“How brain cancer made me even more determined to accomplish my life goals” (step 5 of my 8-step plan to get you back on track towards pursuing the life you envision despite a cancer diagnosis or other major life-altering event).
Commit to your goals and put your money where your mouth is! Recruit and enlist others to join you.
After I decided that I still wanted to tackle my beast-of-a-goal of completing the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run as a way of keeping myself on track with my brain cancer recovery and general health and fitness, my first challenge was to get my wife Ashley on board and talk her into letting me do it in the first place. As a married man, I understood that an undertaking of this magnitude was not a decision that I could make unilaterally. After pleading my case to her, Ashley realized just how important this goal was to me personally, and so she not only consented to let me do it, but she also agreed to be both my “crew chief” for the event and my pacer on the final 12.5-mile lap of the course, which meant that she would be in charge of bringing me home to cross the finish line. I would need Ashley’s ongoing emotional and logistical support, as this venture would require that our weekly family schedule revolve around my training runs, which would include weekend long runs of ever-increasing time and distance. I would also need some trustworthy and reliable training partners (as Ashley absolutely would not let me attempt to do this alone since I was still technically a brain cancer patient undergoing daily oral chemotherapy treatment, which would continue throughout all of my training right up until and including race day).
I talked to several friends who regularly run long distances on trails, and I successfully secured commitments from my good friends Michael Whitehurst and Eugene (Gene) Oddone, both of whom said that they had always wanted to run the Umstead 100, and that by asking them I had just given them the motivation and reason to do it now. Michael was singularly responsible for introducing me to long-distance trail running in the first place when he told me about his experience of running the grueling Uwharrie 40-Mile Mountain Run together with Gene several years earlier. Gene was Michael’s personal training client at the time, and a good friend. (Having already backpacked on the exact same trails on which the Uwharrie race is run so many times in the past, I was very intrigued by the idea of completing a 40-mile endurance challenge on the very same trails that I was so familiar with already, even with 7,000 feet of elevation gain over 40 miles. I completed the 40-mile Uwharrie Mountain Run myself in February of 2015 as part of Bull City Running Company’s “Tough as Trails” race series. This was my first ultra marathon, and it took place just 5 short months before I would be diagnosed with a brain tumor).
Verbally, the three of us agreed to take on the challenge of the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run together, and then together we hatched a plan to gain entry into this nearly-impossible-to-register-for event (it is so popular that it sells out every year within minutes or even seconds of the online registration time). The three of us applied to become volunteers at the 2016 edition of the event, as that would guarantee us entry into the following year’s race. That is exactly what we did, and that is precisely how it worked out in the end; we worked as volunteers on the cleanup crew in April of 2016, and later that year we went online and registered for the 2017 race (i.e., we paid real money to reserve our spots, we were totally invested and committed to the race and each other, and there was no turning back). With the help of Michael and Gene, week after week for an entire year, I started to rack up the miles on trails all around the Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill area. Mid-week lunchtime 5K and 10K runs on the roads near EMPOWER Personalized Fitness (and sometimes on EMPOWER’s treadmills) slowly morphed into regular weekend half and full marathons on trails, which eventually grew into bi-weekly runs of up to 40 and 50 miles apiece!
We ran in the summer heat, we ran in the freezing cold, we ran in the pouring rain, and we even ran in the dark in the middle of the night and into the wee hours of the morning to prepare us for any type of conditions that we might encounter during an event that would in all likelihood take us over 24 straight hours to complete. We practiced eating and drinking real food while running because our bodies were so hungry for every type of fuel we could supply them with: carbohydrates, protein, and even fats. The goal in training was to accumulate and maintain around 60-70 miles of running per week within 2 weeks of the actual race, and then “taper” until race day when we would “drop the hammer,” trust that we did enough to train and prepare, and then give it everything we have until we cross the finish line.
Being able to complete weekly training runs of 20-plus miles, and then completing the Medoc Trail Marathon along the way, kept me motivated and hungry to do more. I kept seeing glimmers of my former self, of normalcy returning to my life, and that made me feel EMPOWERED to continue charging forward on the path towards creating and experiencing the life I envisioned before brain cancer.
(A note about the photo accompanying this blog post: Shortly after I began training for the race, I received a personal email from the race director of the Umstead 100, Rhonda Hampton. It turns out that she was made aware of my personal story from an article that was published about me in the April 2016 issue of Endurance Magazine, and she selected me for the honor of representing and motivating all of the first-time 100-mile runners as the honorary #100 for 2017. She also saw fit to bestow the numbers #99 and #101 on my training partners Michael and Gene, since we were all in this quest together. I am still so incredibly humbled by and grateful for this gesture!)