I Ran My First Marathon For Those We've Lost to Cancer, I Made My Impossible Possible

The first time I was introduced to cancer I was in fourth grade.  This was pre-cell phone and Facebook era, so when my best friend went missing for a while, I had no idea what was going on.  I remember that day vividly as the guidance counselor sat us pretzel style on the worn out reading carpet in our classroom.  She explained that Cara’s mom had cancer and that she went to Heaven.  Confused, angry, and upset I ran off the bus that day and sat on my dad’s lap and cried.  I’ll never forget this day and the pain I felt for my best friend, a pain I would learn over and over again.

Fast forward to my senior year of college; an exciting year for me, I ran a few half marathons, was looking forward to student teaching, and graduation was right around the corner.  The idea of running a marathon had been floating around my head for a while… but I couldn’t do that!  Too slow, not strong enough, not good enough… I had every excuse in the book.  As the year progressed I was again introduced to the terrible pain that cancer brings.  I watched as a good friend from college struggled with her mother’s brain cancer diagnosis.  I felt helpless when my boyfriend’s step mother was diagnosed with brain cancer far, far away in Colorado.  I struggled when my boyfriend’s grandfather was diagnosed and lost his short battle with cancer.  In the course of one year I watched the people that I love lose the people that were the most important to them.

When I saw that the American Association for Cancer Research was partnering with the Philadelphia marathon, I did something crazy; I registered.  I didn’t even have time to think about it, I hit the submit button and saved the panic for later.  My training was strong, it was motivated.  I was running with the runners for research team to raise money for cancer research.  I was running in honor of the loved ones that I have lost and for the pain I watched my friends and family experience and go through.  My training cycle was strong, I started early to relieve some anxiety and I even started training with our local run club.  I was finally starting to feel like a marathon was within reach when it all came crashing down.

The first week in October, 8 weeks before my first marathon, I injured myself on my second 16 mile long run.  I sat in my orthopedic doctor’s office crying as she told me that I had a stress reaction and would not be able to run.  Not running was not an option and I made that clear the day my MRI results came in.  I had fundraised $1,200 for my charity and showing up to this race meant the world to me.  I spent two weeks on crutches and an additional four weeks without running.   I was a mess during these six weeks and panicked every single day about my fate for the Philadelphia marathon.  I vowed not to give up.  I told myself I would do everything in my power to show up for the people I love.

I joined the YMCA, I started biking and swimming 5 nights a week for 2 hours.  I learned how to “aqua jog”… yeah, you read that right.  I spent hours running in the deep end of the pool (if you’re wondering what this looks like, imagine throwing a cat into the water and watching it flail around, that was me).  I had no idea if any of this would help, but I showed up. I put in the work.  Two weeks before my race, I tried running.  It was slow, one mile at a time at a slower pace than usual.  I ran a few 5ks and my longest run before the marathon was 6 miles one week before.

I was a mess going into this race; I threw all my expectations out the door.  I put on my custom shirt that my good friend Jen made me, I put photos of the people I was honoring in my hydration pack, and I showed up.  I ran, it was tough, but I ran. 

When I started feeling tired, I thought of the people I was running for and I kept moving.  My mantra for this race was to just keep moving forward.  I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of crossing that finish line, my eyes well up thinking about it.  I gave the Philadelphia Marathon everything that I had, I worked hard, I did everything that I physically could and now I am a marathoner.

Rewind to the beginning of the year as I filled out my entry for my impossible goals.  I think about the person I was then and the person I am now and they are not the same.  I learned a lot about myself through this journey; it has been hard, tears have been shed, but I never gave up.  In 2018 alone, 1,735,350 people were diagnosed with cancer and 609,604 of those people lost their lives.  When I ran with the runners for research, I took one small step to help lower that number.  

I dared to fail and I am a stronger person for it. I am a marathoner!

**For more from Stephanie, you can follow her on Instagram.