Hero to Zero

Why on earth would you want to run that far when you’ve got a car? You wouldn’t believe how many times people have said that to me over the years! In fairness, I did get up to some pretty long distances on my runs. I mean, who in their right mind would run the equivalent of Altrincham (my home town) to Cannock in the Midlands, 60 miles away, just for fun?

A frequent runner

When I started running, aged 45, in 2002 it was primarily to lose weight but 4 years later, our little informal group of running friends became a “proper” fully-affiliated club, and then it got serious! Running became about racing and chasing PB’s, and I soon realized that I wasn’t too bad at this running lark.

PB’s of 19:53 (5k), 42:45 (10k), 1:31:50 (half marathon), and 3:23 (marathon) give that some context. I was never going to be an elite runner, but I was pretty decent.

I ran my first marathon aged 50 in 2007 and said never again. I went on to say never again another 18 times, as well as running a 56-mile ultra-marathon!

A dramatic change

Then, in 2017 life changed out of all recognition when my runner's “groin strain” turned out to be incurable advanced stage prostate cancer, and I was given a worst-case prognosis of just 2 years.

Now the logical question when you see your latest best friend, aka God, your oncologist, for the first time, for most people is likely to be, “How long have I got to live?” My first question was, “Will I still be able to run?”

As it happens, my urologist had already had the conversation with me about life expectancy. He was a bundle of laughs!

When the oncologist said, “Yes, of course you will once the fractured pelvis has healed” (my groin strain was actually stress fractures of the pelvis where the prostate cancer had eaten into the bone), it was a great relief. That was until he went on to say, “However, the treatment will remove your testosterone, so it will be much, much tougher. You’ll be slower and you won’t be able to run as far.” It felt a bit like a kick in the proverbials.

The side effects

Removing testosterone can have pretty grim side effects both as a man and as an athlete:

  • Weight gain – tick, the steroids saw to that
  • Loss of muscle mass – tick, powering up hills isn’t going to happen any more
  • Reduced bone density – tick, three days in hospital following a trip in a race leading to wrist being plated, pinned and wired
  • Fatigue – tick, more later

I could go on because there’s more, but I guess you’ve heard enough!

Struggling with fatigue

Fatigue has been easily the hardest to deal with. There are days, increasing in number as time goes by (4 years of hormone therapy tends to do that), when I might as well simply not bother.

A recent example saw me have a fantastic 10k run on a Tuesday when everything felt great, at least as far as the new normal is concerned, and I could have run faster, gone further. Then the following two days just plodding an easy 1.5 miles felt like climbing Everest.

It’s because of this that taking part in races and inter/intra club races makes me incredibly nervous, team events in particular. I simply don’t know which runner is going to turn up on the day. The one who flew round 10k or the one who was walking after half a mile of a 1.5-mile run?

Not wanting to let people down

Added to which I have this thing about never letting people down. I’d really hate to take part in a team event on a day when the wrong Tony turned up, even though I know that no one would hold it against me, and that we do these things for fun and enjoyment.

Deep inside, though, I’m a racer. I’ve always been a racer. That’s what running became, and I’m still ridiculously competitive. Now though, racing isn’t about PB’s, it’s about trying as hard as I can on any given day and taking part on my own terms.

I know the old days have gone and, yes, I still mourn them, but running has now taken on a whole different meaning. I run now because I’m convinced that staying fit will extend my prognosis and help me be better able to cope mentally with my illness.

What keeps other readers going/motivated?

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