Sunday, June 14, 2015

Burning River for Ben: Heroes and Setbacks

Among the many benefits of participating and competing in endurance sports is the incredible people you meet along the way. The endurance, particularly the ultra-endurance community is generally made up of very passionate, driven, generous, and persistent individuals. One such individual is Tonia Ellsworth Smith, an inspiration and a true example of everything I just mentioned. Tonia was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013. With a 6% survival rate, pancreatic cancer is pretty much a death sentence. Upon diagnosis half her pancreas was removed along with her spleen. She went through 18 rounds of chemotherapy in the first six months of 2014. She survived. Not only did she survive she thrives. In the year since, she has been an unbelievable life force raising over $5,000 for pancreatic cancer research through Project Purple and running her heart out. Tonia, in her 40s, less than a year after chemo, ran a 3:39 marathon. Last week she ran the Bryce Canyon 100 Mile Trail Race with approximately 19,000 feet of climbing, rough trails, hail, and lightening in just over 26 hours, finishing 2nd female and 17th overall! And she’s not done yet. She continues her fight to cure pancreatic cancer with Project Purple as she sets her sight on the Denver Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in October. She is a hero in my book.

Tonia in Battle Dress Purple at Bryce Canyon 100
Photo shamelessly stolen from Tonia's Blog
My role in our “Burning River for Ben” project has taken somewhat of a setback over the last couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, I experienced a pain in the top of my foot about 20 miles into a 30 mile run. Possible injury? Yes. It appears to be tendonitis so I’ve been doing everything possible to get it healed as soon as possible. This of course means no running. But like any challenge, project, or undertaking, setbacks are to be expected. I can only imagine the setbacks that Tonia faced over the past couple years. As well as Ben in the 3+ years of his treatment, or any kid going through the ups, downs, horrors, and agony of childhood cancer. And while I’m at it, imagine the setbacks the doctors, nurses, and volunteers who dedicate their lives to treating and helping these kids. Not all of these kids make it. And this has to be devastating. But these amazing dedicated people keep on. They don’t quit. Everyone of them are heroes in my book!

With that said I will not quit either. The way we deal with setbacks is the difference between success and failure. Given the situation, I am making the best of it. One of the areas I’m really weak is walking. In most 100 mile races there are times when it is better to walk than run. Steep hills for example. Running steep hills require a lot of energy. Walking them conserves energy and you may only lose a few seconds. However if you burn needless matches running these hills you could lose minutes to hours later when you no longer have any matches to burn. I’ve always got passed in walking sections, so I’m taking advantage of this down time to practice walking. It doesn’t hurt my foot and may even be helping with the healing process.  I’m also riding my bike a lot; about 220 miles this week. While this may not be running, it does help keep the cardiovascular system in shape, so I can jump right back into it as soon as my foot is ready. Finally I’ve been going to an incredible person, Dr. Randy Knoche at Springs Chiropractic.  Dr. Knoche has fixed me every time I’ve been broke. Knee injuries, plantar fasciitis, hip injury, he’s fixed them all. Not only is Dr. Knoche a miracle worker when it comes to fixing injuries, (my friends call him Jesus) he’s quite an accomplished athlete himself; several Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike finishes and something like a million Pikes Peak Ascents. I’m visiting Dr. Knoche almost daily for laser treatment which is greatly hastening the healing process. And the kicker; he wants to support “Burning River for Ben” so not only has he made it his mission to get me better, but he’s doing it gratis. Another hero in my book!

And my foot is getting better. Thanks to Dr. Knoche I think I will be able to start running again in the next week. This is normally a six week injury that Dr. Knoche may have reduced to two. With only six weeks until the start this was a bad time to get injured. But it is only a setback. I may have to change my expectations a bit as I was planning on hitting the peak of my training now through the next three weeks. But that is the nature of 100 mile races. Anyone that has ever run a 100 mile race knows this. Even during the course of the race expectations and goals can change dramatically. One can go from having the goal of being competitive or finishing with a certain time, to just finishing, to just making it to the next aid station, and finally, just making it another mile without throwing up.  Although I’ve been training to be competitive as a secondary goal, the primary and sole purpose of running this race is to run that last mile with Ben and cross the finish line together. Anyone that can go through chemotherapy for over three years, be an honor student, and continue to have a positive outlook on life, as Ben is doing, is a hero in my book.

Thanks for reading and supporting Burning River for Ben.