Monday, December 9, 2013

Nathan Lynch Survived Cancer, Now He Has Conquered a Marathon.

DSC_0524Sacramento, CA - The sun isn’t up; Nathan Lynch, a junior at Valley Christian High School, makes his way through the frigid Sacramento air on his way to board a 5:00 am bus that will take him to the starting line.  His breath visible through the darkness, he is joined by others who have been training for this moment.  Like a warrior preparing for battle he runs through the checklist in preparation for the crusade he is about to embark on.  For Lynch the marathon is a journey into the unknown.  He has trained for this moment; confident as one can be. To finish he must give everything, relying on his experience from the trials faced not just in training but from life altering events that make running a personal best feel insignificant.

It was a year ago that Nathan was in the heart of his first year running cross country.  The sport was growing on him; he learned to find enjoyment, a spiritual connection while on the trails.  There was something therapeutic in in the repetitive rhythm of running, pushing beyond what he thought possible and getting through the grind of hard practices.  There was camaraderie with those who labored together in the shared goal to better themselves.  

Lynch is a gritty runner who from his first practice has been a contributor to the varsity cross country team.  He brought leadership and a dedicated work ethic to the team setting the example of what it meant to go the extra mile.  Early into cross country season the team set one team record after another and as they began to focus on the CCS automatic qualifying time Lynch began to suffer from stomach problems.  At first he dismissed it as food poisoning.  Despite the stomach cramping he ran through the pain and went on to finish in 18:40 at Woodward Park for 5k, one of the top marks for the Warriors that season.  The next week after the stomach pain worsened a mass was discovered in Nathan’s abdomen.  

Lynch again turned to running.  Just days before his scheduled surgery he snuck out of the house for a nine mile run.  He was caught by his mother, who by chance saw him running up the side of a hilly mountain highway.  This was his therapy, his time alone to mediate, pray and connect with God looking for answers when sometimes there aren’t any. 

The surgery was a success, doctors removed a fist-sized mass they believed to be cancerous.  When you ask him about the feelings of those first days he was at first dismissive: it was a part of life he now had to face.  It was almost as if there was never a doubt of getting better, that this was a race he was confident he would win.  “For some, it's the word ‘cancer,’ for others is battle between them and the disease, for me however, it's not being able to do the things you love most.”  Lynch says reflecting on his experience in chemotherapy.  “The greatest joy is the realization, the moment you recognize how important even a simple physical activity such as running, can take you so far and mean so much."

Running is the lifeblood to Nathan’s faith.  It is when he is running that he feels most at peace and connected spiritually.  Ten months ago Nathan Lynch was lying in his bed at Stanford Hospital in the midst of treatment; emotionally he was in a difficult place.  Not being able to participate in the things he wanted was the most torturous.  All he wanted to do was to be out running with his team, but the reality was even walking up stairs was draining.

The marathon signifies the ultimate test of human endurance.  It is a test of the human spirit, perseverance and determination.  It was in that moment of weakness he found strength and made a promise to himself that when he was healthy he was going to run a marathon.  A mere ten months later Nathan stood on the start line of the California International Marathon, he was a survivor.  But he was not there to just finish a marathon, he was there to race it. 

Reflecting on the trials he has overcome just to get here he arrives at the start in his layers.  He is wearing his "Warriors" singlet under a green long sleeve shirt that reads, "addicted to running."  A green hat and running gloves are a must today, it is a balmy 24 degrees but he is ready for this.  The training has been difficult: 22 mile long runs, long draining workouts and endless threshold runs.  Though perhaps the most difficult is the solitude of training for the marathon. 

The starting pistol fires and the mob of 7000 runners charge down the course.  It is cold.  The pace goes out quick as the crowd tries to warm up as quickly as possible.  Nathan is patient, the pace for the first down hill mile is under control at 6:44.  His pace is steady, fluctuating less than a few seconds over the first 10 miles.  His fastest splits come at miles eleven through fourteen when he averaged an impressive 6:40 over the four mile stretch.  The pace was smooth and steady running through half way in 1:28:44, a pace of 6:47 per mile. 

Lynch held strong through 17 miles where he split another 6:41 but this is where the race begins to take it's toll.  Running now for two hours the distance starts to wear you down.  His hands numb from the cold were now wet from the water stops and the freezing temperatures caused shooting pain through his hands.  He slowed slightly, running sub seven minute miles through mile 20.

The last 10k of a marathon is the most brutal.  It is hard to explain but if you have raced a marathon you know the onset of pain in this stage of the race well.  Muscles cramp, the body is dehydrated, glycogen stores that fuel the body are depleted.  Breathing is labored and the onset of fatigue is overwhelming.  There is little one can do to prepare for this part of the race, even thinking is difficult.  Motivation turns to survival.  Time seems to slow down.  The body that was once locked into 6:40 pace now begins to fail.  For Lynch the pace slips to 7:01 at mile twenty.  7:08 at twenty-one.  Two and a half hours of running the race to the finish now begins. 

The marathon rewards those with patience and it is at this moment every runner must embrace the pain. Ten months ago walking up stairs felt impossible and here now he was on his way to complete the promise he made to himself just months prior. Nathan Lynch survived cancer, now he has conquered a marathon.   

Crossing the finish line was an emotional moment for the teenager.  The "miles of trials and trials of miles" seem minor to what he just accomplished.  Nathan hugged his parents and was reduced to tears.  A special moment now it was all over.  He was here today and had made it to the finish.

Race Stats & Mile Splits: CLICK HERE

 Race Quotes:
  • "It's one of those things you absolutely have to do to understand what it feels like. I can give you an idea - it's five months of chemo jammed into three hours."
  • “The race was definitely harder than the training…by a lot.  For training the recovery was much quicker, the effort less, and the perseverance to finish the workouts was not nearly that of what it took to finish the race.  There is nothing that can prepare you for the pain of those last few miles.”
  • “The cold wasn't bad, it may have taken a toll in the first mile or so as everyone pushed the pace so they could warm up faster, but other than that it was perfect until I whipped off my gloves after they got wet.  All I could feel was the sting from the cold.”
  • “After finishing the race, the first thing I felt was the pain, followed almost immediately by the joy of watching the past ten months’ worth of miles and hard work pay off.  This was ultimately the most rewarding feeling I have ever experienced.”
  • “What’s next?  Some time off, track in the spring and next year’s cross country season!  I cannot wait to run with and for the team (family) I love most. Will I ever race a marathon again? Heck yes!  I will wait though so I can focus more on cross country and track for the time being.”
  • “My battle with cancer broadened my perspective with life.  Looking back I wouldn't change a single thing; to see how far I have come in the past year is the most gratifying thing I have felt in my entire life. But at the same time I have been extremely humbled by both treatment and the race.”
  • "From month to month, mile after mile, every second of training played a role in my race, and I grateful for the support of everyone who helped me get across the finish line, from the person who planned those miles on paper, to the God that sought me through I am so thankful."


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