“The sun stains the horizon in its orange color.
An insect dances on the plants.
An empty trail waiting for a runner’s destiny.
Light rain touching my cheeks.
I could run forever.”
Poem by Urwa Alalouni
This is a poem written by my (now) husband after he came back from an inspiring run. I had met him only once at the time I read it, but it made me very curious about the author as well as about running. Until that time, I had never enjoyed running and the mere thought of it made me feel exhausted.
Now, four years later, I am married to this man and ran two half-marathons and one full marathon. I cannot imagine anymore how my life was before. I realize that even my work as a scientist benefits from my regular runs. Ideas about science and life keep forming in my mind as I run down the empty or not so empty trails and roads. They pop up in my brain and leave at the rhythm of my breath. Some are worth staying while others are not.
It is becoming more and more clear that physical exercise is an effective strategy for prevention and even control of cancer. Not only does it lead to cancer challenging biological changes in the body, especially the immune system, but it also improves the quality of life for cancer patients. Therefore, it is not surprising that the NCT, Nationales Centrum für Tumorerkrankungen, in Heidelberg has organized a run against cancer (NCT LAUFend gegen Krebs: https://www.nct-heidelberg.de/das-nct/spenden/nct-lauf.html). Money raised with this event will be used for research to beat cancer (https://www.nct-heidelberg.de/nc/das-nct/spenden/jetzt-spenden.html). This event is only one of the few organized running competitions based on charity to raise money for cancer research and to stimulate awareness about cancer prevention and treatment. Another major event is the Roparun, a relay race of approximately 520 kilometers from Paris and 560 kilometers from Hamburg to Rotterdam, in which people work as a team in order to raise money for people who suffer from cancer (http://www.roparun.nl/english/what-is-roparun/). The motto for this race is: “Add life to the days, where often days can no longer be added to the life”.
I believe that this is a great motto for people threatened by the devastating disease called cancer. However, wouldn’t it be great to interpolate this motto into our daily healthy lives as well? Wouldn’t it be a good thing to add life to each day that you exist, so that when the time comes you don’t regret you didn’t enjoy the life and health that you had? Shouldn’t we all try to pursue this as much as we possibly can? There are many ways by which you can bring life into your day. One way to bring more life to our daily lives is to go for a run. Those of you who are running on a regular basis will know very well that a decent workout on the road brings happiness and satisfaction. In addition, how many of you have experienced this feeling of appreciation and sudden understanding of your lives and the events that constitute it? If you have ever run a marathon you will know what I am talking about.
While running a marathon, you are enjoying the rush of excitement and adrenaline that presents itself during the first few kilometers. Then, you enjoy the rhythm of your and other participants’ stamping feet as a trance starts to possess you. The spectators’ cheers and the cries of your name fill you with pride of what you are about to achieve. However, after 30 kilometers an overwhelming tiredness starts to take control of you and all you can think of is to finish as soon as you can. As participants around you seem to give up and start walking and stumbling the last few kilometers, you hold your head up high and run on. You know you can do it, no matter what. After all, you have trained hard for this. You keep your lips pinched and run towards the goal, even if your toe is twinging and your body wants to give up. You know the finish will still be there when you arrive but the question is just when and how you will make it. And then, all of a sudden, calmness takes part of you. You understand that this marathon is like your life, filled with ups and downs, knowing there will be a finish one day but the question is when and how you will reach it. You understand that all the decisions you take, the patience and persistence that you have, they all determine how and when you are going to finish if nothing else is in the way. The goal of my first marathon was to finish strong and the time was not important. As you gain experience, probably the next one will have a different goal. We have only one life, but we might have more than one chance in it and we can learn from our experiences. Our goals in life may change with each and every experience we pass through. All the decisions we take, the patience and persistence, the strength we have, will have certain results which are the motivations for other decisions and their consequent results. If we don’t suffer now and then, we don’t appreciate the finish so much.
As scientists, we all know that great discoveries are the result of hard work, patience and persistence, as well as a big portion of good luck. Luck is beyond our control, but patience and persistence are something we can train. The hard work comes by itself when you find yourself enjoying the work you are doing. Maybe by making running part of our daily lives as scientists and human beings, we can train our patience and persistence which will be helpful in our jobs. That was personally very important for me sometimes. In my opinion, academic life has become more directed towards ‘must’: what others think of you and about how many impact points you have gathered. But experience teaches us that it is also important to be learning, enjoying and appreciating. It is about growing and cultivating knowledge, patience, persistence, and understanding that one thing leads to another. It is about appreciating that what we have achieved and what we are able to pursue. Not everybody can finish a marathon within 2:02:57, the current world record held by Dennis Kimetto, but maybe we can at least enjoy the journey to the finish and try to achieve the best. After all, it has a beneficial effect on our health: it might prevent this devastating disease that we are putting so much effort and resources in researching at the DKFZ.
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