The message on the digital sign above the highway should have been sufficient: “Excessive heat warning.”
It was 3 p.m. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky to shield the sun. It was 103 degrees.
“This might not be a good idea,” I thought for a moment, not giving serious consideration to turning around and going home.
The Pikes Peak Ascent is four weeks from today.
This was a valuable training opportunity, and there was plenty of motivation on my mind.
Motivation has been lacking a bit during the past few weeks as the summer heat as reached oppressive levels. The humidity regularly has been at 80-90 percent, temperatures have been in the upper 90s and tipped into triple digits and it’s been a constant 83-85 degrees inside my apartment — at night.
Yes, the dog days of summer are in full force, and they’ve done plenty to make training extra tedious. I’d begun to view Pikes Peak simply as a serious physical challenge and not for what it is: an opportunity.
The group runs have been a blast, especially as record numbers have shown up every Wednesday night. Other runs with friends have been equally fulfilling. Solo training, however, has felt like a chore.
On Monday, a dose of reality provided some clarity that will make these next four weeks — and the days, weeks and months that follow — significantly more fulfilling. I was doing hill repeats on Ogg Road in preparation for Pikes Peak. It was a productive workout, but the heat and humidity made it absolutely miserable. I was relieved to have it over with.
When I returned to my car, the light on my cell phone was flashing. The log revealed I’d missed a call from my good friend and running buddy Shelley, and that I also had a text message from her.
Shelley had flown to Philly on Monday morning for a week-long business trip. She was back on a plane about to return home.
“My doctor called me a couple hours ago,” her text read. “I have breast cancer.”
I forgot about the hill workout I’d just done. The fatigue in my body and brain disappeared instantly.
Running hills was pain by choice. Cancer … that’s a whole ‘nother beast.
In the days since receiving Shelley’s text, speaking with her on the phone and meeting her at the airport that night, I’ve done a lot of reflecting.
It was 13 months ago that I received similar news about my own mom. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage three, in May of 2010. She waited until I returned home from Tanzania in June before allowing my dad to tell me about it. She didn’t want me to worry about her. Throughout her battle, I worried about her a ton. It hit home and scared me, despite the fact that my sister is a cancer nurse and told me that based on what doctors said everything would be fine.
Mom showed great strength and courage throughout her battle, always putting her best foot forward and rarely showing fear. It was something life threw at her, and she attacked it as best she could with a goal of getting back to being a grandmother.
I learned a ton from her during the past year, and she became my inspiration as I successfully completed my first two half marathons.
Shelley’s approach to her battle has taken me back to that state of mind the past few days. She has continued to run as much as possible, she’s gone to work and gone about her business as a wonderful mother of two.
She’s also talking about races to sign up for during the next few months. One of her best friends ran the Boston Marathon in 3:43 after having her third round of chemotherapy this year. Shelley’s not someone who makes excuses, and she’s not going to let cancer stop her.
Simply put, this is an opportunity for her to kick cancer’s ass and add it to her list of amazing feats.
Which brings me back to today’s run …
I knew it was going to be hot and miserable. I read the sign on the highway and knew what the risks were. But I also knew the alternative.
Good excuses were available all over the place.
A week ago I’m certain I would’ve stayed home.
Today — as with the Wednesday group run and the after-work run Thursday night — I saw the alternative and I saw the opportunity.
I know what Shelley would’ve done. She would’ve made time to run.
Cancer’s not stopping her, so what’s a little uncomfortable weather?
Rather than making an excuse and regretting it later, I chose to embrace the heat and pain — nothing more than minor discomforts — and savor every step.
Pikes Peak is 28 days from today, and I plan to make the most of every one of them.