Running into Cancer

Tony Collier
Comrades Marathon 2016 - Indescribable feeling but wheres the beer?

"I am trying to run 970 miles in 2019 to both raise awareness of prostate cancer and funds for Prostate Cancer UK"

I was a late starter as far as running is concerned, only taking it up at age 45 when a medical told me I was borderline clinically obese and my blood pressure was so high I’d be on pills for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something naturally. So, I started running with the informal running club at the gym where I played social squash and two years later, I was a founder member of Styal Running Club and have been a main officer on the committee ever since.

I ran my first marathon at age 50 in 2007 in Amsterdam. I gave in to months of nagging to do it and 7 of us entered. One by one, six of them dropped down to the half leaving 'Billy no mates' to do the marathon on his own. I ran it very conservatively as I was terrified of the distance but still managed 3:37. It was one of the great highlights of my running career to run into the stadium underneath the Olympic rings.

I went on to complete nineteen marathons between age 50 and 59. Four of them were training runs done slowly as training for an ultra-marathon and I averaged 3:29 on the other fifteen.

The real highlights of my running career were completing all six of the Abbott World Marathon Majors (average time 3:27) between ages 54 and 56. I was in the first thirty Brits to complete the WMM. The other big highlight was completing the Comrades ultra-marathon in South Africa. This is the ultimate challenge, 56 miles of hot, hilly, hell. 6,500 feet of climbing on an up year (Durban to Pietermaritzburg) and 4,000 feet of climbing on a down year with temperatures ranging between 28 and 33c. This race had been a bucket list item for many years and I finally had my first attempt in 2015 but DNF’d due to injury. I was devastated! My 2nd and successful attempt was in 2016, a down year, completed in 9:46.

Marathon Majors Medals

Abbott World Marathon Majors Medals

Then disaster struck. I was going back to Durban in 2017 to attempt an up year and bag a back to back medal when I ran into cancer. In April 2017 I ran Paris and Manchester marathons a week apart as training runs for Comrades on 4th June. However, a ‘groin strain’ was hampering my training so I arranged to see a specialist sports injury doctor on 8th May with a pre-arranged MRI scan in the hope that a cortisone injection would see off the pain and get me to the start line.

The doctor saw something in the scan that made him send me there and then for a chest x-ray and blood tests and the following day for a CT scan. Clearly it was a bit of a bad ‘groin strain’! He phoned me at 8.00 pm on 9th May to tell me he was fairly certain I had prostate cancer and more tests were needed. My first comment was “So I guess Comrades isn’t happening then?”

Within 10 days it was confirmed that I had PCa (prostate cancer), and it had spread widely through my skeleton, there was no cure and my worst-case prognosis was 2 years. I’d had no symptoms at all and the urologist though I’d probably had it for 10 years. A salutary thought for all men, if you don’t go and get tested you could end up like me!

Oh, and the groin strain? It was stress fractures of the pelvic bone where the cancer had eaten into the bone and the impact of running caused the fractures.

The day I should have flown to South Africa was the day I met my oncologist, the man whose hands I have put my life in, for the first time. He better be good!

The fractures healed and I got back to running a couple of months later but the side effects of treatment, that removes male hormone testosterone, were about as bad as you can get for a man and an athlete.

So why do I still run? Firstly, it helps stave off the side effects of the treatment for a long as possible. Secondly, it helps maintain bone density and muscle mass both of which are adversely affected by the treatment. Thirdly, its vital for physical and mental wellbeing. Exercise is now proven to have substantial benefits for those living with and beyond cancer. Finally, I think continuing to stay fit will prolong my average prognosis beyond the 6-7 years they gave me at diagnosis.

Amazingly, so some people tell me, I still like a challenge! Therefore, I am trying to run 970 miles in 2019 to both raise awareness of prostate cancer and funds for Prostate Cancer UK. The significance of 970? That’s how many men die each month in the UK of prostate cancer (since the challenge started it’s actually increased to 973!). Why raise funds? Well currently there isn’t a screening test and without one we will continue to see 9,000 men diagnosed each year, like me, with the terminal variety of prostate cancer. 47,000 men are diagnosed each year, 80% of them without having had any symptoms. 1 in 8 men will suffer prostate cancer in their lifetimes, 1 in 4 black men.

Selfishly, any funds raised will hopefully produce more treatments that keep me alive longer!

To read more and sponsor me please see justgiving.com/970miles4men

- Tony Collier

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Thanks to Tony for sharing his running story! What’s yours? We’d love to know. Send an email to Caroline, info@247running.co.uk if you’d like to contribute to our blog.