Running Down Cancer

Essay

The Long Trail is the oldest long-distance walking path in the country, running 273 miles–broken up into twelve sections–that meander over the spine of Vermont from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border. 

It has long been a goal of mine to finish the entire trail and I had completed two sections in my twenties with my then roommate, Ed. Then our lives diverged and the goal was shelved until the early months of 2014. I’d been running steadily since we had moved back to Vermont, two years earlier. Now, in the search to try to prove to myself that I was more than a stay-at-home-dad, I determined I needed to put on the persona of an ultra runner and run the Long Trail. I decided to do it over four years in order to not upset my wife, too much. Not only was I not comfortable with just being a stay-at-home-dad, I was not truly comfortable in my own skin. I had yet to learn that I was already doing what the Lord had called me to do.

That spring my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and running for an End to End patch and a certificate seemed silly. It was then that I decided to turn the run into a fundraiser to fight cancer and came up with the name Running Down Cancer. I knew several people who had had the disease and my dad had died from it. It just made sense. The plan was to raise $20,000 for the American Cancer Society over the four years. It was a lofty goal and when I started the project, my heart was in the right place and my motives were true. But soon I lost my way, becoming too wrapped up in the persona of being a badass trail runner and trying, as I often do, to make something bigger than it needs to be instead of enjoying the moments of growth and progression. 

The first year was a success, but it all fizzled after that. I obsessed about the project and let it consume me. I allowed it to monopolize all of my limited free time, which is a sure sign that my depression is more in control than I would like to believe. Common sense would have you think that in my late thirties I could recognize and heed the warning signs. But I had yet to grasp this. Instead I just fretted over abandoning yet another project and worried that I would look like someone who leaves things half done. Because that is what I told myself I did–someone who shifted focus when the wind changed direction–I believed that about myself and I hated myself for it.

My ego played a roll as much my depression. As hard as it was to admit to myself, the project quickly changed into something that I was doing because I wanted to be noticed. I felt I needed to adopt a persona to put on display because I believed that would make me happy. I’ve done this all my life–put on a persona because I was not comfortable with who I am. I could feel myself falling out of sync with the project, and then I got injured. That was the excuse I needed to stop. That way I did not feel like a failure. Only I did. I was no less lost at thirty-seven than I had been in my early twenties. 

It took until 2018 to stop mulling over all the reasons why I thought I had failed and to finally understand that I had not failed. Ironically, this realization occurred on the Long Trail with Ed. We had taken three days to try to complete the three southern sections of the trail. On the second day, the topic of Running Down Cancer came up, and I told him that I had failed at the project and that I had done it for the wrong reasons. Not one to mince words, he told me I was wrong, that I had accomplished something. In that moment I knew he was right. And while it took some more time to stop berating myself over the project, I have since come to realize that though I did not raise $20,000 for the American Cancer Society and though I did not finish the Long Trail in four years, I certainly accomplished a lot in the 70-plus miles of the trail I did run and the $5000 I did raise. 

More than that, though, it helped me come to the realization that I had been trying on personas my whole life, but I did not need to do that anymore. I am good enough and that is enough. I don’t need to be anything more than a stay-at-home-dad, but I am much more than that. And I am right where God wants me to be. 

 The next three weeks I will be publishing my accounts of the three runs I did the year of the Running Down Cancer Project.