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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Marathon 22 done, 23 here we come…

It was my second Greater Manchester marathon. The atmosphere was amazing and although I wasn’t as fit as last year and my running was disjointed I had an absolutely wonderful time.

One thing I’ve learned from running the marathon twice, in 2015 as a fit runner going for a time and last weekend, as a more relaxed runner just looking to get round, is that marathons just hurt. Regardless of your targets for the race. When racing a marathon and going for a time you strain every sinew and try and extract every last ounce of speed. It hurts! At the end of the race last year my sprint finish was more hobbling, less running. I broke myself last year a little, but it was worth it. I knocked 38 mins of my PB and finished in 4hrs14.

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Hobbling to the finish last year

Last weekend I didn’t have the fitness to run the full 26.2 miles continuously, so it was very stop/start. I had struggled to get any momentum in training. So I strained every sinew, not to extract every last ounce of speed, but just to summon every last bit of determination (and everything else I had) just to finish. It’s amazing how breathless you get when your body is in crisis and you’re trying to place on foot in front of the other. I finished in 5hrs24 and I learned that no matter how fit or unfit you are marathons just hurt!

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With my dear mate Fay before setting off

But no matter how tough it was I never lost my joy. That was in part because of how great it is to run with my mate Fay. No matter what we always have a laugh. Even if I’m joking about the various ways in which my body was malfunctioning, the knee that went into spasm or the feet that just didn’t stop aching. There are serous things in life, like illness and the cancer treatment I’d have the day after this race. Running isn’t like that, it’s a luxury, a joy.

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Having chemo the day after the Greater Manchester marathon, my 22nd full marathon

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t in great shape. I’m just lucky to be running. In the last year I’ve lost many friends to cancer. Losing people like Ric and Max, two of life’s loveliest blokes, makes me more determined than ever to do as much as I can to raise awareness of cancer symptoms, issues and of course funds.

Lining up at any race start line is a privilege. My own cancer could stop me running at any point. I feel lucky to be taking part at one of the biggest marathons in the country for a second year. But I’m truly blessed to still be alive three years after being told I might not last 6 months. Three very important years with my three young daughters Skye 11, Isobel 6 and Heidi 3 and my wife Louise. I truly am a lucky guy!

It was great to see so many friends in Manchester during the marathon, runners and spectators alike. I was especially pleased to see John, a bowel cancer patient like me, and his wife Jude on the course. I was struggling a little at that stage and when I saw them I got a little emotional. I was reminded of why I’m running- to try and help other patients. The joint Lymm Runners and Red Rose Road Runners water station at the 8 mile marker was amazing. I have many friends at both clubs and was given a rousing reception. It gave me a huge boost and sustained me through the next few miles.

My body started to break down more and more towards the end of the race, but I always like to finish strong. Despite my physical condition I was raise my pace in the straight. Cheered on by a huge contingent from my club Charlton Runners near the end I spent every last ounce of strength, summoned my last drop of resolve and attempted to muster a finish worthy of a great bloke and like my mate Eric. He’s another bowel cancer patient and is sadly not doing so well at the moment. I dedicated my race to him and did my very best. I hope I did him proud!

I’ll definitely run the Greater Manchester marathon next year, if I’m well enough. It’s an amazing race and the biggest we have locally. It was wonderful to be greeted by people I’d never met. Very kind indeed. There was also a spectator that called me ‘Ben’s Bowel’. It’s amazing that people have heard about me and know about what I’m trying to do.

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Was pleased to have the chance to talk to That’s Lancashire about bowel cancer awareness month in the week.

This was the first of three marathons I’m running this month. Today I’m running the Temple Newsam Marathon on the outskirts of Leeds. Next week I’m running the London Marathon with Louise, my wife. It’s going to be tough, but I’m determined!

We are fundraising for three amazing cancer charities: Beating Bowel Cancer, Mummy’s Star and the Rosemere Cancer Foundation. Please click on the link to donate, any donations would be gratefully received:

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/bensbowelmovements

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

 

What an adventure, but now what have I let myself in for?

Been a while since I started writing this blog and I’m about to tackle my next big fitness challenge, so it felt like the right time for a bit of a recap. As many of you know I have been battling bowel cancer for more than three years. During this time my family and I have been through a lot. I’ve had two major surgeries and almost 60 fortnightly doses of chemo. We’ve certainly had our fair share of ups and downs, but this hasn’t been a depressing or hopeless time. We’ve always done our best to stay positive and fill our lives with happiness.

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I love my family. My wife and daughters give me strength and make me smile.

Two years ago I was given a terminal prognosis. My life was turned completely upside down. Life can be cruel sometimes and in an instant all my hopes for the future evaporated. My wife and children are my life, so being told I wouldn’t have the long and happy marriage I yearned for or the joy of seeing my beautiful girls blossom into young women and one day have families of their own was heartbreaking.

I adore my girls!

I adore my girls!

But I still wanted to achieve something with my life. Up to that point, the first two years of my cancer adventure, it felt like I’d let cancer take the lead. I didn’t want cancer to define me any longer, so despite my illness I pushed myself to start running again. I desperately wanted my life to mean something and running 6 marathons in 6 months seemed like a great way to start. I couldn’t stop at 6 marathons and I have now run 17 marathons over the last 17 months. Along with my friends and family, and thanks to the generous donations of lots and lots of people, I’ve raised more than £30,000 for cancer charities. An amazing amount of money and far beyond even our wildest dreams. When we started we’d hoped only to a fraction of that.

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Winning the Manchester Evening News competition to start the final wave of the Great Manchester Run and meet Paula Radcliffe was an incredible honour, one of the greatest things I’ve done. I feel very fortunate to have had opportunities like this.

The past year or so has been wonderful. We’ve done some amazing things and met some fantastic people. As well as raising money I had also set out to promote awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and hopefully make my family proud. With any luck I’ve managed to do some or all of these, but one thing I hadn’t planned was the effect all this exercise has had on my health. It sounds silly now, but I wasn’t really thinking about my health when I started running marathons. I quickly noticed how exercise helped me psychologically and lifted my mood (endorphins are awesome). After a while I also started to see that exercise helped me tolerate chemo and fight cancer too. The fitter I am, the better I can tolerate chemo and there’s also research to suggest that regular exercise can stop cancer growing or spreading. My oncologist believes my fitness helps me fight cancer too, which is fantastic.

I love being able to get out in the fresh air. I know how lucky I am. Many people in my situation are sadly unable to be active.

I love being able to get out in the fresh air. I know how lucky I am. Many people in my situation are sadly unable to be active.

Fundraising and fitness challenges were a remote prospect when I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in March 2012. It came as a huge shock to me and my young family, but it galvanised us and we remained positive, even when I was given my terminal prognosis almost a year later in February 2013.

Picture with my daughters Skye and Isobel just after my bowel surgery

With my daughters Skye and Isobel just after my bowel surgery in March 2012. I hadn’t realised at the time just how thin I’d become.

Our wonderful Oncology team at the Rosemere Cancer Centre put me on a new treatment which fortunately started working and my health began to improve. I started running again and was determined to try and help the charites that had support my family and I during my cancer adventure.

Louise and I with The Indian Uncle I Never Knew I Had (aka our Oncologist)

Louise and I with The Indian Uncle I Never Knew I Had (aka our wonderful Oncologist)

On Sunday 2nd August I completed my 17th Marathon in 17th months over the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. I still love running, but the time is right to mix it up a little. So I’m planning to walk/run the National 3 Peaks in September and rather than drive I will be cycling the 450 miles between them instead.

A very wet, but awesome day running the Yorkshire Three Peaks. It was very tough, but I loved every minute!

A very wet, but awesome day running the Yorkshire Three Peaks. It was very tough, but I loved every minute!

But it doesn’t stop there. After I’ve finished my 10 days of cycling and walking I’m tackling my first Tough Mudder in Cheshire the day after. I can’t wait! This is something I have been planning for a long time. Training for it and preparing between chemo treatments is hard. This is certainly a huge challenge to take on and the biggest I’ve taken on so far. 11 straight days of activity is going to be gruelling, but I’m determined to do it! I want to carry on challenging my mind and body and redefining what I can expect from life and what it means to live with terminal cancer.

I've loved the cycle training, including this ride in the Lakes.

I’ve loved the cycle training, including this ride in the Lakes.

I’m raising money for three amazing cancer charities. Mummy’s Star, an incredible charity, supporting women going through cancer during pregnancy.

With Steve Marsden, one of the Mummy's Star trustees, during the Mummy's Star Three Peaks day

With Steve Marsden, one of the Mummy’s Star trustees, during the Mummy’s Star Three Peaks day

Beating Bowel Cancer campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer and have supported me and my family during our cancer adventure.

Beating Bowel Cancer have been a great support to us all. We were bowled over to be given an Achievement Award to celebrate the fundraising work we've done over the last year.

Beating Bowel Cancer have been a great support to us all.
In April we were bowled over to be given an Achievement Award to celebrate the fundraising work we’ve done over the last year (Louise and I with patron Freya North and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Sir Christopher Pitchers).

Finally, the Rosemere Cancer Foundation supports the centre where I receive chemo every fortnight and have give me and my fellow patients great support.

I've been receiving treatment at the Rosemere Unit for more than 3 years. I'm very grateful for the care I've received there from the amazing Doctors, Nurses, Staff and Volunteers.

I’ve been receiving treatment at the Rosemere Unit for more than 3 years. I’m very grateful for the care I’ve received there from the amazing Doctors, Nurses, Staff and Volunteers.

As I’ve said, it’s very daunting, but my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to do this. I wouldn’t be embarking on this challenge without the excellent care I’ve received at the Rosemarie Cancer Centre, based at the Royal Preston Hospital. The doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers there are amazing. Thanks to them and the treatment I receive every fortnight my last scan showed that my cancer hasn’t grown or spread. I finished my most recent course of treatment last week, so I’ve got a scan on Thursday, which sort of puts things in perspective really. It’s a worrying time waiting to find out what my cancer is up to and it reminds me that plenty of people would love the chance to do things like cycling and running, but can’t because of cancer, or other illnesses. I’m doing this challenge for them too!

Any donations are gratefully received. Thanks so much for all your support!!

Ben’s Epic National 3 Peaks Cycle Challenge schedule
1. Thurs 3rd September: Walk Ben Nevis
2. Friday 4th September: Cycle 1 Fort William to Tarbet
3. Saturday 5th September: Cycle 2 Tarbet to Mauchline
4. Sunday 6th September: Cycle 3 Mauchline to Annan
5. Monday 7th September: Cycle 4 Annan to Langdale
6. Tuesday 8th September: Walk Scafell Pike
7. Wednesday 9th September: Cycle 5 Langdale to Preston
8. Thursday 10th September: Cycle 6 Preston to Chester
9. Friday 11th September: Cycle 7 Chester to Llanberis
10. Saturday 12th September: Walk Snowdon
11. Sunday 13th September: North West Tough Mudder

Giving page: virginmoneygiving.com/BensBowelMovements

Facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

I’m on twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns

Berlin marathon aka new PB or bust…

It’s been a funny week. On Tuesday I had a great 5 mile run, an uplifting prayer meeting with some of the guys from church, then back home and straight into the morning routine with the girls. Tried to make the most of it. It’s the last morning we are going to have together for over a week.

Had a lovely walk to school with Skye. We always have such a laugh and sing songs. I’m really going to miss her and her sisters when we are away. Before heading home I went to the gym for a great pre-Berlin weights session.

I’m excited about the marathon, but I love my girls. Time away from them while I’m running these races could prove a little counter productive. If my health should fail I don’t want to regret spending time taking part in marathons, when I could have been with them. I need to make sure every time take my place at the start line I give it my all. That’s what’s going to happen in Berlin. I’m going to leave it all on the course. I can rest when I’m done.

The afternoon was packed with an interview with the lovely Rachel Hurst from Lancashire Evening Post, a much needed catch up with the always patient Gemma Ali from Beating Bowel Cancer and then an unexpected trip to Salford and the ITV studio of Granada Reports. We were chared by all we met and had a real blast. We were worried about talking over each other and coming across as a bickering couple, but it passed without incident.

To see us not fall out (for once) please follow the link: http://goo.gl/KgYGop

Had a wonderful time at Granada reports

Had a wonderful time at Granada reports

Didn’t then get much sleep as we hadn’t packed or even bought currency. Thank heavens for our mate Dan who drove us to the airport. In the past few days in Berlin we’ve had a great relaxing time. Just what Louise and I needed. We’ve seen some amazing things, meet some wonderful people and spent valuable time with friends and family that have travelled. Including my brother Will who’s been away in the States for months. I’ve missed him a great deal!

Berlin is an amazing city. So lucky to be here!

Berlin is an amazing city. So lucky to be here!

I registered at the marathon expo and got my race number on Friday. There’s lots of stalls promoting sportswear companies, other marathons on the calendar and many other aspects of running. It was huge and occupied the whole of the old Nazi era Templehof Airport. On the way the most amazing thing happened.

As we were leaving the subway Louise and I were chatting about my fitness challenge and running 6 marathons in 6 months, despite constant chemo for terminal bowel cancer, when I heard someone from behind me asked if I’m Ben. It was surprising to say the least and totally amazing!

It was cool to be recognised in the street all the way over here in Berlin. I know I’m not really famous, but it feels in some small way that I might be making a difference, that we are reaching people and we might really be helping to get the message out about bowel cancer. The extra Facebook likes we’ve gained this week is only going to help us carry on this work.

Lindsey and Leona are from Chorlton Runners, a running club I have no connection to, but have been supporting me ever since I setup my Facebook page. I heard a while back that they had runners at Berlin, but the idea that we’d actually find each other amongst thousands of others is amazing.

 

Amazing to bump into Lindsey and Leona

Amazing to bump into Lindsey and Leona

Today is the last of my 6 marathons. I’ve run a marathon a month since April. Now it’s the big one… Berlin! I’ve worked hard for this. I’ve had chemo throughout and it’s been cruel. My body has been battered with cancer fighting toxic drugs, but I’ve carried on training. I’ve never lost sight of my goal.

So much has happened since my cancer adventure began

So much has happened since my cancer adventure began

Berlin is a great course and I’ve got a decent chance of running a personal best (anything under 4hrs50 would be great) but whatever happens I’ve done well to get here.

Last year we thought my cancer might kill me, but this year with the help of everyone around me I’ve been fighting hard. With each training run and gym session I feel like I’ve been clawing my life back and gaining fitness. And not just so I can run marathons, but to help me get as strong as possible, so I can fight cancer for as long as possible. I love my life and I’ve no intention of giving it up easily I’ve too much to live for. I want to carry on watching my daughters grow!!

I can’t wait. It’s going to be great!

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

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

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:

 

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:
 
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