Dead last is greater than did not finish…

There’s a maxim that’s popular amongst runners it goes “dead last is greater than did did not finish, which trumps did not start”. My 23rd marathon brought this to mind yesterday. The Temple Newsam marathon was tough and, as my interest in this quotation implies, I finished last. That was a first for me. In a way it’s nice after 2 years and 23 marathons to still have new experiences, but it still hurt and it taught me a valuable lesson.

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About to start

 

It took me 5hrs55 and I struggled! A lot! It was a really undulating trail marathon, so a lot different to the pancake flat city streets of Manchester last weekend. Soon after the start today I knew I was in trouble, but I managed to dig in and stuck at it doggedly until I was done.

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That I finished at all has a lot to do with Helen, the tail runner. She accompanied me throughout the race. Having company on a long run is great. It raises you spirits. It’s not for nothing that Alan Sillitoe wrote his famous story, “the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. Running is a solitary experience and it can be very hard on the mind, especially when things aren’t going well.

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When the race started my legs felt heavy. I tried running for a few minutes, but there was nothing there, no energy and no spring in my step. As I began to walk, and was passed by the only runner behind me, my heart sank a little. My expectations for the race changed. I had wanted to get around in a decent time, while maintaining my streak of not finishing last in a race, but this switched in an instant and I was forced to rethink my plan.

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This streak was something I took a lot of satisfaction from. No matter how much I’ve been battered by treatment or how tired and weary my body has been, from running and training in the gym, I always managed to finish in front of others. I was very proud of this. But from an excess of pride comes arrogance and hubris. I have always tried to be humble about my achievements, but where running is concerned perhaps I’d started to feel entitled, like I was too good to finish last.

 

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I was sad when that runner passed me, but now I’m pleased for him that he did and stayed out in front. He was better than me. It was a great reminder not to take myself too seriously. I’m no better than anyone else. There probably aren’t many people running a marathon a month alongside chemo every two weeks. But that doesn’t mean anything at all in a race. Not one thing!

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With Helen after the race

I might have finished last, but I made it back before the 6 hour cut off for the race. It was by no means my slowest marathon and if I’d entered a bigger race with more participants there would have been hundreds behind me. But I wouldn’t have learned anything about myself or gotten to meet and spend almost 6 hours with Helen, a lovely fellow fitness nut and optimist. We had a great laugh. Besides, if I wanted not to be last I could train harder, or run fewer marathons. No one gets anything for free and as Oprah Winfrey has said: “running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it”.

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Getting a lovely post race massage from my talented daughter Isobel

Anyway it’s onwards and upwards to the London Marathon next week. A truly wonderful race and I’m very excited to take part for second year with my lovely wife Louise. I’ve not run marathons three weeks in a row before. Chemo every fortnight makes running hard and I’m pretty much running at my limit. Last weekend was tough, yesterday’s race was tougher still, but I’m determined!

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Running London with Louise in a few days. Can’t wait!

Thanks so much for all your donations so far. We are fundraising for three amazing cancer charities: Beating Bowel Cancer, Mummy’s Star and Rosemere Cancer Foundation.

Please click on the link to donate, any donations would be gratefully received:
www.virginmoneygiving.com/bensbowelmovements

 

I’m on facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

…and twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns

 

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Scanxiety

Scanxiety: Noun [skan-zi-etee]: Uneasiness waiting for ones scans after cancer treatment (thanks to Heather Von St. James for providing a succinct definition).

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Love my family. Us with the Mayor of Preston, Cllr Margaret McManus

I think it was my friend Julie that first made me aware of this term. Up to then I’d always thought it was just me that got ridiculously anxious waiting for scan results. It doesn’t matter how positive I am or how much I do to distract myself I’m still vulnerable to doubts and worries ahead of finding out if my treatment is still working.

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Louise and I got very muddy at Tough Mudder. It’s all in the name I guess.

It’s silly really over the last 34 or so months, since my treatment started working, I’ve had probably 10 scans all of which have shown that my cancer is stable and hasn’t spread. Recently though a courageous cancer affected little lymph node has been gradually increasing in size and has doubled over the last year. Courageous, because while it has carried on getting bigger, it is in a cluster behind my vital organs and has doggedly clung on to all cancerous cells it contains. It hasn’t bothered any of its friends, by allowing the cancer to spread.  Despite the fact my treatment has still been effective, waiting for results just never gets any easier.

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I’m really proud of all I’ve achieved, but I couldn’t have do any of it without the amazing people at Rosemere!

 

In the past getting bad results have left me in a state of shock and shaken the very foundations of my existence. When Louise and I were told that my second course of chemotherapy hadn’t worked and I wouldn’t be cured my hopes and aspirations for the future evaporated in an instant. I worried a great deal about my wife and three young daughters. For a few days, at least, I was sunk. It was horrible and those feelings never really leave you. Like most emotional pain it dims over time, but rears its ugly head from time to time.

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Proud of my eldest, Skye, walking Snowdon with us!

I suppose there are some parallels to be drawn between cancer scan results and running. In sport and with cancer; results are the ultimate reckoning. Running in a race can be tough. When you’re running at your limit, any niggling little injuries or lack of training is exposed. The clock never lies. But scan results are even less compromising. Just like running everything you’ve eaten, all the exercise you’ve taken, the chemo sessions you’ve put in all come out in the scan report. If you get bad scan results your treatment options at best change, or at worst decrease. There’s always an another race, another training cycle in running. But scan results are new, final and definitive.

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Marathon medal number 21 🙂

I’ll try and concentrate on the positives though. Since June 2013 my treatment regimen of Cetuximab and Irinotecan has been working. Since that time I’ve run 21 full marathons, including three ultras (and numerous halves and 10ks). In September I also tackled an 11 day 500 mile Scotland to Wales National Three Peaks cycle and Tough Mudder Challenge.

 

It’s perverse, but even with terminal bowel cancer I’m in the best shape of my life. I go to the gym on average 3 times a week, run 3-4 times a week and try and fit in a cycle ride here and there too. In a way cancer has been great for my sporting career and great for my fitness. Facing my own mortality has made me tougher and more motivated than I’d ever thought possible. I often wonder if  my pre-cancer self would recognise me now.

And this last course of treatment has gone well. I’ve not taken any breaks for races. My body has coped admirably with the side effects and my blood levels have remained good throughout. I feel strong and healthy, so really it’s hard to imagine anything bad coming out in the scan results.

Fingers crossed. Hopefully all our prayers will be answered and we’ll get positive scan results that show stable disease and allow me to carry on with treatment.

 

To read more about scanxiety and coping:

http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/heather/scans-anxiety-scanxiety-my-biannual-checkup-in-boston.htm#ixzz43WkOpo8J

http://www.curetoday.com/community/tori-tomalia/2015/02/10-tips-for-coping-with-scanxiety

 

Ben’s Bowel Movements on facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

I’m on twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns

 

Time and making the most of it

It’s amazing to think that I’ve outlived the life expectancy I was given when we received my terminal prognosis in February 2013. I was given 6-12 months and now I’m 7 months past that. It feels great to have what is in some ways extra time, but it comes with its own pressures. In my situation, living with terminal cancer, trying to make the most of time is very important. People tell me that all the time and to be honest I generally try to live that way.

 

Love my princesses!

Love my princesses!

This theory is sound, but in practice it’s much more difficult to achieve. It’s not easy packing as much into life as I can. Much of my time I spend in bed recovering from chemo. Lately, my side effects have been unkind and I have been more poorly than usual. This is hardly time spent living life to the full. But even if I was packing as much into each moment as I can, how do I make sure I’m living life to the full anyway. What is the measure of a life well lived? Such things are impossibly subjective. Besides, going out and living life to the full is quite selfish. I’d inevitably end up doing things only I, and not my family, want to do. I’ve already done this with my fitness challenge.

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Running is an inherently isolating and quite selfish pursuit for a father of three with terminal cancer to undertake. I hope the girls understand in time why I’m doing this.

Running so many marathons is quite a self-centred activity. I’m trying to do lots of good by trying to make my family proud, raise money for charity and awareness of Bowel Cancer, but I wanted to attempt to run 6 marathons in 6 months, because I wanted to challenge myself and achieve something memorable. My family and friends have given up whole days to cheer me on and help me in various ways and I’m very lucky.

I've had lots of support from my family while I've been running marathons.

I’ve had lots of support from my family while I’ve been running marathons.

An existence fixated on living life to the full could become quite hedonistic and devotion to pleasure has never appealed to me. Anyone that works so hard trying to enjoy themselves can’t be having much fun. Victor Frankl said: “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Had a fab fun summer with the girls!

Had a fab fun summer with the girls!

Such an outlook could only have a detrimental effect on family life and I worry about this. Certainly, a lot of hedonistic pursuits involve adult, grown up things and my family are everything to me. I’d never do anything to endanger them or jeopardise my relationship with them or my wife. But it amazes me what people say. I guess there’s a lot of received wisdom around expectations of how people, me in this case, should behave when confronted by a life threatening condition. When I received the bad news last year a friend told me if he had a terminal illness he would be tempted to go and enjoy as many experiences as possible, even sexually, and tick off the things on his list. I certainly don’t feel pressured to do the same. My desire has always been to spend time, and have experiences, with my wife and girls. But even if I stuck to packing in wholesome, family orientated experiences with Louise and the girls I can’t live a reckless life constantly chasing fun with my family, because my daughters need structure and stability.

There's a time and a place (Disneyland!!) for fun, but my children still crave normality!

There’s a time and a place (Disneyland!!) for fun, but my children still crave normality!

 

It’s almost impossible for the responsible father with terminal cancer to live life to the full, but I still feel under pressure to squeeze as much into my life as possible and I worry sometimes that I’m not making the most of my time. I have been blessed with this extra time. It’s now been 7 months since we passed the upper limit dictated by my prognosis last year and I don’t want to become complacent. I do want to pack in as much as I can, but I also want the girls to have as normal a life as possible. Disneyland is great, but sometimes children need and indeed crave the boring and routine.

What passes for normality in our house.

What passes for normality in our house. We have to fit in fun around family life and not go crazy trying to chase fun.

 

I am worried about time and my use of it, but I am obviously very grateful for the opportunities I have to be with the girls and make memories with them. There are milestones I have lived to see, like birthdays and my middle daughter Isobel starting school. But the most important thing that time has enabled me to do is build relationships with my children, especially my youngest Heidi who has recently turned 2. When we got our bad news last year I remember Louise saying she hoped I would live long enough for Heidi to remember me.

Heidi was tiny when we went to Disneyland in May 2013

Heidi was tiny when we went to Disneyland in May 2013

We received the prognosis when Heidi was approaching 6 months of age, so there was a point when this was a remote possibility. Last year when we went to Disneyland, before I started my current treatment regimen in June, I remember making videos with Heidi while Louise and the other two went on rides. At the time I was desperate to record me talking to her, so that she might just remember me. A vain hope really, considering she was only 9 months old. Back then she was so young there were only mere suggestions of her personality.

 

With Princess Jasmine

With Princess Jasmine

Now, having lived for longer than we thought I would, being remembered by Heidi is looking a little more likely. She is developing and showing signs of the person she’s going to become. I’m so lucky. Like any parent of a young child I’m really excited to get to know my toddler, especially as I didn’t think I’d have the chance. She’s very affectionate, loving and kind, but she’s also quite mischievous and headstrong. There’s no doubting her feelings for me. I know she loves me. Relationships with children are honest and their affections are pure. When I’ve been in bed all day after chemo or when I’ve been on a long run she calls out my name, toddles over and hugs my leg. Louise tells me that when I’m out Heidi asks her “Daddy run?” She’s not only pleased to see me, but wonders where I’ve gone when I’m out.

Love being with Heidi and seeing her grow. 2 is such an interesting age!

Love being with Heidi and seeing her grow. 2 is such an interesting age!

Of course all three of my daughters love me lots. I’ll never take them or their love for granted. That they love me so much is still a surprise to me. It’s magical and amazing. They are life’s greatest blessing and I thank God for them every day. Having this time with them is incredible and I want to enjoy life, but not to the exception of all else. Raising money and awareness is great and making memories for the girls to savour when they are older is good, but I need to make sure I’m not fixated on creating a legacy and forget to enjoy them now.

Need to make sure this lot are at the centre and not pushed to the periphery

Need to make sure this lot are at the centre and not pushed to the periphery of my life!

It’s a tension that lots of parents have to contend with. Most parents need to make sure that they have a good work/ life balance. Whereas I need to make sure I don’t die wishing I spent more time with the girls and less running marathons. I want them to love fitness as much as I do, but if the only memory they take away from me running marathons is that I meant I spent lots of time away from them, then I will have failed. They need me now too and there is a fine balance to strike and I’ve not always got it right. I’ve almost finished my six marathons in six months now, but during my next fitness challenge whatever that will be, I’ll do my best to make sure they remain at the centre of my life.

Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 marathons in 6 months in support of Cancer charities:

 

Great North Run 2014, didn’t think I’d be here again…

The Great North Run is a very important race for me. It was the first long race I did. My dreams of running marathons were born as I trained for, and ran, it in 2011. Taking part again on Sunday felt like I’d come full circle. There are lots of things I thought I’d never do. I say it all the time, so much so that it has become a bit of a cliché, but there was definitely a time when I thought Louise and I wouldn’t get the chance to take part in a Great North Run together. It’s another milestone reached, despite terminal cancer. I feel very fortunate!

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I was very excited to be running a half marathon with Louise and so proud of her effort on the day and her determination in training!

When I was diagnosed in March 2012 my fitness was a huge conciliation to me. Knowing that I ran the Great North Run in 2011 gave me courage to fight the disease. My doctors told me that being fit and healthy meant I would recover from surgery more quickly. This kept me going, in fact I used to wear my 2011 Great North Run finishers shirt a lot at the start of my cancer adventure. It was my shirt of choice as I recovered from surgery and went for treatment, a symbol of my resistance and determination to run again

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My Great North Run shirt was a symbol of my resistance and my determination to run again!

I wouldn’t take part in another race for more than two years after the 2011 Great North Run. A lot happened in the intervening years. Immediately afterwards I was very tired, so fatigued in fact I struggled to resume training. I put this down to the fact that I had run my first half marathon, my longest distance yet. Likewise, my poo was loose, but that was ok as it was obviously runner’s trots. Also, I was losing weight too, but that was fine, because I was training hard and I was becoming more lithe, great for a runner. But I definitely knew something was wrong when I started to get pain in my tummy before Christmas. Then in March 2012 I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer.

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Didn’t realise how ill I’d become around the time of my diagnosis. This was shortly after my Bowel surgery in March 2012

I ran the Great North Run this year for Beating Bowel Cancer. They’ve been a tremendous support to us and are one of the four cancer charities we’ve been raising money for. I ran just for them, because they work tirelessly to promote awareness of Bowel Cancer symptoms. If I had been aware of the symptoms I would not have dismissed mine.

I ran the Great North Run in a pair Beating Bowel Cancer bum shorts. They're a great awareness tool that get people thinking about poo and Bowel Cancer symptoms. Unfortunately I found myself at the butt of everyone's jokes. I had no choice but to turn the other cheek! There was a pair of runners in a donkey costume, so at least I wasn't the only ass!

I ran the Great North Run in a pair Beating Bowel Cancer bum shorts. They’re a great awareness tool that get people thinking about poo and Bowel Cancer symptoms. Sadly, I found myself at the butt of everyone’s jokes. I had no choice but to turn the other cheek! There was a pair of runners in a donkey costume, so at least I wasn’t the only ass!

People can be cured in 90% of cases if Bowel Cancer is caught early enough and knowing the symptoms is the key to early diagnosis. More info on symptoms can be found on the Beating Bowel Cancer website . If you have any symptoms please don’t ignore them, visit your GP.

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I met Mark Flanagan CEO of Beating Bowel Cancer in the GNR charity village. It was wonderful to meet him and Gemma Ali, one of the Fundraising coordinators. They and others at the charity have been very supportive of my efforts. I’m grateful for their praise and encouragement.

When I ran it on my own in 2011, Louise walked me to the start where it felt like a party was taking place. She made her mind up then that she wanted to be part of it herself one day. I know how hard it has been for her to train for it. She always prioritises my training over her’s. Also, sometimes I’m so tired from treatment that Louise is unable to leave the girls with me. Other times she’s too busy in the house or looking after me and the girls to go out.

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She’s not always been much of a runner, so to stick with her training through all these obstacles makes it quite an achievement. I never thought I’d ever see Louise run a half marathon and I think she surprised herself. Now, knowing that she’s capable of a half marathon I bet she’ll have a go at another half and then who knows? There certainly won’t have been many husbands more proud than I on Sunday in South Shields.

We did it!

We did it! Was very proud of Louise at the finish and of course Grace and Tony too!

It was an incredible day. Louise and I ran with my sister Grace and our friend Tony. The atmosphere was amazing. It’s a real festival of running and a celebration of all the different charities and causes being represented.

The Red Arrows at the GNR is always an amazing sight!

The Red Arrows at the GNR is always an amazing sight!

There are 56,000 runners each with their own stories, motivations and reasons for running. Passing over the Tyne Bridge with thousands of others is still one of the stand out sights and best feelings I’ve had in running.

About to run across the amazing Tyne Bridge.

About to run across the amazing Tyne Bridge.

Countless spectators cheered us runners on. The support was fantastic, just like in 2011, with people lining the whole 13.1 route. We got round in 2hrs37 (taking off time for breaks). Grace found it a little tough, but despite having trouble with her knee she didn’t stop running. I was really proud of her.

She's a tough one my sis Grace!

She’s a tough one my sis Grace!

Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 marathons in 6 months in support of Cancer charities:

 

Moving faster than a speeding bullet on the the Isle of Man ( sort of)…

The story of this marathon and the way it unfolded is much different from the way I thought it would pan out. As this is one of the later marathons I had been thinking about it for a long time. One of The things I thought most about was the likelihood I’d be last. With the size and quality of the field I thought I’d be dead last. In the end that was far from the case and I passed a steady stream of runners as I smashed my personal best by 37 minutes. That doesn’t tell the whole story as it was also a remarkable 1hr37 quicker than my time two weeks ago. But then this race was different. For the first time I wasn’t apprehensive. I felt stronger than ever after training hard on the street and in the gym and I couldn’t wait to get going. Being fitter gave me lots of confidence. I was hopeful of a decent time, but that to me meant anything under 6 hours, so running 4hrs53 was a real surprise.
A lot faster than I expected to run. I printed the 6hr pace band in anticipation I'd run at that speed

A lot faster than I expected to run. I printed the 6hr pace band in anticipation I’d run at that speed

Running a sub 5hr marathon meant a great deal to me. When I started running years ago, before my diagnosis it was my target was to run, actually run, not jog or walk the distance. A time beginning 4hrs something was my target. Something in that range felt like an achievable, but challenging goal. Obviously I gave up my marathon dream when i was diagnosed. Earlier this year I took up the running gauntlet again. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve been able to despite having terminal cancer, but running a 4hr something marathon was the elusive final piece of my running rehabilitation. I had begun to wonder if there were physiological reasons for not being able to run fast. Maybe my core had been weakened by the surgeries and having a stoma. Finally, I’ve been able to train hard enough to run that fast. Now though my ultimate goal of 4hrs30 is within range. I feel like he sky is the limit. All my distance PBs are within my grasp. I’m looking forward to having a go at my half marathon PB set when I was a fitter man. My 5k and 10k times might be harder to achieve, but I feel they are there for the taking.
Quite tired after the IoM marathon, but it was worth it!!

Quite tired after the IoM marathon, but it was worth it!!

All this with Tornado Bertha to contend with. It was incredibly wet as I stood in a shelter with journalists from ITV and BBC. The weather brightened enough that I could do an interview with Kelly Harvey from the BBC.
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Amy Mulhern from ITV was amazing and followed me around all day. Even if the weather did get considerably better it still mustn’t have been easy for her in the wet and cold.
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I set off really gently as I usually do. Even though I’d been feeling good lately, I still didn’t have enough fitness to know exactly how my body will perform. I got talking to Darren Kennish the sole wheelchair racer. At the end if the Ramsey promenade there’s a sharp hill and he sadly toppled back. It didn’t dampen his spirits and he carried on. We got chatting a little and he briefly overtook me, but unfortunately had to retire on medical advice half way. His wife was amazing have him great support and cheered me on too.
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Cracking guy Darren. He had tons of spirit!!

For the first half of the marathon I wasn’t too concerned about pace. I ran 2hrs30 for the first half, which is probably my fastest and the thought occurred to me that I was on for a PB. I thought I’d gone out too fast and that I’d fade. So much so that I didn’t bother to take photos during my first lap, because I thought I’d have a second chance. Sadly didn’t take many photos of the beautiful landscape on my second lap, because i was going too fast and didn’t want to loose time. It’s a shame because it really was beautiful and I didn’t keep up the video diaries I’d been filming. The possibility of a fast time was something I really couldn’t compromise on.
one of the few photos I took of the beautiful scenery, but i couldnt afford to lose time.

One of the few photos I took of the beautiful scenery, but I couldn’t afford to lose time.

It didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as some of the others. The absence of struggle and the comparative fluidity and calmness of my movement meant I could enjoy the race. I didn’t just like the race I loved it and not just the usual love of achievement against the odds and what my determination allowed me to achieve. I loved the running. The thrill of running a good pace and knowing I was going to smash my PB took hold during the second half, which I ran 10-15 mins quicker than the first. I could barely contain my excitement. I remember shouting to a pair of marshals that I had terminal cancer and I was going to smash my PB. Probably Not what they expected to hear from a marathon runner.
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Couldn’t wipe the smile off my face

I was struggling a little towards the end. my pace dropped to 12 mins/ mile in the penultimate mile. I had to dig in and keep the pace up. Luckily there’s a downhill stretch which gave me some momentum and I kicked on and finished strongly at the Ballacloan Stadium. I got an incredible reception at the finish

A few people came up to me and gave donations. Had a really lovely chat with Nikki Boyde who finished as the fastest woman in 7th place. She was really lovely and made no mention of her achievement. She’s the now the fourth person I know that’s running the Chester marathon, so I’m really tempted.  I met two amazing Celts, Peter an Irishman and Stephane, a Breton tackling 7 Celtic marathons for 3 fantastic children’s charities: Invictus trust, Ellies Haven and Action for children. Had a great chat. Brilliant guys. Had an invitiation to join them for their last marathon at the Eden Project in Cornwall. It’s a long way to travel, but I’m sorely tempted.
Peter McGahan and Stephane Delourme running the Celtic 7 Marathon Challenge

Peter McGahan and Stephane Delourme running the Celtic 7 Marathon Challenge

Another person I met with a the finish line was, my now mate for life, Robin Tillbrock. We got in touch on Facebook in the weeks before the marathon. We were on the same crossing and had a chat. He’s a very interesting bloke who climbed Mont Blanc in the months before. We went for a drink and something to eat with him and his family after the marathon. It was great to have the chance to get to know him, his wife Ruth and son Adam a bit better. Robin also likes to test himself physically and tackle new challenges. He’s taking on the Montane Spine Race in January. It’s an incredibly tough event, but I’ve no doubt he can do it. I really hope to be able to tackle a mountain or a climb with him in the future.
Robin was running his first marathon. He finished in 03:58:49 as 3rd in Men 50 - 54 category. Great work!!

Robin was running his first marathon. He finished in 03:58:49 and 3rd in Men 50 – 54 category. Great work!!

These marathons have given me a new mindset. I’ve got stores of determination built up and a set of endurance skills I never had before  which allow me to tough it out when I think I cant carry on. when coupled with a little fitness this results in a pace I genuinely didn’t think I was capable of. Can this be applied to fighting cancer and enduring chemo?
I'll keep running and fighting cancer as ling as I can!

I’ll keep running and fighting cancer as ling as I can!

The ferry journey back to Heysham was tinged with sadness. We had a great week away on an incredible island, full of amazing sights and lovely people. We were quite unprepared for the beauty of the hills, the incredible views and the breathtaking coastline. It was important for us all to spend some family time together after the marathon. Time with the Louise and the girls is nourishment for my soul and we threw ourselves in to having a great time and enjoying all that wonderful place had to offer.
We got what we came for!

We got what we came for!

I started chemo again last week  (Monday 18th Aug). It has affected my fitness. The side effects have been unkind. But I’ve worked hard to build my fitness in the last few weeks again and I’m going to work hard to maintain it. Not long to go until Berlin. Before then though I’ve got two half marathons to look forward to. There’s the Hilton Half in Blackpool on Sunday (31/08) my cousin Sam is coming to visit and is going to run it with me. Then the week after Louise and I with my sister Grace and our friend Tony and running the Great North Run. For lots of different reasons I’m excited about the GNR. Can’t wait!
Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 marathons in 6 months in support of Cancer charities:
 
Giving page:
Facebook:
I’m on twitter too:
@ChemoDadRuns

Luckiest man in the world…

One of the things I keep on thinking about is the amazing support I had since I started running marathons. I’m a positive person and that has stood me good stead during my cancer adventure. I’ve always tried to see the best in people, but believing in the best of human nature still couldn’t prepare me for the generosity and kindness that I’ve experienced in the last few months. It’s difficult to explain what this means to me, but I’ve received hundreds of messages of support on Facebook, Twitter and through my blog and received more than £8500 in donations from almost 300 people. It’s intoxicating, but in a good way.

Wakefield marathon didn't hand out medals, much to my disappointment. My friend Gina had one made up for herself , but then gave it to me. Thanks mate!

Wakefield marathon didn’t hand out medals, much to my disappointment. My friend Gina had one made up for herself , but then gave it to me. Thanks mate!

These messages seem to come through just when I need them most. There’s a wonderful community of people out there, strangers who share their spirit and warmth with me. This encouragement makes me smile on treatment days when I’m part way through a 7-8 hour bout of toxic, nauseating drugs. Sometimes, it gives me hope when I doubt myself and my determination or fitness. People reached out to me when I was exhausted with chemo side effects before the Wakefield Marathon, when I was wondering how I could possibly run 26.2 miles the next day. Encouragement at that time gave me the strength to dig in and run a whole marathon. There are occasions when I simply can’t be bothered to train. A total stranger reaching out to me at that time gives me the kick I need to get out of bed in the morning.

Chemo selfie. Receiving encouraging messages during treatment makes me smile when I need to most!

Chemo selfie. Receiving encouraging messages during treatment makes me smile when I need to most!

And there are times when the running is the least of my concerns and training is the furthest thing from my mind. I suppose it is inevitable, but there are times when I get in a funk. I’ve lived with terminal Bowel Cancer for 17 months now. It’s been great to focus on the running recently, but there are still times when I worry about my family, especially my wife and girls. I think about their futures and the fact I won’t be around to help them or just to see them grow. When I’m struggling, people’s comments can touch my soul and ease my worries.

It's inevitable, but I worry about my wife and girls.

It’s inevitable that I worry about my wife and girls.

In the last month, inspired by my friend Tom Hacker, I’ve started a Ben’s Bowel Movements Facebook group. In the short amount of time it’s been online the group has had almost 500 likes and a stoma selfie I posted last week had more than 11,000 views, which is an incredible number for a bloke with cancer that runs a bit (and not very well).

Took some courage to post this, but I was rewarded by some amazing comments and it gave me a boost!

Took some courage to post this, but I was rewarded by some amazing comments and it gave me a boost!

It just seems at times like there’s no end to the kindness. Since I began my cancer adventure and especially since I started Ben’s Bowel Movements I’ve experienced a distilled version of life, including only the very best humanity has to offer. People care deeply and are capable of such amazing generosity and warmth and it’s partly because I’m ill I’ve achieved this knowledge. I might be dying, but I often feel like the luckiest man alive.

 

Out running on the docks with my dear mate Simon. Thanks for always waiting for me when I'm late, which is always!

Out running on the docks with my dear mate Simon. Thanks for always waiting for me when I’m late, which is always!

 

Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 marathons in 6 months in support of Cancer charities:

 

To make a donation please visit my giving page:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/BensBowelMovements

 

Please like Ben’s Bowel Movements on Facebook:

Facebook.com/6marathons6months

 

I’m on twitter too:

@ChemoDadRuns

 

 

 

New adventures in punishment (aka what it feels like to run a Marathon with little or no fitness)

I’m conscious that each time I write a post-marathon blog I seem to be constructing a tale of runner’s woe: ‘this marathon was hard, the hardest thing I’ve ever done and much harder than the last one I ran’. Despite the fact that it’s true and this marathon was indeed harder than the last one, I feel like a broken record repeating the same line again and again. Ben’s Bowel Movements, the challenge I’ve set myself of running 6 marathons in 6 months is fast becoming a thorough examination of my resolve. I’ve written before that I expected to gain fitness as I ran more marathons, not lose it as has happened so far. In fitness terms I’m running on fumes and making up the difference by relying on sheer determination. It feels like each time I run a marathon I’m subjecting my body to a new level of punishment. When I ran Blackpool it was probably the hardest thing I’d done. That effort was surpassed by the Brathay Windermere marathon. My toil there on the hills and in the heat comfortably became the toughest thing I’d ever done. Third time around I didn’t think it possible again, but just when I thought I knew what to expect from chemo, my body and the running something new was thrown up. Whether or not I wanted it, I was again given the chance to master an even more punishing situation.

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The fortnight before my third marathon in Wakefield I’d had probably the worst cycle of chemo I’d ever. At the end of my treatment day I knew something wasn’t right. After 6.5-7hrs of treatment I’m usually crippled by nausea and feel so sick I can’t talk. However, this usually lifts after I’ve slept and had something to eat. The day after I spend most of the day in bed, but I at least feel like I’ve returned to the land of the living. This time, the day after treatment I still felt really shocking. The nausea gave way to exhaustion and it became clear that I was dealing with some pretty severe chemo side effects. Diarrhoea might seem like quite a trivial ailment to have, especially when compared to cancer, but it strips your body of minerals and saps all your strength. For most of the the next two weeks I was in pain, felt weak and didn’t want to get out of bed (which, my wife reminds me, also made me grumpy and frustrated).

Emma and Dan are great friends of us and took care of the girls while we went to the marathon course. They even made a sign with the girls.

Emma and Dan are great friends of us and took care of the girls while we went to the marathon course. They even made a sign with the girls.

 

When it came to the weekend of the marathon I was still poorly and spent the day in bed before the race. I hadn’t trained for almost two weeks and I’d be lying if I said I had no doubts about running the marathon. But before I went to bed on the eve of the race I’d made up my mind to run and was determined to finish, no matter what! By hook or crook the Wakefield marathon was going to be run and with little or no fitness the difference was always going to be made up by my determination and resolve to get to the end. As much as I didn’t want to I was forced to discover new resources of determination and resolve to get to the end. These times of adversity are when you learn most about yourself. Just like receiving a cancer diagnosis, or getting the news that your cancer is terminal. You never know how you’ll fare in a given situation, until you’re there. I’ve faced those things and I’ve learned just how tough I really am. Perhaps I might not look it, but I’m tough, I’d just rather have discovered it some other way, not through cancer. By the same token I’d rather not have woken the morning of the Wakefield marathon facing the prospect or running a marathon without any miles in my legs.

 

It was a hard hard race!

It was a hard hard race! Great to support from Kenny and Pete!

Imperfect or incomplete prep isn’t new to me, but this time it was different. From the start I knew I’d have help getting round from a cracking guy, Tom Hacker. I got a lot of reassurance from that. Tom is an all round great guy and the fittest, most dedicated amateur athlete I’ve met. He has raised £30,000 for cancer charities so far in his fundraising career and is hoping to raise £20,000 during his next challenge running Coast 2 Coast in August. It was great to have a serious fundraiser like Tom along to help me, but more than anything else he’s a top guy and despite his questionable taste in movies (whadyya mean Signs isn’t a great film?) excellent company! During my cancer adventure and especially since I’ve started my fitness challenge I’ve come into contact with lots of people who’ve been touched by cancer, many of whom have lost someone. It would be natural for them to shy away from this snarling beast and not to want to have anything to do with cancer or other sufferers, but in a lot of cases something really special happens. They don’t shy away, they reach out to others and do all they can to help fight cancer by raising money, awareness or supporting patients. In doing so, they turn this snarling beast in to something a little less scary. Tom and I have both faced hardship through cancer, but we are also proof that cancer cannot dim the human spirit. At the Wakefield marathon we spent the day sharing our stories and our determination not to let cancer and all it’s taken from us get in the way of us achieving our goals. I came away feeling more motivated than ever.

10407920_1530278237200788_929488733269776017_nObviously I didn’t know what to expect from myself in the race, but we just took it easy to start with. Tom set a good pace at roughly 12 min/ mile pace for the first 12 miles. After that I started to struggle and walked a bit. We still got through the first half marathon in around 2hrs40. If I could have maintained that pace I could have run a PB. I’m not too disappointed the second half took 3hrs30, because I really wasn’t carrying any fitness into this race, but I think it’s encouraging for the future. If I can scrape some fitness together then a sub 5hr marathon in the flat conditions of Berlin might possible. I took a pit stop at the halfway mark, when once again Louise proved how amazing she is. I was quite stressed at the physical state I was in and was a little short with her. But she was at her sunny best, and despite my behaving like a berk she sorted me out. I have never felt so shocking half way through any race I’ve run. It could have been easy to stop. During the race Tom asked me why I was running my marathons. Raising awareness of Bowel Cancer is very important to me, as is raising money, but the thing that really galvanised my resolve was the image I had of my girls and my burning desire to make them proud. I couldn’t stop, despite the times when it hurt and the times when it really hurt and my legs screamed at to stop. There was no spring in my step and at times, roughly every few steps I took after mile 12, it was a nasty attritional effort. I was stopping to walk quick frequently and if Tom hadn’t kept on top of these breaks it could really have taken a great deal longer. Surprisingly, I ran the marathon in 6hrs10, so quicker than Windermere. Tom’s help made a ton of difference. I’ve never felt as bad when running as I did in Wakefield. In a lot of ways I had no right to be running a marathon being so unfit, but I can draw an immense amount of satisfaction from finishing the race, despite how broken my body was. Even though I’d spent a lot of in pain I really enjoyed the day, especially chatting with Tom. It was great to hear his story and share mine. Wish I hadn’t been so wrecked as I could have chatted and appreciated his 80s workout anthems more.

 

Really glad on Tom's support. Most of all it's great meet one of the world's good guys.

Really glad on Tom’s support. Most of all it’s great meet one of the world’s good guys.

I had some great support at the race. Louise and I estimated 25-30 people supported me on the day. Some of them ran with me for a spell, others handed me food or water or simply cheered me on from the side of the road, or like Grace all of the above! I appreciated the time and effort all of them put in. They were always where I needed them and I’m grateful.

Had tons of help on the course

Had tons of help on the course

 

It’s a wonderful feeling having the support of your friends and family, but sometimes I’m guilty of taking the most important one for granted. Some of my friends and family have an idea of how tough my life can be, but Louise knows for sure.

Love you Louise!

Love you Louise!

This isn’t a judgement on everyone else. It’s a tough thing to do to show someone how poorly you get and Louise allows me to keep my dignity by answering the door when I’m ill. Given it’s Louise who puts me back together after chemo, she knows how much harder I’m choosing to make my life, by tackling marathons while undergoing chemo. Love isn’t always in the things people say, but the things they do and even the things they don’t. I felt Louise’s love at the start line. She could have stopped me and other girls might have, but she knows just how much this means to me. This is my chance to do run, to challenge myself and make memories for my daughters, it’s now or never. Now that I’ve got three marathons under my belt nothing is going to stop me now!

Love this lot!

Love this lot!

 

Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 Marathons in 6 months in support of cancer charities:

Giving page: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/BensBowelMovements

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/6marathons6months

Please follow me on twitter @ChemoDadRuns