Top tips for running through chemo

April 26, 2011

I’ve decided to write this because it is something I was looking for before I started chemo and couldn’t find. I had to wing it, but I have definitely learned a few things about myself as a runner and I hope that it will be useful for others.

  • Most importantly check with your Doctor that it is OK for you to run. I got lots of support from mine.
  • If you aren’t already a regular runner I wouldn’t suggest starting up while you are having chemo. I would still recommend exercising – cycling or using the cross trainer (elliptical trainer) are good bets. I used both on days when I couldn’t run – somehow they shoogle your delicate insides and pound your fragile bones and joints less than running does. On really bad days I went for a walk. I was told not to swim because of the infection risk. Definitely put running on your to-do list for afterwards though!
  • Forget about following a training programme. I had an optimistic idea that I would still follow a programme, but dropped it already after the first week! Run whatever you feel like on the day. Some days I could only manage 3 km run/walk, other days I managed 10 km and sometimes I felt like doing some spontaneous fartleg, intervals or hill sprints.
  • Adjust your goals. Early on I decided that my goal was simply to get my running kit on and step outside the front door three times a week and anything more than that was a bonus. Of course, I never once got the kit on and went outside the front door without going for some sort of run and therefore always had a tremendous feeling of achievement!
  • Listen to your body – up to a point! Basically my body was telling me to lie in bed in the foetal position for 4 months until the chemo was over, so obviously you don’t want to listen to that! There were days where I could barely drag myself to the toilet and running was out of the question, but after the first chemo cycle I got a feeling for which days were impossible and which were not. Once you are out there in your shoes running your body will tell you what it feels like if you are tuned in to it (see third bullet above).
  • Time your runs. I had terrible problems with my appetite and eating, but discovered that for about an hour after I ran I could actually eat with some pleasure, so I usually ran just before dinner time which meant I could eat more (and enjoy it!).
  • Enlist a bully! I told my hubbie early on that it was important to me to keep on running and I needed him to help me. He was amazing. At all other times he was a fountain of unending sympathy, but when it came to running it was tough love all the way. Typical scenario:
    • Me: lying on the sofa in foetal position moaning and groaning.
    • Hubbie: I thought you were going for a run today.
    • Me: But I feel terrible, I can’t possibly get off the sofa.
    • Hubbie: (with sympathy) You know it will make you feel better.
    • Me: But I feel terrible, I can’t possibly get off the sofa. (repeat last two lines several times)
    • Hubbie: (now with menacing tone) Go and put your running kit on.
    • Me: (in whiny voice) You are so cruel! (repeat last two lines several times).
    • Finally, groaning loudly I would roll off the sofa and stagger off and get my kit on.
  • Choose a route that you can shorten down. Out-and-back routes are not recommended. Nothing worse than running 6 km from home and then starting to feel dreadful with no easy way back. I ran routes that looped round my house so that I could head straight back when I had had enough.
  • Take safety precautions. Tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be, take a phone and/or carry ID. If you take unwell it’s important that someone will come and find you.
  • Don’t give up on racing if you don’t want to, but do adjust your ambitions! I ran a couple of races while I was having treatment but in both cases I was participating with friends so the social aspect was important and I had no expectations with regard to my finishing time. In one, which was on narrow trails, I even stopped and stepped to the side to let people pass me, so I didn’t have them breathing down my neck! It’s a good idea to find events that have multiple race distances so that you can choose to run the distance that you feel up to on the day.
  • Wash your running kit straight after you finish and jump straight in the shower. My chemo nurse, who is also a marathon runner, told me this. You sweat out the chemo for the first week or so, so best not to have it lying around.
  • If you are bald, make sure you don’t get your head sunburned! I LOVED the feeling of running with my bare head though. And I enjoyed the looks of passersby wondering why on earth I was bald (normally people assume it is because you have cancer, but for some reason they seem to rule that out if you are running!).
  • Most importantly of all, enjoy running. I had some of the best runs of my life during that period. Sometimes I just had to stop still and admire the view and got quite choked up at the beauty of it all and the wonderful feeling that I still had some control over my body.

If you have found this useful you may want to consider sponsoring me for my comeback run at Berlin Marathon? If so you can click here:

And here are links to my previous posts about running:


2 Responses to “Top tips for running through chemo”

  1. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say superb blog!

    • Kirsten Says:

      I’m sorry your comment got lost, but happy with the one you wrote! I’m glad you like it and if the reason you like it is because your going through a rough time yourself at the moment, then I send you my best wishes! Kirsten

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