Being a Long-Distance Runner and Managing Cancer


Some days, the wind is at our back, and others, it is fighting against us. Life after cancer is all about finding pace.

Long-distance running skills can carry over to managing cancer. Many of us have heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. The moral of the story is that slow and steady wins the race. Most of us want to get on with our life, but slow and steady is one approach we might want to consider when managing our cancer care long term. Sometimes it is not about how quickly we become cancer free or no evidence of disease (NED), but it is about remaining cancer free and managing overall wellbeing through survivorship. Strategies of a long-distance runner can help when facing difficult obstacles, learning to set a pace for care management and assist in recognizing moments which will help us become more resilient and appreciative of what life has to offer.

I initially hated long distance running, but I learned that if you lean into the hills and face the obstacles in your path, the run was not as difficult. There are times when you’re running into the wind, but there are also moments of gratitude when the wind is at your back and helping you along. This magical force can also come from the positive spirits of the oncology staff and peers who help to push us up on days when we are struggling, just as we might hear the cheers of the crowd when running competitively. Our own internal voice is also important to remember.

Whether you are cancer-free or preparing for a race, you need to learn to set a pace. My coach had me practice some days running a quarter of a mile as quickly as possible, and then the next quarter mile at a recovery pace. I would learn to be the judge of appropriate speeds to pursue. His technique helped me learn to pace myself for the longer races and learn to dig deeper and maintain energy when you think you don't have anything left to give. At the same time, there will be days we might want to give up, but we need to maintain the strength to fight. On the other days, we can rest to recover and support our ability to manage for the long haul. Living cancer free is about finding our pace, managing our energy considering any lasting effects and generally maintaining a good diet and exercise to support long-term health and wellness.

Overall, running and managing a cancer diagnosis can help us be more resilient. For some days, the wind might be at our back, but other days we might need to continue to persevere head-on and lean into the hills because we learn there is an end to the hill and a slope that will help us along.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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