Why run? Why do anything?

On Friday, I went for a run.  In the rain.  When I didn’t have to.  Yes – I know I didn’t have to.  Sure – I questioned my sanity too.  But I had to.  I just did.

Why? That’s normally the next question asked by people who don’t run.  Now my remaining lifespan is measurable in months, perhaps years but not decades, it’s understandably asked by everyone, including me.  As soon as humans found a way to devote the odd waking moment to something other than sheer survival, they must have asked similar questions of themselves.  How should I spend my time? What will make me happy and fulfilled?  Philosophers, poets, preachers, life coaches and advertising executives have all made pretty good livings out of monetising these questions, despite the answers being deeply personal.  And with functioning mind and body but limited hours, my situation is more personal than most.

Well, personally, I don’t know where I’m going but I know where I’ve been and where I am, so may as well start there.  It’s really hard to make it out the door to run, knowing you’re going to get really wet and cold before body heat offsets this, if at all.  But I know enough about myself to be able to convince my survival instincts that I’ll warm up within a mile or two and almost always be happier for the experience.  I’ve also learned that I like having a goal to work towards and there can’t be too many ultra running cancer patients, so I intend to work my way up to at least 50k within a couple of months, health allowing.  I’ve even got a training plan and, that day, had 7×1 minute sprint intervals to work in.  Sure – there is an element of self gratification at play here – I like logging a run and ticking it off on the training plan.  But I like to think there’s something noble about the overall process of working to achieve something that neither money nor privilege can buy.  No one can run these miles for me and I’ve learned that I have to put in the training in order to be good for the end result – especially now.

There’s also a real statement in here somewhere.  I’ve lost count of the number of people whose facial expressions have told me they’ve already started mourning my loss.  Even I can’t say I haven’t experienced a similar thought process.  But continuing to run shows not only that I’m still here but that incurable cancer doesn’t signal the end of one’s life.  I’ve got something to say here and I haven’t finished speaking.  It’s also reasonable to imagine that I’m going to be cut off mid-sentence pretty soon, so now’s the time to get the words out – maybe even put a nice finisher’s medal on to close out next chapter.  And what’s the worst that could happen? The worst has already happened after all.

[By the way – as there will be family reading this – I’m not quite so filled with reckless abandon that I’ll run off a cliff or end up stranded in a desert or something.  For example, self preservation instincts saw me seeking shelter from a Rocky Mountain lightning storm and not ascending my first fourteener.]

So all of these thought processes are getting me out of the door and if I end up soaked and shivering, so be it.  It’s possible that most people would choose not to spend most of their remaining days in a state of self inflicted comfortable discomfort, but I quite like it.  I’ve even applied some pseudoscientific logic to the situation.  Conventional wisdom states that every run and subsequent recovery will make me fitter, stronger and more resilient.  So that’s got to mean that for every day I make it out, I’ll be able to last at least another day once I’m fighting for my life, or be able to tolerate that extra dose of chemo tablets or whatever.  So hey – this running thing is an investment in my future and I intend to make frequent deposits in the exercise bank – just as soon as I can motivate myself to finish writing and get moving!


  1. Hi Nathaniel, I’m really glad I’ve found your blog through Runner’s World. As someone else who has Stage 4 cancer with a very uncertain future, running is the thing that gives me order, and the time and space for processing. In fact, it’s only since first being diagnosed that I’ve taken up ultra-running, and now can’t imagine a life without it.

    You mentioned about finding a nice ultra to do in the near future. The Epping Forest 50km in London (October), run by Camino is fab. I’ve done it twice now – it’s a beautiful course, with lots of time allowed!


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