[ HAT RUN 50K ]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

He mentioned the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Hughes Galeano, who once likened the ideal of Utopia to the horizon – goals that retreat even as we chase them.  “The important thing is not to catch something,” said Jornet…What matters in life is the pursuit, and everything we learn along the way.  “The important thing,” he said, “is moving.”

Excerpted from “All-Terrain Human” in the New York Times

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It was a Saturday morning in the spring of 2009.  I was training for my first marathon.  We got out of the car at the local running store and said our hellos to the other runners gathered and about to set out on their long runs.  I remember having the usual amount of dread that comes with the increasing mileage of marathon training.  There was a young couple there that morning that I hadn’t seen before; Ryan introduced himself and welcomed them.  I am not particularly chatty at 6:30am, so I said a brief hello and headed to the trail.  Ryan set out alongside the couple who I would later come to know as Josh and Shannon.

What I didn’t know that morning was that Josh has finished a grueling regiment of chemotherapy and radiation just weeks earlier.  He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and underwent 6 rounds of IV chemotherapy, 4 rounds of spinal tap chemotherapy and 24 rounds of radiation therapy.  Side effects of treatment left him in so much pain that a dark, silent room was the only space he could tolerate.  Josh experienced this level of pain for an entire month, as pressure on his brain and spinal column persisted after treatment.

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Josh now shares his story with Team In Training participants.  In October, I had the privilege of watching Josh speak to a group of about 500 runners the night before the Marine Corps Marathon.  To say it was powerful, would be an incredible understatement.  One thought from his speech has stayed with me since that night.  I’ve tumbled it over and over in my head during runs since then.  Recounting the excruciating side effects of treatment, Josh said, “But the pain let me know that at least I was still alive.”

Josh tells his story with a distinct sense of humor and encourages people to feel the freedom to laugh.  Bringing levity, Josh jokes that what Ryan didn’t know during that first Saturday morning run was that he had never run more than a couple of miles.  That first morning they ran four miles.  Josh jokes that about 10 minutes into the run he stopped talking (out of necessity and in order to keep breathing) and he forced Ryan to carry the conversation.  Josh never told Ryan that this was further than he’d ever run.  Josh says that instead, on that Saturday morning, he decided he was going to run and he was going to finish.

On Saturday we drove out to Susquehana State Park to cheer for Josh as he ran his third 50k race.  Ryan was supposed to run with Josh, but was sidelined with an injury.  Indeed, it was Ryan who convinced Josh to sign up for the race in the first place.  At mile 21 we saw Josh at a water stop.  He looked sternly at Ryan and said, “Go get your stuff on.  You got me into this mess and you are going to feel some of the pain of the last five miles.”  Ryan hopped in with Josh at mile 26 and accompanied him to the finish line.  I was a little nervous about Ryan running six miles having not laced up in more than three months, but my anxiety seemed inappropriate given the context.  After Josh crossed the finish line we joked about the poetic justice of the situation – that first Saturday morning long run being atoned by Ryan’s participation in the final stretch of the 50k.

Yesterday, as I sat watching the runners, I wondered why Josh runs and why he pushes further and further.  He’s now completed three 50ks and has plans for a 50 miler next month.  This morning as the New York Times arrived and I sat reading the article quoted above, I couldn’t help but think that the words might resonate with Josh.  I wondered if there might be a connection between the sense of gratitude he was able to cultivate for the pain that represented his aliveness and the expression of that gratitude as he continues to pursue movement today.

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To be clear, this is Josh’s story and not my own.  If I am honest, I can really only relate in the most tangential ways to his story, to the depth of pain that he and Shannon have experienced together.  But, watching Josh yesterday, I was reminded of what a gift it is to be able to move.  And, that regardless of what propels us forward, movement really is worth pursuing.

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