I’m heading back home to Louisiana amidst the flooding to run 50 miles for Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center (MBP). MBP has been around about as long as I have, and making a difference in the struggle people unfortunately has with cancer. On May 20th starting at 6AM, I’ll push off with the initial strides and keep running around the beautiful Louisiana State University lakes until I complete 50 miles.
Oddly enough, it’s been 5 years since I completed my cancer treatment. What a better celebration than to do something more than myself and give back. I hope to raise a few donations with a page dedicated to MBP at http://www.CancerRunner.org. The donations go directly to MBP and will make a difference in the lives of so many facing the battle that too many have already endured.
A few friends and likely a few strangers will join me for this event. With technology today, I’ve been working with Denver Benton of Denver Benton Fitness Services from over 5,000 miles away. We’ll finally meet in person at the event, and I look forward to a few miles of making a new friend.
During this opportunity, I will remember why I am running – this will be easy actually. I’ll be covered from the sun, wearing strong sunblock as well as 50+ UPF rated clothing and head wraps. And as I endure since my cancer, I’ll drink my nutrition more than any eating. And this is a good thing to remember, since I’m out there stronger than ever!
As the miles roll past and the day gets older, my mind will slowly move to the completion and know that my new baby boy in his mom’s arms will be there waiting for me. I hope to run the last little part with my oldest son who is now out of kindergarten and was only 1 when I underwent my ordeal. My family will be there providing support and thinking as always how crazy I am, but knowing inside how proud they are.
Anyone can donate through the above website, and follow along via Twitter @CancerRunner. Keep running, keep moving and never, ever quit the fight.
This May I’m heading over to New Orleans for a conference. So I decided to make the most out of this trip, and add a few miles to it. Since I graduated from LSU, I always wanted to do something that involved running around the LSU lakes. In May, I’ll run a few miles for a local cancer charity that helps children with their battles. There is one boy in particular that I raised money for in the past who continues to fight the uphill battle. I hope to combine running 50 miles around the LSU lakes and seeing him out there. Maybe we can walk a little distance together. For him, it will be like running a 100 miles. For me, it will be like I made a difference even if very small.
The date is set yet, but will be some time after May 15th. I’m working with some local friends to arrange logistics. But just give me a few hours and some water, and I’m good to go! Before then, I’m spending my training time focused in the triathlon season and some night trail runs. There’s nothing like running for a few hours on the dark trails during a rain storm to relax the mind.
So if you happen to be in the Baton Rouge area around mid-May, I welcome you to join me for a few miles of my 50 mile trot around the LSU lakes. I’ll post more frequently on my Twitter account under @CancerRunner.
Until then, look around the world and see how you can make a difference. It’s an amazing life out there, so live it to its fullest without regrets.
Now that I’m five years past my last treatment, I think back to the lowest days of the cancer ordeal while out on long training days. I do this to remind myself of the strength inside and remove any whining that may surface when I’m tired of running or not feeling 100%.
To find the worst day during my cancer fight, I could choose from the day I was diagnosed, the day long surgery holding my wife’s hand, the recurrence, the fear of the radiation strapped to a table, any of the endless days trying to eat/drink anything, my last day able to run or a multitude of other options. But no, none of those even tip the scale of the worst and subsequently the best day of my cancer ordeal.
No, the absolute worst day was the day I sat down, all 130 pounds of myself (started at 162), in a rocker on a raining evening in March 2006 holding my two year old son and reading him Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. If you have kids, you probably know this book as the rolling words and carefully rendered pages invite the child to gently fall asleep. I loved reading this book to my son before bedtime and holding him in my arms as he would fall asleep just before the last couple of pages. Well, my worst day was when partway through this children’s book, I was no longer able to talk. The treatment to my head and neck had damaged my throat and mouth so badly, that I was too far gone to shape my mouth. If it was only pain stopping me, I would have forced the body on to finish the book. No, I physically could no longer speak and hence I could no longer finish the bedtime story to this little freckled face, blue eyed boy who had no clue of what I was undergoing – nor should he.
At this moment, I could have just stopped and asked for help and let the cancer win another battle in this prolonged war. I could easily give up and hand my son to my wife and surrender to the invisible darkness eating me from inside. But that would not be me. This worst day of my treatment was also the best day, as I simply hummed the words softly. I found a way to continue the book and as a result I won this little battle for dignity given so much dignity that I had to give up. While there was a tear in my eye, I was happy to hum the bedtime story to my son and watch him fall asleep in his dad’s weak but stubbornly wrapped arms.
Moments like this are what I call upon when I am tired during a 12-hour night run after working all day. When work doesn’t seem like a place I want to be or any situation that allows for the opportunity to surrender and give up, this best day allows me the strong experience to smile at the obstacles that exist all around us every day and continue to lead a truly stress free life. Sure there are deadlines at work, endurance workouts that don’t go as planned and reasons to multi-task beyond the mere mortal limits of one person, but I still smile and put this entire wonderful life into perspective.
It’s not about how much money you make or don’t. It’s not about who you know or don’t. It’s not about winning a race or not. It is about getting to the starting line, taking your turn, accepting no excuses and finding a way to read to your son even if there are no words coming out.
After reading my little blog, I hope in your life you see the challenge and smile at it as an opportunity to continue living life – your life.
This year’s race was preplanned in coordination with my wife to be only a 100K, only! With our new five month old and other family priorities, we could not afford the required time for long runs. So, we did what we could while taking care of those around us who need us the most. But a 100K is not really a 100K at HURT.
To start, it’s actually 67.3 miles instead of 62.5 and those extra steps really make a painful difference. The race directorate and volunteers make this event one if not the best endurance event on earth. They truly make you feel like family/ohana. The course is not easy with every step a chance for a twisted knee, slip off a steep ridge, and slide over slick boulders over a cliff or simply trip over infinite roots ready to catch your tired toes. No, this course is brutal every inch of the way. Maybe this is why people come here – to test themselves unlike they will ever be tested elsewhere. Maybe they are looking inward for a place that brings thing calmness, or they are just truly sadistic. Whatever the reason, people love this race. For me, I just love the outdoors!
Starting at 6:00 AM on a humid Saturday morning, the race started with the same ritual as always of traditional Hawaiian blessing as the stream moved underfoot. I planned on a five hour first loop, and managed this closely with little effort. My main rule is to not get injured on the first loop. Nutrition can be recovered, but a broken ankle cannot. The return to the start/finish was slightly under five hours and injury free. However, the humidity was building the course into an oven with no breeze in sight.
The second loop, planned for six hours, required more experience as I doubled my electrolytes given the weather and my hydration as well. I was drinking over 36 ounces per hour, and careful to monitor my symptoms for heat stroke. At one time, I was sweating profusely but getting cold. Years of experience told me to adjust my plan quickly as cramps would soon be found. Once the cramps started, I was ready and my system rebounded quickly to stave off them with the added fluids and electrolytes. The miles between 33 and 40 were difficult due to the weather and my lack of training. I fully expected this, and reduced my effort to compensate keeping my heart rate in check. My trail management saw me back at the start/finish around six hours with another boost of energy after seeing my wife and two boys. Then my stomach gave way! This is actually good timing, and I took care of business and tossed all sugars from nutrition plan. From here on out, it would be a non-sugar plan to allow my system to reset. With a kiss to my family, I was off on the third loop to meet my pacer at mile 47.
The march over to mile 47 was long a painful from being tired. The week of the race, I averaged about 3 hours of sleep taking care of the boys at night. My wife and I both work, so just because I want to run 100K doesn’t mean she has to suffer as well. This lack of sleep would bring out the walking zombie for most of the remaining race. My feet were also experiencing hot spots from the moisture of the water on sections of the trail, and I was also working through some chaffing in very private places. So, I marched through the complications to mile 47 – slowly. With my experienced pacer in hand, and darkness upon us, we continued through the night pushing past exhaustion that was so thick I truly could not force my eyes to remain open. My lights became a mesmerizing dance over the rainforest floor sending me into a deep walking restful state weaving from one edge of the trail to the other. My pacer continued to instruct me along this blind dance keeping me as safe as possible. We arrived at mile 53 where miso soup and salted potatoes helped keep me fueled.
The zombie march continued as we ascended the ridge again and crawled our way over to the start/finish where I knew without a doubt I was done. The third loop took over eleven hours! I went to the first aid tent hoping that the feet were so badly damaged that I couldn’t continue. Slowly my shoes were removed and Injini socks to expose the very red and soft feet, with little to no damage – only a few blisters. I asked to have the blisters drained, taped and switched shoes and socks. I knew I was going back out to finish this experience. I only needed 7.3 painful miles of sleep walking!
My pacer and I went out, back up the series of climbs that would see me wobble here, sit down there and even sleep for five minutes by a trash can. There was no running available as my feet, chaffing and closed eyes wouldn’t allow this. My only hope was the sunrise!
We pushed on around the course, most of which is a blur now. Then the sun began to illuminate the sky, and I slowly returned to reality. Down into Paradise Park we went somehow getting to mile 67.3, my goal and promise to my wife – to not go for the 100 miles this year. I’m very glad I promised her that I would stop since this effort took me 25 hours and 31 minutes of absolute effort.
During the race, my face showed signs of edema from the radiation therapy but this has slowly resolved after about 24 hours. Sun exposure on this course is almost zero allowing me to run with comfort. The biggest challenge is still my saliva glands that just cannot produce enough to aid with certain dry foods like breads. But overall, I am very pleased with my performance given my focus on family after a full year of making it through a high risk pregnancy and seeing a healthy new addition to our family. Yes, 2010 was a difficult year making this year’s HURT even more special.
Even though it’s been a few years since my treatments ended, I still see the physical and yes, emotional scars. At times, both seem to fade and then I am reminded of what will always be there. No, I am still cancer free so I don’t want to alert anyone with a scare. It’s just the nerves that were cut in my face during the surgery seem to talk to me, remind me that they were damaged and that there was something growing inside.
My cancer was a strange form of skin cancer, so naturally any type of pimple will raise those hairs on my neck. I’m careful to not worry my wife, so I keep all the false alarms to myself. And at night when I am relaxing in bed with the covers pulled tight, I might have the tight throat and slight difficulty breathing as my airway is constricted by mucus (yuck). That just sounds horrible to write, but once you are treated with radiation in the head/neck, the area is sensitive. And certain foods might introduce a slight mucus layer that creates a bubble blocking your airway. Now talk about freaking out when you are sleeping, and can’t breathe! But that’s the deck that I continue to shuffle and play. We all have issues with cancer, and better to share than to hide them since we are all experiencing similar effects.
The same throat problems persist when training for endurance events with careful planning required to watch what I eat and make sure I can swallow the food. I’ve learned to take extra fluids to allow for more nutrition from the liquids and less reliance on the solids.
I guess I could look at things as half hairy (instead of half full). That is a reference to my face that can only grow hair on the part that was not radiated – the upper part. If it was 1955, that might be cool. But as I plan for everything, I keep two electric razors charged and shave every morning. I even took an electric razor along the John Muir Trail so I wouldn’t emerge 222 miles later looking like some freak of nature with pork chop sideburns, mustache and a smooth throat area.
My writing here is only to share with those who experience cancer, that cancer is always with you physically and mentally – and that’s ok. Trying to block the experience only gives it more energy. Redirect that energy to living with the disease and never letting it win no matter what. As proof, I’ll keep running and living my life instead of sitting around waiting for cancer to live my life for me.
Life is amazing! If you never witnessed the birth of a child, it’s hard to convey the gift of living. Money, status and what people think of you are out the window. All that matters is the health of your new child. For my lovely wife and I, this journey has taken over 12 years and was interrupted by cancer (the Big C). Now we have two very cool boys that are almost exactly six years apart.
Oddly, I continue to workout keeping focused on some form for ultras while being a husband and father foremost. So when do I run? Well, work provides a time for running but that’s not enough time. So, I try to time it just right between feeding our new son (usually late at night) and head out for the trails.
So, with on average 2-4 hours of sleep per night, I hit the trails, alone, for some level of endurance training. But the real focus is just time on my feet. I’m so numb from sleep deprivation, I dream while running up the mountain ridges of a nice place to curl up in the mud and sleep. But I push on running with my headlamp dancing in the darkness. With over 20 years of racing under my belt, I draw upon many experiences to pick the right line up and down the ridges and along the cliffs. And as a responsible dad, I carry full survivor gear for almost any situation.
For every step, I know that racing is not a focus just getting in a workout. I cancelled all triathlons and races this year to take care of nearly three months of my wife’s bed rest, and make life normal for my older boy. Life in itself is the hardest endurance race of all. So I train for the next 100 miler with more sleep deprivation, night runs and playing with my boys every day. And my training runs…some hurt like hell and others are so smooth. It depends on getting a little sleep or not.
With about 14 weeks and about 300 hours of training to go before my next ultra, it’s nice to know that I am completing an ultra nearly every day. And I like to think I am in first place in this race!
To my uncle and good friend Vernon, you keep up the strong fight against cancer, and we will all be the stronger for your efforts.
Aloha – Paul
What does it mean to be a father and husband taking care of a full work load, a wife that is on full bed rest at 34 weeks pregnant and a 5-yr old son (plus Rotary President, Relay for Life Chair, Lyon Arboretum Board, etc.) plus trying to retain the athletic skills for a calm state of mind? Well, it means finding odd hours to workout. The last few weeks, I’ve been going for a workout on the trails after it rained all day long, at around 9:00 PM. Sure, seems late but very peaceful knowing that my wife is resting with her 76 pillows and my son is dreaming of Bakugan games after I read him Ferdinand the Bull. No, running at night after a nonstop 15 hours of work is relaxing, and running through soupy, muddy, ‘cakey’ trails is perfect!
This past Saturday night, I was out on a normal run with all my survival gear and expensive lights when I came upon a group of hikers. The sight of my lights seemed to startle them a bit, so I gave a popped off a friendly quiz: “Are you guys just starting out?” The question was meant to assess their state of mind as most lost people usually deny that they are in a ‘pickle’. Without a phone, light, food or water, I knew the answer but wanted to assess the situation first from my many years of experience and also back county medical training. They were also barefoot and very exhausted. We exchanged some words to which I surmised they were out all day, got lost, got injured and were basically stuck! But some how they managed to feel their way through the trails while slipping everywhere to which two were injured from falls. I quickly decided to give up a light to a guy in the middle, and I carried the lady most injured with my headlamp from the end of the train of seven hikers. We hiked through the mud talking story and staying upright with the eventually completion of their trail adventure to which I quickly departed returning to my regularly scheduled run – alone in my solitude once again.
And just a quick note of what solitude I find on my run. I received an email from a friend who is raising money for a young boy fighting a touch cancer battle. So I reached out to his website to offer kind words of support. I received an email from his family that he is still fighting strong. Just thinking of a young child that courageous truly inspires me to keep pushing on.
See ya on the trails! Paul
Since the HURT 100, I’ve been transitioning into short course triathlon mode. This transition was going well with excellent speed and power until a good friend, Mike Meunch, asked me to run around Oahu withhim. With about 3 weeks notice, I stopped the triathlon training and focused on long runs. Well, I got in one long run. Our adventure was epic, even though I suffered an injury around mile 70. Goes to show you how important training is.
After the Oahu run attempt, I moved back into triathlon mode managing the leg and ankle injury. At the Honolulu Triathlon, Olympic distance, I donned my new sun protection ‘Smurf suit’ to provide maximum sun protection. Since it’s all blue, I really stood out. The suit was great, but my bike took some damage with the saddle stays cracking leaving me with a wobbling saddle for the 24 mile bike ride. This really changed the game plan from a PR to a ‘just hold that bike together.’ My arms were shot after holding my arse off the seat while training to maintain some sense of aero position.
The run was fun with an easy sub 7 minute pace, but nothing exceptional as I was just cruising after the bike ride. I still managed 13th in my age group but 6 minutes slowly with my two bike stops and no real aero benefit.
As I write this, I am excited to learn about the new friends that are part of Heather’s dream and welcome everyone to the family. And as part of the family, I am returning for a trip to my home in Louisiana to tend to a close family member suffering from cancer that is at stage 4 and little success from the surgery. Always make time to see those you love when they are alive – no point after! I’ll take my son with me to see his uncle who is really like my father with my lovely pregnant wife baking inside our new little baby boy due in early September.
In a couple of days, I’ll be out there on the trails of Oahu pushing myself over several ridges and streams with a smile. This year at the HURT 100 Mile Endurance Run, I running for the Hawaii Children’s Cancer Foundation. Teaming up with this non-profit has been very inspirational. Knowing that there will be cancer children waiting for me at the finish line has added extra incentive to move my butt around the 100 miles. I’ve been on this course the last 6 of 7 years, with only 2006 being an “off” year due to radiation therapy. With luck and training, I was able to finish the 100 miler twice and the 100 kilometer four times. This year, like all the others, I am going the distance.
The three years since cancer required me to change my approach. In 2007 The Comeback, I just run on anger and didn’t care about the outcome. I really wanted to vent, cry and get the cancer past me. Sure I paid a heavy price with pain, but managed a smile around the tears. It was worth it. By 2008, I was well trained and solid but fell short of the 100 miler with only 80 miles completed. My wife pulled me after I could no longer function due to a new experience of rhabdomyolosis which nearly stopped my kidney. I had to relearn how to manage my system since cancer since the previous 18 years of information was now not working. I had to switch hydration plans, increase potassium and sodium levels as well as consume more fats. This experiment through the rest of 2008 worked and I was ready to rock in 2009. By completing a 100 miler takes more than chutzpah! It takes some luck too. And in 2009, I felt the best ever for an endurance event. Legs were fresh, stomach solid, head clear, not sleepy at night – perfect…except for one problem. My feet suffered a new issue at mile 50 causing absolute pain with every flat or downhill step. I tried everything, but still had amazing pain. I could hardly walk. So at mile 60, I had no option but to almost crawl the 7.5 miles to the 100K option. I tossed those shoes that led to a damaged big toe bone on both feet and what turned out to be a blown left foot joint. It’s taken me over 10 months to overcome the damage done in Jan. 2009!
So here I am, feet feeling fine since around November and a smart balanced training plan. In a few days, I’ll be out there in a place that I find very spiritually healing ready to suffer with a smile knowing that I will go the distance no matter the outcome. And for the Hawaii Children Cancer Foundation, we have raised donations and community interests in a time when both are truly needed. Look for me out there and visit my webiste with information on the cause at http://www.CancerRunner.org.
This January 16-17 is the next running of the HURT 100 miler, and I’m working to create an event in conjunction with this epic endeavor. While running the 100 miles, I’m planning to don a shirt with the names of Hawaii children fighting their personal battle with cancer. I’m calling this effort of love Running for Hope after seeing Trevor’s cancer return. It makes me think that sometime HOPE is the strongest medicine one can take.
And I’m doing what I can to dish out some powerful HOPE. But I’m not doing this alone. The Hawaii Children’s Cancer Foundation has accepted my request to collaborate with them on this project, and we are in the process of gathering names. Also, a wonderful local designer, Tai Blechta, is making the shirt with signatures a reality. Thanks to both for their support.
As for me, I just need to keep training to make this run as special as I can. And when I recovery, I plan to bring a shirt to each of the children to show them that anything is possible … with HOPE.