My fastest half marathon time was on one of my favorite courses, The Humbolt Half Marathon (1:34). Running through the Avenue of the Giants is a humbling experience. These trees have been there longer than mankind! Thousand year old timbers looking down at us humans like we are ants. The tall trees are also magically. They create the illusion that you are running downhill even you are running up hill. Many runners have experienced this phenomenon, along with a personal best effort.
It was a few years ago and I was in great running form. I had gone up with a bunch of runners with the Tamapla Run Club. I was running faster than my usual pace and at mile 10 and started to feel the lactic acid weighing my legs down. But this gal from my run club was on my heels so I pushed harder. For the next three miles we battled it out. Pushing each other to dig deeper and keep on the pace. Encouraging each other with the occasional grunt or smile. Finally, the bridge was in sight and mercifully, the finish line just beyond that.
We crossed the finish line exhausted, jubilant and triumphant. At that moment my follow competitor turned and thanked me for the support. She explained that this was her first race back since battling breast cancer. I was in awe. This beautiful vibrant competitive athlete was also a cancer survivor. Lance Armstrong without a bike! Her pride made her glow with the joy of her accomplishment.
Little did I know at the time that I would also become a member of my follow competitor’s elite club – the Cancer Survivor’s Club. I was diagnosed in late December 2010 of uterine cancer. Early detection and a cutting edge surgery (pun intended), put me in the survivors category without radiation or chemotherapy. I will not be able to run for a couple of months. Walking right now is enough of a challenge. I am fortunate that in time I will heal. It is easy to get a little depressed, all that training gone and no endorphins to boost my mood. So I think back to that race in the Redwoods. That day when my best wasn’t good enough to beat my challenger who also just beat cancer!
I was fortunate to have lost this race to a survivor cancer because it gives me the confidence that I too can come back stronger. At the time I didn’t really appreciate what it meant to have survived cancer and have a personal best race. I do now. Recovery is hard and you have to stay focused on it everyday. I am gratefully that with early detection that I didn’t have to experience the full wrath of this disease. I should, if I choose to, return to top form, maybe even a personal best!
I have run with other athletes who had similar or much harder roads to travel. Radiation, chemotherapy and in some cases re-occurrence of the disease. All of these athletes treated their cancer like a athletic event: focus on your goal (getting healthy), train at a level for your fitness, relax and eat the best foods for your body.
Some well meaning friends and family members have suggested that I stop competing in triathlons and runs. Why would I want to do that? Cancer can’t change who I am or who I want to be. I am a competitive athlete and I have just beaten cancer. By comparison triathlons and half marathons will be a breeze!