Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why I run

It is 4:30 AM, July 4 and I am preparing for a 4-mile run at 8:30. I am not an elite runner (nor ever have been) but I have a preparation routine that would rival that of any runner. I have to form an uneasy truce with the side effects of the drugs that are currently stopping the progress of this disease. I have a cup of tea, then coffee, then one packet of organic plain instant oatmeal. Then I run a mile on the treadmill and keep running/walking on the treadmill with numerous interruptions while I wait for my gastro-intestinal tract to call “uncle” and settle down. If you think that I am trying to precipitate a GIT meltdown, you would be right. I need to get it over with. By the time I start my four-mile run on the open road, I have already done four miles on the treadmill.

I am a runner. Running is integrated into my self-concept. I was a cross country runner in high school and have run unless ill or injured ever since.  Before I was a wife or mother or college professor, I was a runner. The only time that I went a significant period without running was when I was pregnant with babies three and four. The strain of 9-pound babies was too much for my varicose veins (which my children promptly called my Borg leg) from month six of pregnancy. For my first two pregnancies I ran until the day of delivery and was back on the road a few days later. My Fitbit measures 14,000 or more steps with at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day, a total of 50 to 60 miles a week.

Exercise did not protect me from cancer and it did not keep it from metastasizing. It may have slowed down the progress of the disease and given me more time. And in the end, the most we can hope for is time. However, there is really no good evidence that exercise does improve breast cancer outcomes. The research is based on self-report studies and what we do know with absolute certainty is that about 75% of people (especially women) tend to overestimate the amount of exercise they do. Until they increase the rigor of those studies, I’m taking it all with a huge grain of salt.

I have never been very fast but speed was never the goal. I loved having the power over my body. During chemo I had to run when I could. When I was too weak to run, I walked.  After chemo, my body stopped responding like it did before. My times dragged but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. My mood lifted.  I slept better.

Every year I run a few road races. In April I ran 5k, in May 10k and then on the 4th of July I ran 4 miles. There are still some races in me before winter and disease set in.  In summer I run on the trails and winter I take to the treadmill.

When I can no longer run, I will have lost part of who I am.

So tomorrow I run.

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