They're screaming and cheering and I run under the arch. 44:53. I know I'm a little faster because I started from the back of the pack. It doesn't matter. I finished, and I did it running about 70 percent of the time.
I sit down on the curb and start sobbing. It's December 8th, and on March 8th, I couldn't walk at all. Today I crossed "Run a 5k" off my bucket list. It was too emotional to not break a little. "You fucking did it!!! IM SO PROUD OF YOU" my friend Sierra said. She deserves a lot of credit because one of the reasons I was able to do this at all was her kicking my ass and keeping me focused.
I won't go too far into the details because I've done it before, and most of you already know the story, but in March I had major surgery. As a result of esophageal cancer, I had to have my esophagus removed and stayed in the hospital for 10 days to recover. When I came home, I was a mess. I was "eating" through a feeding tube, got out of breath at the slightest exertion, had trouble going to the bathroom, and had a bed sore that took weeks to go away. I couldn't lean on my right side, sleep on my side, or go anywhere inside my house without dragging an IV pole with me. I was coughing constantly, couldn't go down to my shop to work, and the one time I tried to get a roll of 3D printing filament out of a low cabinet, I fell flat on my face and it took everything I had to get up again (and I do mean everything).
I was a disaster. My first attempt at a shower post-surgery was not fun at all. In fact if I didn't know better, I would have thought I was having a heart attack. It took weeks before simple acts like going to the kitchen to get a snack even felt possible.
The pain was constant. Every step made me wince. Every movement hurt something. Every tug stretched a scar. Every single thing I did hurt. I was taking pain meds but they didn't do much. They never do. Sometimes I think doctors give you pain meds just so you won't ask them for them.
I messaged Sierra and asked her for exercises I could do. Sierra is a personal trainer. A damn good one, too. She has numerous specialties and is NASM certified. If anyone could get me on my feet, she could. She painstakingly came up with a chart of stuff I could do to get some semblance of leg strength back, even with my limited mobility. I was down to 265 pounds, quite a thing for someone who only once in his post-legal-drinking-age life dropped to anything close to that, and who regularly walked around 340 pounds before his diagnosis.
I wasn't even strong enough to do the exercises she gave me and I got super-depressed.
I got cleared to drive at the end of March, about 3-4 weeks post surgery. I managed one week of work. Very bad idea. My body was not ready and on the last day I worked, my friend told me I looked terrible and should leave. He was right. I was stubborn, and stupid, and needed more time to heal. I went home and sobbed on my couch wondering if I would ever get better. Funny thing is you know on one hand you will get better, but on the other you just don't believe it.
I had no reason to believe I would get better at all. Then a crazy thing started happening.
The first week of May saw me get in my car and drive to work. I sat at my desk and got cracking like I never left. After two months of not working, work wasn't even a problem. Sure I was in pain, but I was able to function. I was doing things I couldn't. I couldn't lift anything, and pulling orders from the warehouse wasn't possible, but everything else was working fine, so I rolled with it knowing the next hurdle would happen soon.
After my surgery, the surgeon came out to give the final wrap-up to my wife, and told her that he couldn't cut any more out and that there was still some of the cancer left. That sounds horrible, but if you know what that really means, he did me a huge favor. Had he cut what he left, my recovery would have gone a lot differently and I never would have fully recovered to my pre-surgical state.
In June I started chemo all over again to get the last of it.
That chemo kicked. My. Ass. Much more so than the six weeks of chemo and radiation from December to January did. This was brutal. I was constantly tired, constantly nauseous, and perpetually on the verge of throwing up and that's a big deal because I have a phobia about throwing up. It's bad. I'm genuinely scared of it (Fun fact: it's a thing; it's called emetophobia). Somehow I managed it, though and started functioning normally and at the end of August, at a ridiculous body weight of 230.8, I started doing something I had attempted 2 other times in the past.
I was gonna do Couch to 5k, but this time? I was going to finish it and run a 5k.
"That's it?" you say? It doesn't sound like a lot. It's 3.1 miles, which if you walk at a good clip you can easily do in an hour. If, however, you've been overweight (severely) for most of your adult life, try it. Run as long as you can then see how far you went. Then get back to me. I promise you it isn't easy.
I started Couch to 5k on August 26th. I don't know why I thought I would do it this time, but I was determined to. I breezed through the first week and thought "How hard could week two be?" I learned quickly because on run one of week 2, I completely bonked out. Not happening. I had already hit my first setback and I was on my first run. How in the hell was that even possible?
With Couch to 5k, you're meant to finish the program in eight weeks, and the last run is your 5k. Week 2, Day 1 was only 1.3 or so miles of distance mixed running and walking and I was already wiped out, but the program expects that you'll do this. If this happens, you just keep going back to Week 1 and doing it over and over again until you can do week 2.
So I did.
Yet again, a miracle happened. It got easier. I was able to advance, and after doing week 1 four times, I never had to repeat anything again. It was just continuous progress run after run. It was then that it hit me: I needed to set a goal for myself. I needed a challenge, so I set myself up to do a 5k on December 8th, which, if everything went perfectly, would coincide almost exactly to my finishing of the program. I had to finish it so I would be ready. I had no choice.
I pushed hard. I ran in the rain. I ran in ice. I ran when the park I run in was closed because of a coyote attack and I had to run on asphalt in my neighborhood on 3 blisteringly cold overcast and rainy mornings. I did not miss a run unless it was raining particularly hard. Missing a run was a luxury I didn't have.
So I continued to push myself and day after day, the runs fell. I went from a majority of my intervals being walks to all runs and went from not being able to run more than two minutes to running for 35.
I was ready as hell.
Sunday morning at 9:35am, they started and I was off. I had every emotion in my head as I ran. I was doing it. I was running faster than others, and slower than others. But I was running in a group of about 500 people for the first time ever. Some people slowed, I passed them. Sometimes I had to walk because the climbs were too much for me, but in the end, I did it. I ran a 5k and I did it in a respectable time for a first 5k. 43:04 start to finish, a 13:52 mile.
This is the biggest accomplishment in my life. I have no intention of letting this be the plateau, and every intention of pushing harder than hard to get better. To have a more respectable time. To finish better than 47/47 in my group (men 40-49) but that's fine tuning. Right now? I'm on the high of having finished at all.
I did something that I have tried to do on and off for years: I ran a 5k.
And I'm damn proud of it because when you can't walk, the last thing you think is that in 9 months or so you'll be running. Right now I'm in the best shape of my life and it's only going to get better. I can do this, and I'm going to do this.
But for now? I'm damn effing proud of myself, and I feel like I have every right to be.