Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Red Queen's Race

Last week, I ran the Bath Half Marathon. It's the first big competitive race that I've ever run, and it represented the culmination of over a year's training, as I built up my fitness and stamina after coming off chemotherapy.

By a strange twist of fate, just days earlier, my doctors had discovered a new lump, and I was booked in for a scan the day after the run. So even as I was at my peak of physical fitness, I knew that I could be back on chemotherapy in a matter of days.

Before my cancer treatment, I had never been interested in sport, and I never ran anywhere. I simply did not consider myself to be athletic. But my experience of cancer treatment and recovery forced me to challenge a lot of my presuppositions about myself. I discovered that I possessed greater strength and emotional stamina than I ever imagined. And I realised that my negative self image had been seriously limiting my potential.

So, even as the chemo had been reducing my physical stamina, it was also like an incubator for a new me. It forced me to raise my game, just to stay in the game. Sometimes being held back is precisely what we need in order to ultimately be propelled forwards. It's like the Red Queen says in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." Like running on a treadmill. Imagine what happens when the treadmill stops, but you don't. You start moving forwards… fast.

And since the chemo, that's exactly what I had been doing. Moving forwards fast. But the looming possibility of a return to chemo threatened to bring my journey to an abrupt halt.

This uncertainty could have cast a cloud over my run, but that's not how it turned it. In fact, the scan served to heighten the intensity of my experience on the big day. Since my future was clouded, and all of my past year had led up to this point, it caused me to focus entirely upon the day itself. To reside in the moment. The experience was all the more vivid, intense and exhilarating as a result.

As it turns out, the scan results delivered good news. And upon reflection, I realised that I was glad the scan had coincided with the half marathon. It made me realise that I had never left the Red Queen's treadmill, and I never will. We're all on that treadmill - it's just life. Sometimes it's going forwards, sometimes backwards, sometimes stationary. That is outside of our control. All that we can do is to keep running.