Note: I’m writing a series on my bout with ovarian cancer and how my running was affected by it and helped me deal with it. You can read Part 1 for a little history on my running and cancer here, Part 2 for a look at how I planned my running while going through chemotherapy here, Part 3 for how I took things one day at a time here, and Part 4 how I returned to running here.
On Sunday, August 18, 2013, I took what would be the first of many tests in my cancer journey. I remember thinking “I have to pee” (I had to drink a boat load of water before hand) and wondering what they would find as I waited to take the ultrasound. I think at that time I still had some small hope that it was fibroids or something easy to fix. I got my first inkling that it was more than that when the technician (who didn’t have a very good poker face) made a comment something along the lines of “you didn’t feel uncomfortable or pain before this”? She wasn’t allowed to tell me what she saw but I knew then it wasn’t going to be the easy fix I’d hoped for.
The past year has flown by. It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in that waiting room with my mom, both of us scared but not admitting it to each other. So much has changed since then but so much is still the same. I am still the same woman who loves running and riding and reading but now I have fun stuff like hot flashes and a slower metabolism and doctor’s appointments to make life interesting. But really, the only thing that matters is that I am an Ovarian Cancer survivor and I am finally…thank goodness…finally getting back to some semblance of normal.
Fast forward one year from that ultrasound to August 17, 2014 and the Leading Ladies Half Marathon, my 27th half. That day had so much more hope and joy than the year before. It felt like my rebirth. I was a runner again.
Let me back up a little first. In my last post, I talked about finally getting back to running and racing again. Sadly, I didn’t make much progress after that post. My times were still slow and I still wasn’t losing any weight. I was still exhausted some days. I had to do something drastic! I had been thinking of joining 24 Hour Fitness and decided to make the leap. I not only joined 24 Hour Fitness, but I booked 12 weeks with a trainer! Yikes! I needed someone to push me and help me get my body back. My trainer asked me what my goals were and I told him they were to lose weight, and get total overall body strength so I could do anything I wanted to do – running, rock climbing, a pull up. I want to be ready for whatever adventure pops up.
The first sessions were hard and exhausting. I would get home at night after a training session and fall asleep before 8 pm. I had to do modified everythings because I had no core or upper body strength or balance. I just had some endurance. But I got stronger with each week that passed and I was losing weight! Woo!
2 weeks after I started with my trainer, who I affectionately call Phil The Masochist, I ran a 9 mile run to prep for the half and it took me 2 hours and 14 minutes. I was pretty embarrassed by that time. I’d had to do some walking and even sat down for a few minutes. 15ish minute miles? I was looking at a 3:15 half marathon time. That is not how I want to run a half marathon. And on top of that, I was exhausted the rest of the day. I must admit, I was a little depressed that day but also determined to not give up.
I kept working with Phil and asked him to keep pushing me. I was less exhausted as each week passed and could feel the changes in my body, including weight loss (13 pounds and counting!). And the next week, I ran a 10 miler in that same time as the 9. Then I felt like I was strong enough that I could add tempo miles and fartleks/surges into my runs and they were fun and really helped. And then the next weekend, I ran an 11 miler in 2:13. Things were definitely headed in the right direction! Woo!
So I ran 11 miles at 12:07 pace but I had stopped twice to eat some Clif Bloks and refill my water. And of course, I had little rests at the stoplights. 11 miles was also the longest I had run since 8/10/13 (my last half marathon). I figured I might need to do some walking during the half so I set a goal of 2:45. Just a few weeks ago, I had anticipated a 3 hour + finish time but was confident (mostly) I could make 2:45.
In my last training session before the race, Phil asked me if I was scared. I told him no and that was true. I knew I could and would finish the race. It might take me longer than I anticipated but the race had a generous time limit so I wasn’t worried about being swept from the course. I was more worried about oversleeping than I was about the race.
Race morning dawned cool and beautiful. We, the runners, boarded the bus that took us up Spearfish Canyon, SD at 4:15 am and headed to the start. It was dark and the bus ride was quiet. The race started a few minutes late and we passed the time talking races and states and running in general.
Once the race started, I took off like a bat out of hell. Well, not really. But the first mile was 10:36. Oops. I slowed myself down and ran 11ish +/- miles through mile 9. By then my stomach was feeling queasy and my legs were starting to tighten up. I let myself walk through 2 of the aid stations to grab/eat some pretzels but other than that, I ran the whole way. Slower than the first 8 miles but still moving forward. I really wanted to walk but talked myself out of it with distractions. Did I mention the course was beautiful?
Finally, it was the last mile and I picked it up a little. I caught another woman who was walking and said “Come on, just a little more. You can’t let me beat you at the end!”. And she took off running and I used trying to catch her again as incentive to keep up the pace. I crossed the line in 2:33:42 (official) and was pretty excited to have finished and beat my goal. I felt inklings of the old racing Lisa deep inside. I felt good. I felt proud. I felt happy. I felt like the Queen of the Road! (by the way, that was the theme for the Leading Ladies Half this year, which I didn’t know when I signed up for it but is pretty appropriate because RIF #1 Josh (@bayou) used to call me the Half Queen!).
So…I am pretty happy with the progress I’ve made in the past 6 weeks. I am still way off my PR time of 1:57 but I feel like it’s not out of reach anymore. The weight loss has plateaued a little but I know it will continue to happen eventually. I graduated to knee pushups from wall pushups this week and am able to lift more. I feel good about things. I feel hope and I feel content.
I think probably the biggest thing that has made me less frustrated and a lot happier was coming to the decision to put marathons and ultras on hold for a while and to cut out some of the things that I no longer had fun doing. I feel less pressure and more relaxed and I am having a lot more fun now. I want to work on my speed and strength first before running longer again. If ever. I know it probably seems blasphemous saying that on this site but I am okay with it. I used to think I had to be the perfect cancer survivor, whatever that is. I felt like I was pressured to always be positive, always have a smile on my face, to be an ultrarunner…because that’s what heroic cancer survivors do. I don’t see myself as a hero. I am just a girl who survived one of the scariest things out there with the help of some great doctors and my family and friends.
I want to share 2 great quotes that I saw this past month that really hit home to me.
The first is by Gabriele Grunewald (@gg_runs), an awesome, inspiring runner and cancer survivor: “I don’t try to live harder, I just try to live more authentically. It’s not about just fitting more in, it’s about fitting in the things that are most meaningful to me.”
The other is from Kara Goucher (@karagoucher), another of my favorite runners: “I know that there are people that think I am done and that’s fine, they can think that. But I’m not running to prove anything to them; I’m running to prove everything to myself. I know what I am still capable of, and I know the last couple years haven’t shown it, but I know what I’m capable of and I know how my body is responding to the training. I guess, yeah, it is a comeback.”
The first one by Gabriele perfectly expressed the thing that surviving cancer taught me. Do what you love and what is meaningful to you and don’t let anyone tell how you should live or what you should do. It’s my life. I am not going to waste it on the things I don’t enjoy or don’t bring me peace. I’m not saying I’ll never run marathons or ultras again but right now, I don’t feel the need to prove my self in that way. More is not always better (unless it’s chocolate, pancakes, or burritos), at least not right now.
Kara’s quote feels like she is talking about me. For me, the past year was about surviving cancer and the year before that was dealing with the effects/symptoms of it. I haven’t been at my best running-wise for about 2 years too. I also feel like I’m making a comeback and I also know what I am capable of.
I’m going to prove it to myself.
Check back soon for the next chapter in my running from cancer journey! And don’t forget, if you missed earlier chapters, you can read them here:
If you’ve been through cancer and chemotherapy and are a runner, I would love to hear how it went for you. Please let me know in the comments or email me at the link below.