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Hanging on to Fitness and a Few Strands of Hair Through Breast Cancer Treatment

I am a Medical Oncologist, a wife, a mother of 4, runner of 12 marathons training to run my 13th with a goal to qualify for Boston when the diagnosis of breast cancer caused a significant detour in my well-planned life. When I asked for guidance on how to continue to stay fit while receiving treatment, I received blank stares and found little data. While I never intended to be in this experiment, I find myself now generating my own data about fitness through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. I am writing this in hopes to help others who find themselves in this same situation.

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The Track Workout

My training schedule typically involves some type of hard effort interval training either on Tuesday or Wednesday each week. I typically run alone due and these workouts were no exception. This approach has worked best because of my unpredictable schedule and admittedly, there is a big part of me that is intimidated by the idea of doing these workouts in a group setting. I have the perception that although I love to work hard, I am not fast and do not fit into these groups who train together at the track. But now with this breast cancer diagnosis heavy on my mind, this intimidation factor has been taken over by my desire to be with others. There is a running group that meets at the track most Wednesday mornings. Although this group is named the “Speedsters” which only reinforces the intimidation factor for me, I decided to put my fragile ego aside and just get out there. I knew that this group would likely be doing a workout that would be good preparation for the Charlottesville 10 Miler on that day as well. The assignment was to warm up for a couple of miles, then do 800’s x 6 with 1-2 min rest between. The target pace for the 800’s was supposed to be a little faster than target 10 miler pace. I had a secret goal to try to achieve a PR at this race with a time of 1 hour and 25 min. This would require a pace around 8:30. With this in mind, I thought if I could do these 800’s at about an 8:15 pace, that would be good, but challenging for me. I wasn’t positive that I could achieve these paces, but what did I have to lose. I was going to go for it. The cool thing that I discovered was that I could relax a bit and not spend unnecessary energy looking at my Garmin to make sure that I was hitting the desired pace. I decided to trust the group and just try to keep up. I did this and ended up really surprised by the splits I saw when I reviewed my Garmin data after the workout: 8:17; 8:09; 8:01; 7:55; 7:48; 7:42! I was delighted! This was significantly faster than I thought I was capable of achieving. And again, there must be something special about being with this group because although this felt like a good effort, it felt much more manageable than a typical workouts where I have been alone. I was also pleased to see the evidence that the hard work that I was putting into this training cycle was working! No doubt that I am sad that I will not be able to take this training all the way to the marathon that I had planned in May, but gratifying to know that my body is responding in such a good way.


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