(When Runner’s World cut me loose as a columnist in 2004, I wasn’t ready to stop magazine work. This year I post the continuing columns from Marathon & Beyond. Much of that material now appears in the book Next Steps.)
2004. Victories come in many sizes and shapes, but the biggest of them are alike in one way. They aren’t won on a single day, but in the training done and experience gained over the previous months and years.
In May 2004, I had a slight brush with Deena Kastor. She was well into her Olympic training by then, having made the team in the marathon.
On this night she wore an evening gown while accepting an award and giving the keynote speech at the Road Runners Club of America convention. My wife Barbara and I sat near the podium, nodding in agreement and appreciation of all that Deena said, while hoping she would stand on a higher podium come August.
I too received an RRCA award this night, for writing. Barb insisted that we both go to the convention at Lake Tahoe, though she went against doctors’ advice to be there.
She was in the first and worst phase of cancer therapy, the chemo. She’d been told not to travel long distances or to mix with big crowds, but had done both.
Chemo-induced fatigue took her back to our room before my late talk. She didn’t hear me compare her to Deena Kastor as they both traveled hard roads to distant goals that year.
Barb doesn’t think of herself as an athlete. She never played sports outside of gym classes. But she approached her biggest challenge as an Olympic runner would her biggest race.
Looking at an entire training plan for, say, a marathon can be overwhelming in its size when it lasts six months or more. So we break it into small pieces, weekly increments and individual runs, then log them one at a time. Eventually this adds up to something as big as we’d planned at first.
This is how Barb viewed her illness: frightening as a whole but manageable if looked at as “workouts” to be checked off one at a time. Only these weren’t long runs and speed training; they were diagnostic tests, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.
She had times of doubt, as athletes do while training – times when the goal appears too distant to reach. She had disagreements with her doctors, as runners sometimes have with their coaches. She had setbacks, like the injuries athletes go through.
Later that summer a dinner party celebrated Barbara’s 60th birthday. It was the biggest one we’d ever held at our house, because this was more than a birthday party.
For one, it was the first time that both of Barb’s sisters, Paula and Lynda, had been with her in three years. The occasion then was a family wedding in Vancouver, British Columbia. The marriage of her son Chris and Cindy Chan had produced our first grandchild, Paige, now about to celebrate a first birthday of her own.
Arrival in the new age group wasn’t Barb’s only or best reason for this party. This also was a victory celebration.
By her 60th birthday Barb’s hair was growing again, the color returning to her cheeks, and the sparkle of energy and enthusiasm to her eyes. The recent tests gave her an all-clear. So the birthday party doubled as a victory celebration.
After six months of “training” she seemed to have won. She knew, as athletes do, that victories are seldom final. But the outcome of this event was good because she did what had to be done, one session at a time.
2019 Update. This victory wasn’t final. Barbara enjoyed a 10-year break from cancer, then was diagnosed as Stage Four – a spread of the disease that made it treatable but not curable. At this writing, more than five years further along, the treatment – led by an oncologist who runs ultras – has fought her cancer to a standstill.
(Photo: Barbara (with hair starting to return) at her 2004 “victory party” with sisters Paula and Lynda.)
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Next Steps, Pacesetters, Running With Class, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]