at the races Cancer took out my right kidney. It only cost me 5 minutes...

Cancer took out my right kidney. It only cost me 5 minutes on my 10K time.

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I came in with modest expectations. My last race was Around the Bay and since then it’s been a whirlwind: cancer, surgery, recovery; patience, walking, running—peace. Grattititude replacing anxiety. On Saturday, it felt good just to get to the start line. The start line energy is not replicated anywhere else. Everyone on the same mission. Everyone excited, nervous, wearing their best shoes, best outfits, as trained up as possible—going over their plans, checking their watches. It’s like preparing to watch the moon launch, except we’re all the astronauts. High fives and smiles. Angling for your place in the corral. Seeing people you recognize. A round of applause for the elites. Then it’s the countdown. Then the smiles turn into something else: focus.

DOWN BUT NOT OUT: A few hours after surgery. Miles away from my next run.

At the 1K marker at the Under Armour Toronto 10K, I felt like a load had been lifted. It’s always that way at races. After all the fretting about getting to the event and sleeping the night before and agonizing about pace, when you’re actually out there running, it’s a relief. I knew I wasn’t going to run crazy. After having my kidney out, I don’t need to score a PR. I’ve run since surgery and took my first jog gingerly in May and have since been plodding along. This race, sure, I wanted to run quickly. But more importantly: I didn’t want to walk. 10Ks can be tricky. You’re flying . . . then get to 6K, and it’s like—yikes.

HAPPY TRAILS: Races become less about finishing times when you begin to question if you’ll ever run one again. Positive attitude, negative splits. Remember that running is a gift.

That wasn’t going to happen today. I was tucked in front of the 45-minute pacer and the run didn’t quite feel smooth. My surgery went well and, because the surgeons recognized I was a runner, I was operated on at St. Mike’s, which uses a less invasive “robot surgery,” then what was available at Sunnybrook. They took out my kidney and got out the cancer and I didn’t need chemo, thank God. Still, I somehow need to relearn the sport. It just doesn’t quite feel natural.

But that’s OK: one thing us runners know is how to keep on keeping on. I just kept moving forward and lifting my knees and pumping my arms and tried to keep my back straight. I hit the turnaround at the midway point and wasn’t in pain. To be sure, I wasn’t graceful. I haven’t put on weight but somehow I’ve become even more stiff? It’s hard to pinpoint. But it’s intuitive to keep moving forward. I love the UA Toronto 10K because it’s down by the water. It’s near my house and along the lake and it feels like half of my friends are at the race. The sun is shining and the objective is clear: for a little bit longer, just go.

I didn’t speed up as I took the little button turn just after 9K, which would bring me back home. But I also didn’t radically slow down and my pace was relatively even throughout the entire endeavour—around 4:22, which is faster per kilometre than I’ve run in practice. I keep telling people as they approach their race goals: you are faster than you think. It just takes races to bring it out of you.

I kept chug, chug, chugging towards the finish line and I crossed that thing ahead of the 45-minute pacer and kept my whole body in check. My kidneys felt fine and I wasn’t dehydrated and the sky didn’t fall and I didn’t have to walk and I didn’t need help. After the race was over I saw a friend who’s elite and fast and soulful and she gave me a big hug and told me to close my eyes and appreciate this moment.

I did. I had gotten myself back into racing.

I won.

8 COMMENTS

  1. That was a brilliant story Ben. Very proud of you my friend for winning the race and keeping the spirit up even after going through a life changing event. Hats off to your sportsmanship. All the very best for many more wins.

  2. I too had to deal with a cancer diagnosis and treatment…and ran (and trained, and did my other sports) all through surgery, chemotherapy, a second surgery, radiation…and now just taking the tablets each day. Never felt fatigued or unwell–ever! Just had to resort to moving down the running to some speedwalking for a few months in the midst of the chemotherapy…and explain to my tennis coach that if I start gripping my racquet too hard–it just meant I was a bit tired! I know it’s because I was determined to continue this way that I coped so well with everything…

  3. Great story! We’re lucky to have 2 kidneys! I too had to deal with cancer last year but unlike Heather (above), I completely stopped running. I had 8 months of treatment, ending December 29, 2023, and since then I’ve been working my way “back”. All the way along, though, I felt as though my previous fitness and running history had provided insurance against the illness, and I was grateful to have been able to do it before, and after (now). I’m glad you won the race, and I hope your health continues to thrive. Well done! Keep it up!

  4. Hey Ben, it was so good seeing you. So good to see your are doing so well considering what you have been through. You were chasing me at the finish but, I think I will be chasing you in the next race. Keep smiling!
    Josephine

  5. Hi Ben,

    I’ve been following you for years, since the Globe and Mail days. Somehow, I missed your illness!
    Lovely to know that your back in the game. I strongly believe you and your efforts over those years, have greatly enhanced the Canadian running scene, and continue to provide wonderful motivation.
    On a more personal level, I now have two brother-in-laws fighting cancer. You experience in recovery leaves us as family members with hope.

    Best wishes,
    Jim

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