Running is a process – and a powerful one, says Scott Spitz, a cancer survivor who is currently featured on the cover of this month’s Runner’s World. A competitive runner, Scott continues to run through treatment for a rare form of abdominal cancer. We talked with Scott about why he runs and how running has helped him grapple with the physical and mental challenges of treatment.
Congratulations on winning the Runner’s World Cover Contest. Why did you decide to enter?
I was a little reluctant to enter because I didn’t want to assume my story was better than others, but I’ve heard from a lot of people who said they gained something from hearing about my experience. I’ve never won anything like this before, and I was humbled and flattered that they recognized the power of my story.
What drew you to running and why have you stuck with it?
I discovered really young that I enjoyed running and had a talent for it. I ran competitively in middle and high school, but then I didn’t run for 13 years after that. I was living in a small town and wanted a physical outlet, so I went for a run and all the experiences came rushing back. I started running regularly again and never stopped. I can cite all the health benefits of running, but ultimately I run because it gives me a sense of accomplishment that has added immeasurable value to my life.
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What advice would you give someone who wants to start running or being more active?
First, I would encourage people to find something they actually enjoy doing. Work within your limits and then very slowly start pushing your limits. Understand that it’s going to be a process. I ended up going 5 miles on my first run. It felt awesome, but it was way too much. I scaled back and started doing 2 miles at a time, then 2.5, then 3. Before I knew it, I was doing 13 miles. It’s amazing what we can do when we try, but there’s a healthful, sustainable way of doing it.
How do you encourage your son to be active?
Fortunately, 7-year olds don’t need much encouragement to be active! My son’s mother and I both don’t watch much TV and we don’t have video game systems in our homes. Just living an active life and including him in it is a really big influence because kids like to mimic you. When he comes here over Christmas, I’ll run and he’ll ride his bike along side.
How has running helped you through your cancer treatment?
It’s important to retain as much of your previous life as possible. Running has given me that sense of consistency. It’s something that I did before cancer and it’s something I will continue to do during and after cancer. Running has also helped me deal with the psychological and physical effects of chemotherapy. Cancer treatment is hard on the body, but running has taught me that pain is only temporary. I do think there’s a physical benefit as well. My doctors say, “We don’t know what’s working, so just keep doing whatever you’re doing.” So I’m going to keep running.
What do you think people should know about diet, physical activity, and cancer?
The public has the perception that cancer is a disease that completely stops your life to the point where you’re huddled in a dark corner with a blanket over your head. I want people to know that you can live a very full and active life through this experience. Physical activity and nutrition are important when facing cancer for the same reasons that they’re important for anyone. They improve your emotional state and boost your immune system, which will help you deal with the physical and emotional aspects of facing adversity.
Julia Quam is an Education & Communication Intern at AICR. She is currently completing an MSPH/RD degree in Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is passionate about educating others about healthy eating in order to prevent and treat chronic diseases.