My wife and I recently celebrated our oldest son’s fifth birthday. During the celebration with friends and family, we received the news that a very close friend of the family, practically part of the extended family, had just passed away after what seemed to our knowledge to be a relatively short battle with cancer. The following day I got in my final long training run before going into taper mode for my first ultra of the year. I usually do a lot of thinking and become pretty introspective during my long runs regardless, but given the dichotomy of the situation at the party the previous day it was hard to think about anything else. A young boy continues to grow and mature so quickly that I have trouble comprehending when all these changes occurred and how five years have swept by us leaving so little of a trace. At the same time a member of our family whom we only found out was diagnosed with cancer a matter of a few months earlier passes on from this life. I’m not trying to come off as macabre or depressing, but these thoughts of beginnings, ends, and the quick and precious time we have on this planet between the two are what dominated the majority my 25 mile run.
When I ran a hundred mile trail race towards the end of 2016 I wore a cancer awareness bracelet. Specifically, an orange one for Leukemia & Kidney Cancer. I wasn’t wearing it because I was running for a cause or to raise funds or awareness of the disease. I readily admit that my main motivation for wearing it was out of self interest. My thinking was that if I hit a low point during the race or had a long stretch of feeling like crap I would use the bracelet to remind me of how fortunate I have been with my health. I would use it to remind me that my health is never guaranteed and that I could become sick with no warning at any time. I would use it to remind me of the struggles I watched several friends and family members go through in their battles with different forms of cancer and other illnesses. I would use it to remind me of the pain they experienced and the physical condition some of them were in where getting out of a hospital bed wasn’t even an option. Recalling these memories and reliving the painful ordeals in my mind would remind me that there is no better time than now to do what I am doing. They would remind me that I may not have another opportunity to “run another day” as so many people like to say. They would remind me that no matter how bad I feel, how tired I am, how sore I am, and how much it hurts, what I am experiencing is nothing compared to what they went through. It is cake compared to their struggle; it’s a frickin’ birthday party at every aid station. I have the choice at any point to say “I quit” and walk away from the pain and the struggle. They never had that option. You could argue that and say they did have a choice of treatment options and hospice at a point, but the basic choice is fight or die. Even if the former is chosen, often the fight is the more painful option and still leads to the latter. So it’s not really much of a choice.
I may be coming off as self centered, negative, and depressing, but I like to think of myself as pragmatic. Am I using my memories of loved ones for my personal benefit? In a way yes, but I am remembering them nonetheless. If I said I was running the race in memory of them, does that then make it a selfless act of love? Regardless of the ethics, I did feel a bit more motivation and confidence by wearing the bracelet. Maybe it’s part of the reason why I never felt like I crashed or hit a really low point for the entire hundred miler. Or maybe it was just coincidence and I just had a good day. Either way, I plan to wear it for future long ultras. I also plan to continue to use the memories of my loved ones for motivation and to remind me of how precious of a gift our time here is and how grateful I am for all the experiences on this journey.
Scott SnellMarch 11, 2017
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