, yet decided to go out and train for a half-marathon. And she met her goal too, at the Scotiabank Waterfront Half-Marathon in Toronto last September.

As I listened to her that evening, I really got it; it was perfect logic that likely only a fellow runner could comprehend. The truth is we are all motivated to do this for something, some internal force. And that connects every one of us. Think about it, when you see another runner what do you do? Even if you’re in the car and they’re ambling along the road side, you look. You look, because in that single glance you understand why they do it and you understand them.

Which means you also understand me, and in turn, my realization. It’s not about the things that happen to you, it’s about the things you make happen. Just like cancer doesn’t define who you are as a person. Seven-inch scars on your body don’t speak to the type of character you possess. Six months of chemotherapy can’t show people what your values consist of. But how you deal with and respond to adversity, says everything about you. And my personal response to cancer: a marathon when I’m done chemo treatments in the fall, and an ultra marathon next spring. That is who I am; and this is my opportunity.