at the races Racing Before Surgery Because What Else Can You Do

Racing Before Surgery Because What Else Can You Do


I almost cancelled Sunday’s race because of what’s going to happen after it. Recently I was diagnosed with a large kidney tumour and it never sunk in, but what happened was the operation date kept getting closer. I wasn’t thinking about it. I was busy. Except: sometimes I couldn’t sleep. And my friends and parents began to worry, which was lovely, but also I didn’t want to upset my kids. A desire overcame me to not do anything. Clear all plans. Answer no phone calls. Basically: hide, and quietly await what was coming.

My running partner told me not to do that.

Deciding to run Around the Bay felt empowering. I took a bus with friends from BlackToe to Hamilton from Toronto. I very carefully made my playlist extra sweet. It was only thirteen songs and I played them on repeat: Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down, Lost Together. You know the vibe: set your spirit free.

I had no time goal and I dressed as if I was scaling the arctic. Much too many layers but none of that mattered: not the extra distance, not my pace, not my sneakers, not anything. There were people I knew at the start line and even the people I didn’t know—the runners waiting to begin—I knew them. I know us. How we all feel before race day. The weeks leading in, the night before. I was scared, absolutely. If we’re honest, we’re all scared—we all have our problems, our own reasons not to run.

When the horn went off and I started moving, the music started playing and I saw the cheers—my soul lifted.

The day was sunny and the route was good. There were hills and water stations and times when I felt like flying—and other times when I had to walk. But I had traveled a great distance, emotionally, from being frightened to feeling exalted; not sick, beaming. My troubles, like everything, I knew would still be there when I crossed the finish line.

They weren’t with me now. 

Having a kidney removed isn’t the end of the world. Each week we write about people facing much greater adversities and I’m going to be fine. The idea is to make my return in November with my running partner at the TCS New York Marathon. We shall see. But I also return to this question after so many years: why do I run? Is it to stay fit, be social, have something to look forward to—arbitrary goals on the calendar to keep me engaged with the world?

It’s all those things and I’m sure it’s some combination of all those things for you. I raced on Sunday because we can’t change what’s going to happen, but we can change how we spend the days leading up to the rest of our lives. Hiding in the basement isn’t going to solve anything and being outdoors with friends, listening to Tom Petty, hearing cheers, getting exercise and crossing a finish line—my lord, talk about hobbies.

It’s something I hope we all can share for the rest of our lives.

Photos courtesy of Marathon Photos. To get your pictures, see


  1. A moving and meaningful read. Thank you for sharing Ben. Love and best wishes in the next steps of your journey.

  2. such love to everyone who read this or even took the time to write – it means a lot, and what a wonderful community to be part of; it means quite literally the world

  3. This was a very inspiring account. I wish you a speedy recovery so you can get back on the road.

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