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.
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).
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.
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.
Obviously 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.
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.
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.
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!
Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 Marathons in 6 months in support of cancer charities:
Giving page: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/BensBowelMovements
Please follow me on twitter @ChemoDadRuns