Because I Can

I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can’t run, what they’d give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them. I know they would do the same for me~ Anonymous

“Because I Can…”

I’ve said those three words more times than I count, since I started running in 2009.

Almost every person I tell I run, asks me eventually, “Why did you start running?” or some version of that. My answer is always the same,

“Because I can.”

The unspoken words I’ve thought are, “Because there was once a time where I couldn’t.”

I couldn’t because I had cancer. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in April 2009. A few months later I found out it had spread to my lymph nodes in my neck, and I had to have a thyroidectomy (complete removal of the thyroid) and a neck dissection, where 60+ of my 80 neck lymph nodes were removed. It was a painstaking and somewhat risky surgery, but I was fortunate my surgeons did an excellent job. Many of the complications associated with this surgery, I was spared from.

However, there was a mistake made by doctors, while I was waiting for radioactive iodine for months- I was never given artificial thyroid hormone, which regulates, your metabolism, the way you feel, your energy, etc. It left me for months, in such a hypothyroidism state, I was sleeping 22 hours a day, couldn’t function, couldn’t take care of my kids, and it literally took me hours to complete simple tasks. I had no energy, and I was mentally confused. I felt like a 36-year old in a body that was 120-years old.

I had moved in with my dad and stepmom that summer, so they could help me with my very young boys, who were 5 and 3 at the time. I was going through a divorce. Their house was smaller and easier for me to watch the boys. During the day, my dad & stepmom were working- they’d help the boys in the morning, and go to work.  I’d sit on the patio and watch my boys play in the yard.

I’d see it was 9:30AM and I knew I had to start getting lunch ready- NOW. It was good if I could get them lunch made by 12 or 1. It took me that long to make them two sandwiches, get some carrots out of a bag, and pour them milk. Then I was exhausted.

Doctors told me I may never get my energy levels back. They said at best, once I had radioactive iodine, I could start on Synthroid (synthetic thyroid hormone) and I would start to feel a gradual increase over several months, of improved energy, but it would be months and a very slow process, and I likely would never feel completely like my “old self.” Synthroid is very hard to get that perfect balance. Too much, and you are too hyper and sick because your body’s systems are operating too fast. Too slow, you are hypothyroid, where you are tired, lack energy, and suffer from mental confusion.

During these months, where I was going through this and recovering, just walking up stairs without being exhausted was a goal. Running never even crossed my mind. I just wanted to get somewhat of a normal level of energy back, so I could be a mom again to my boys.

I was happy my prognosis was good, and there was a light at the end of the tunnel, I wasn’t going to feel like I was 120 years old forever.

I have often struggled with why I got cancer. I imagine most cancer patients do. No one else in my family had cancer, and we are all very healthy. Why me? Why did I get dealt this hand of cards?

Whenever something “negative” happens, there is the other side of the coin- the positive. I had such an outpouring of love from family and friends- not everyone always sees that while they are alive. But I found a much less expected positive as my cancer treatment neared its end.

After I was cleared to take Synthroid, I was home by myself. My children had to stay away from me for 10 days, since I was radioactive. I was quarantined and had to stay away from large crowds for a few more days.

I took my first Synthroid, and it wasn’t months, weeks, days, or even hours, until I started to feel better. I felt better within MINUTES. I was a little freaked out. This wasn’t “supposed” to happen. I was supposed to feel the way I had been feeling for months.

But just like I can’t explain fully why I got cancer, I can’t explain why within minutes, I felt the best I had in years! It was like my body was soaking up the hormone it had been depleted and starved of for months (maybe even years if my diseased thyroid wasn’t producing correct levels) and said, “Whoo-hoo- we are back in business- turn on the engines- we are going to rock!”

I went out for several walks in the next days. Something I hadn’t been able to do for months. I cleaned the house- I had to clean and disinfect everything very carefully so there were no traces of the radioactive iodine in the house when the boys came home. My energy wasn’t decreasing every day, it was improving- in fact I had felt better than I had in years- within a few days.

I knew this was a gift. I didn’t know if it was going last, but after the past few months, I was determined to make the most of it- for however long I felt this good.

One thing that came in my mind was I had always wanted to run a 5K race. I don’t know why. I wasn’t ever a runner- I actually HATED running. It was like that old joke, “the only time I am running is if something is chasing me.”

But cancer changes you- it gives you a fresh perspective if you are lucky to get a second chance. I had never been motivated or inspired to try running. But I thought “Why the hell not- what have I got to lose- I certainly won’t feel worse than I have for months.” There was a reason though, and even if I didn’t fully understand the “why” behind it, I wasn’t going to ignore the feeling that I had to try.

It was late August. The Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure was coming up in early October. I had about a month. I knew nothing about running or where to even begin.

I asked one of my friends, who had been in a mommy’s group with me, Sonja Wieck, who has now conquered several Iron man’s, who was just starting out herself in triathlons, “How do I run a 5K?”

She told me, “One step at a time. Just do the distance. Even if you have to barely run, or walk slow, just keep moving and do the distance. And then do it again- it will get easier and easier-and have fun.”

It sounded like good advice to me and I had a month. So that night, I dug out what ever old sneakers I had in my closet and put on a pair of old shorts and a T-shirt. I had used the odometer on my car to map out 1.6 miles, earlier, because I hadn’t even heard of a Garmin, or a watch that would track distance by GPS. I grabbed a pair of ear buds to stick in my phone for music.

It was dusk. I started out down the country road, in the country town I lived in at the time- Mead, Colorado. And I did what Sonja suggested. I started with one step, and then another and another. And I absolutely fell in love.

For the first time, I saw wheat fields, with the wind whipping across the top of the wheat. I could smell the sweet hay that had been cut and was lying in the fields. I saw the gorgeous Colorado sunset dipping behind the majestic mountains- Long’s Peak, a 14-teener included.

Even though I hadn’t been on Synthroid for more than a week, or hadn’t been able to physically exert myself for months, I never felt better. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t huffing and puffing. I was actually bummed when I saw the turnaround point. I figured this is where I would get tired.

But with the air growing cooler and cooler by the moment, the sun casting out its orange, pink, and red rays, fields of wheat moving with the wind, my feet finding their rhythm and pattern with the road, I felt energized- not tired. And for the first time in my life, I knew I had found something that could set me completely free- for however long I could run. I was free. No divorce stuff, no medical stuff, no sickness, no feeling like I was a failure at life. Every step I ran was telling my soul, not only was I not a failure, I was strong, healthy, and amazing.

I got back to my house and looked at the time. And so it started. I was thinking if I could run the 3.10 miles in an hour, I’d be happy. I didn’t stop once, and I didn’t have to walk any of it. I didn’t officially time myself but it had been about 38 minutes since I left for my first ever, 5K run.

I was elated. I knew I could do the race! I signed up that night. I felt like I could have run it the next morning. But I had a month to go. Would my health hold up? I couldn’t answer that question, but I knew I was going to do everything I could to make sure I could run that race- even just once.

By the time the race came a month later, I was feeling even stronger, healthier, and better. There was no doubt I would be running and running as fast as I’d ever been able to run to date. I had just been following Sonja’s advice. I had just been concentrating on running 3.10 miles. I had no thoughts about speed, or training, or endurance. I had run a little, just slightly longer distances a few times, but I had no doubts, I was running every step of this race and finishing.

Race day, I was ecstatic. My dad came with me and Sonja was there, running for a friend who had cancer and Sonja was the first woman to finish! On my previous blog, I blogged about the whole race with pictures.


After my first ever 5K race, October 2009. Five weeks after having completed thyroid cancer treatments

After my first ever 5K race, October 2009. Five weeks after having completed thyroid cancer treatments

I had a goal of finishing under 40 minutes. The race wasn’t officially timed and I forgot to stop my watch when I finished. But even at that, the time I ran that was around 34-36 minutes. That meant I had dropped about 2-4 minutes off my time in a month! I was so happy. That race- I ran with a smile on my face the entire time- for everything I had been through- barely a month ago, I couldn’t get out of bed and I just had ran a 5K in about 35 minutes. I was completely free and a huge part of me healed that day- from running that race. I wasn’t “sick” anymore. I wasn’t a “cancer patient” anymore. I was a runner!

So the runner in me was ignited….the question for me was never “if” I was going to run again, but when and what. I decided that day; I was going to run a marathon. No matter what- I was going to do 26.2 miles and run it fun. It would be the ultimate full circle for me. From cancer patient to marathon runner! It was my dream and my goal.

In 2010 (less than year out of my cancer recovery) just for “fun” I entered a FAST 3K (1.7) mile race sprint in Boulder, home of the best runners, and I entered the elite division- where the professional runners run. There were men in other age groups that were Olympic qualifiers running in this race. Why, did I enter the elite division, when I wasn’t technically an elite runner? Because I Can.

It was so hot and humid that steaming evening in July on race night. I ran and gave it my all. No one had been able to come with me to cheer me on. It was all me. I had to stop and walk a few paces during the race too, because it was so humid, I couldn’t catch my breath and breathe. I thought no one places in an elite division walking. I’m out of my league. But then I saw other women walking too, I figured “Who knows? That’s why we run the race.”

I could feel a woman on my heels and felt like she could be the difference between me placing and not, so I dug deep- to a place I didn’t even know I had. I pushed myself that night even more than I ever did with anything, not involving birthing a child. 😉

The crowd was cheering me on, and they gave me that final push I needed to keep the other woman from passing me. 1.7 miles had never felt so long before, but underneath it all, it was still fun. I was running free and running for no one, except for me. And as I crossed the finish line, I knew I had given it my absolute best. I was physically exhausted. Dripping in sweat- gasping for thick, humid air for my lungs. But my mind was energized- maybe I was dead last, but it had been the absolutely best physical performance I had ever done. I just ran with some of Boulder’s and the United States, elite runners!

It was about 30 minutes before results came out, and I had to stare at the paper a few times to make sure it was real. I was the second woman in my age group. In an elite division- in a tough race. My first elite race-ever. Running less than a year off cancer- I came in second for my age group. There is no way, when I couldn’t even walk up 5 stairs in my dad’s house less than a year earlier, I would have ever had dared to dream this, and yet I had just achieved it! Because I knew- and knew me, and I knew that place running takes me to- if I can dream it, I can do it- the mind will find a way, if I can allow it. That July day I did- I found a way to run an elite race with pure joy and the results showed me that. I wasn’t running to place- I hoped I would place- but I was running for me- for the joy and fun of it. Because I Can.

With my bib number after my first competitive elite division race. I thought “321” was good karma the moment I saw it, & it was. I placed 2nd in my age group! This was in 2010, one year after I had thyroid and lymph node cancer.

I’ve never stopped running over the years, but I have stopped dreaming. I have stopped running free with it all. I became much more goal and results processed. I’ve lost some of my joy for it over the years. In the six years since that first run, among the hay fields in Mead, CO, I’ve achieved more in running than I ever thought possible. Even at times when I thought running was the last thing I could do. Through hard injuries, and emotional times- I’ve done some of my best running. That spirit has never died, but it has been kept down.

Why, I’m not for certain.  Maybe on some levels I didn’t feel like I really deserved to be great and excel at something. Running has always been more mental for me. There’s a great running quote, “You only need to beat the voice in your head.” For a few years, the voice has beaten me- but not completely, as I’ve never given up running. I’ve run every distance too, in official races. From 3K’s to 1/2 marathons. Some distances I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve raced.

But the one goal I’ve set for myself- the marathon- I’ve never tried it. Never even went for it. It’s eluded me. I’ve felt it too hard, too demanding, too much time involved to train for it. I’ve had some running injuries over the years too ranging from shin splints, to pulled and strained muscles that won’t heal for a long time. I’ve been afraid, what if I get hurt again? I’ve always used those as reasons to justify the “voice in my head” is right.

My boys who are now 11 and 9, love the “Night At The Museum” movies. In the “Night at the Smithsonian,” a line Amy Adams says as Amelia Earhart has gotten me thinking for months. She says, “Do you know why I became a pilot? … For the fun of it. Why else would anyone do anything?”

I’ve been thinking about that for months, as I’ve thought about me and running. I knew I’d have to find the “fun” in running again, if I was ever going to be able to even try running a marathon.

I’ve recently read the amazing book, Born to Run. If you haven’t read it, do. It’s not just a running book, but a book on the absolutely beautiful human spirit that you connect with when you run- and that is yourself and the others around you.

It motivated me again. It gave me the spark to put the fire back in my dream of running a marathon. It also helped me see how I could run smarter and run free again while training, so I can have fun, and not get injured.

So now it’s not about my run times. It’s not about the pacing. It’s not about placing in an elite division. It’s not about the fancy gear or top of the line shoes. It’s not about running my fastest. It’s about running with my joy, and in the spirit of why I loved running in the first place. It is about running for the fun of it and running free- that place, where there isn’t anything I can’t achieve. Where if I can dream it, I will do it.

I’ve been a “Mommy Blogger” at A Mama’s Blog, since 2007. I had success with it and I truly enjoyed it. I stopped blogging about my kids a few years ago, as I felt it invaded their privacy. But I’ve always been a writer. I’m not a professional athlete or coach with all the answers, or resources. I want to do this for myself- to find that part of me again, and show myself I can. And in the process inspire anyone else who wants to find their “Running Free” spirit too- no matter if that is jogging one mile a week, achieving something they keep putting off, or an ultra marathon.

So I decided it’s time to start running and writing again, and to share my journey from being solely goal and results focused to running free. This isn’t going to be a blog about knocking 3 seconds off my 10K time, or increasing my mileage 10% every week. This is about the spirit of running- that raw, pure, joy and happiness in those rare moments I’ve had running, where it all comes together, and I’m “running free.”

I’m going to write about those moments, and how to find that- by running free, and showing you don’t have to spend tons of money to become a runner. I’ve often thought over the years, “Why does it cost so much to run?”

So “Running Free Blog” is about that running spirit but also about finding that without having to buy the latest gear, or entering races and spending a lot of money to achieve your goals.

It’s a change for me. I know it won’t always be easy, but it will be fun. I’m going minimalist. I’m going to transition to minimalist running. So I’m really starting from square one, and ditching my running style I’ve developed for the past 6 years. I’m starting over.

I’m not going to track my times, and pacing anymore. I’m an accountant in “real life” so tracking my running times, stats and statistics- I love it. I’m giving that up. Because when I run with times in mind, I get injured. I’m going to run without music at times too. I’m going to connect with the journey again. My feet, step by step, making contact with the ground. I’m going to let my feet do the thinking when I’m running. I’m going to let my body- not my Garmin- set the pace.

I’m going to notice the sunsets again. The wheat fields, the scent of the sweet hay on a late summer’s evening. The sunset dipping behind the glorious Rocky Mountains. The rest will take care of itself. I believe this, and I’m going to start living and running it.


The answer hasn’t changed for me- it’s the same reason I started running, when I wasn’t even sure, six years ago, if my first run would be my last.

“Because I Can.”

5 thoughts on “Because I Can

  1. What a truly inspiring post! You triumphed where most people would have felt defeated and given up on life. Thank you for sharing your remarkable and inspirational story.The world needs more role models like you, Heather. 🙂

  2. Wow Heather, your story is truly an inspiration! I have no doubt that you have been able to accomplish so much because of your resilience and positive mental attitude.

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