10176152_10202536157538943_1437850482737057782_nWell who would have imagined that I would ever be a cover girl! Not me, but a full-page close up of my face graces the cover of the June 14 issue of the Danish running magazine ”Løbemagasinet” along with the headline ”Kirsten Ejlskov Jensen was an active marathon runner when she got lymphoma, she ran from cancer, through chemotherapy and over the finish line of Ironman Copenhagen three years later: read her story.” Inside there are 8 pages of pictures and article.

I’m pleased with how the article has turned out, but just as I’ve been on the other occasions I’ve had media attention for my story, also somewhat ambivalent. It seems that in the media cancer can only be addressed in terms of victims or heroes. I’m definitely no victim, but nor am I a hero or even exceptional. I know – not know of, but personally know – 6 other cancer survivors who have done an Ironman. One of them, Kaisa, has even been on the podium of the Ironman World Championships TWICE – now that IS impressive!

So every time something is published I feel a little embarrassed and end up doing some soul searching about how I present myself. I should add here that none of it has been the result of any active promotion on my side, but rather due to people in my network approaching me – though I have always said yes when asked. The only active effort I have made is this blog which mainly started as a good way to keep friends and family informed during my illness, and has developed from there.

In a nutshell, I believe that people with cancer are neither victims or heroes, but just people who unfortunately contract an illness and deal with it the best they can. I hate when the media present the victim picture – often in cahoots with the cancer organisations’ very clever marketing efforts – after all, pictures of suffering, bald, cancer patients raise more money than self-sufficient, strong cancer survivors getting on with their lives. But I don’t want to be guilty of contributing to the idea that a person is heroic just because they survive. It’s not heroic and there is very little you can do as a cancer patient to influence whether you are one of the ones who make it. But at the end of the day every time I go through this soul-searching there are two issues I always come back to.

When I got my diagnosis and told my children, who were then 14 and 12, I had cancer their first reaction was “are you going to die?” At least they said it so we could talk about it. I also knew that was what everyone else thought too, they just didn’t say it, which was uncomfortable and upsetting. If you try to tell people that you are not planning on dying just yet, they think you are in denial. So I can understand why many people going through cancer choose not to talk about it openly. The problem is that this contributes to keeping taboos and myths about cancer alive. Yet the fact is that in this part of the world more than half of those who get a cancer diagnosis, survive. (This is unfortunately not the case in the developing world, but that’s a whole other issue). Not only do we survive, but most of us are not invalids. We might have some scars on our souls, but most of us go on with our normal lives again.

The other issue is that I am very passionate about the importance of exercise, not only on our physical wellbeing, but also on our emotional and intellectual wellbeing. Cancer hits you on all three fronts, and I cannot emphasise enough the importance that exercise has had and continues to have for me in dealing with that. And it’s not just cancer, but all the ups and downs that we all go through in life. It doesn’t have to be an Ironman (in fact I actually wouldn’t recommend that unless you’re really keen!) – it doesn’t matter whether it is dance, or yoga, cycling or whatever the important thing is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy and then to do it regularly and consistently.

I’m not heroic. I’m living my life the way I want to live it despite, not because of, having had cancer. I ran marathons before and I would have continued to have run them if I hadn’t got it. I suspect I probably would have got round to doing an Ironman cancer or no cancer. I do it because I think it’s fun and yes, because it lets me prove to myself that I am still me despite having had cancer.

And I will continue to share my story in the hope that it encourages others to prioritise exercise. And I will continue to speak out in the hope that the next time one of my children’s friends are told that someone close to them has cancer, their first thought will not be death. And I hope that I can contribute to gradually changing the taboos and the myths so that those of us who get a cancer diagnosis are no longer seen as either victims or heroes, but just people dealing with life the best way they can.

Ironman 70.3 Mallorca

May 19, 2014

Last autumn in the aftermath of the Ironman, but before I’d figured out my next goal, I bumped into my friend Lise at a race and she asked me if I didn’t fancy going with her to Ironman 70.3 in Mallorca in May 2014 (an Ironman 70.3 is half the distance of an Ironman i.e. 1.9 km swim / 90 km bike / 21.1 km run). Well, Mallorca in spring sounded great, and I was still irritated with myself for dropping out of the half-Ironman back in June so I signed up. And then I promptly put it to the back of my mind.

Of course, not long after that I decided on my goal for 2014, and since then my mind has been really focused on ultra trail running, and I began to regret that I’d signed up for Mallorca. I was still swimming and cycling regularly, but mainly as a supplement to my running rather than with any triathlon focus. I also gradually realised that the race is so early in the season that I wouldn’t be able to do any open-water swimming before which, to be honest, was a bit of a disaster bearing in mind my lack of swimming confidence! Still, I had signed up, paid for the trip, committed to Lise, so I just had to get on with it.

So over the last few weeks, the ever optimistic Coach Bjarke included some triathlon specific sessions in my programme. Nevertheless my enthusiasm for these sessions was underwhelming – I just wanted to focus on running the trails! But as May approached and I had no alternative than to make plans, I began to look forward to it more and more. And since I didn’t finish the only half-ironman distance I’d entered before I just had to finish for a personal record. So I decided just to do my best and enjoy the experience and an active, sunny mini-holiday with my friend Lise.

Hard not to love swimming here!

Hard not to love swimming here!

We arrived on Mallorca 3 days before the race and were kept busy sorting out our stuff, registering, checking-in, attending the race briefing and also doing some easy training including some swimming in the sea. Thankfully my worries over lack of open-water practice were groundless: not only had I not forgotten how to swim out, but I actually felt a lot more comfortable than I ever remember being last season. It was a relief that my hours in the pool over the winter had some impact, even though I’ve been quite frustrated by my lack of improved swimming speed In fact I had a secret hope that I might not actually be the slowest swimmer of all here in Mallorca, without any real expectation!

Anyway, I didn’t want to take any chances of having a major panic attach during the swim – it would be just too humiliating to drop out again, so I did everything I could to be prepared. We checked out the actual swim route – particularly the start and the finish, which I used to do some visualisation the night before. I had used visualisation a lot in the run up to the Ironman last August to help me to control my panic when swimming and it worked then, and it worked this time too!

The big day arrived. The women all started together, right after the pros. I positioned myself at the back of the crowd and to the side. As I stood on the beach waiting for the horn I did my breathing exercises and looked out at the beautiful flat water in the morning sun and I felt happy and relaxed and eager to get started. I walked into the water at the back of the group and then started swimming and immediately found my own rhythm. The route was really straight and easy to navigate and I had plenty of space to myself. Quickly I realised that there were lots of women around me were panicking, hyperventilating and thrashing around desperately. Probably I am not a very nice person, but this actually gave me a boost! I just got on with my swimming and never lost my feeling of being happy and relaxed. I even overtook some people (I’ve never tried that before!). Just after half way the group behind caught up with me and I started to get jostled by the faster guys. Somehow though, this didn’t disturb my calm though it did irritate me a bit when they started swimming over me. For the first time ever I experience a bit of fighter spirit in swimming and just kicked more aggressively so they didn’t swim over me – and it worked! And suddenly there I was already at the swim finish!

A very sweaty day (this is salt!)

A very sweaty day (this is salt!)

I wish I could tell you that the rest of the race proceeded in the same way, but it didn’t. Bizarrely, bearing in mind my strengths and weaknesses, the swim was the best bit and from there it deteriorated. Due only to my own lack of planning and preparation I might add. I knew that the bike route included a climb from about 20 to 35 km and then a downhill for 10km after that. I wasn’t particularly concerned about it, having spent a week cycling in the Mallorcan hills last spring. As usual I had a detailed plan for energy and fluid consumption, but what I hadn’t thought about was the practicalities of opening/eating energy bars of grabbing my bottles on the steep uphill which is probably a piece of cake for most cyclists, but not for me! It was a very warm day making it even more important to keep hydrated, but I got totally behind with my plan. I gradually ran out of energy throughout the bike ride and when I started the run I actually thought I was going to faint! However, I managed to pull myself together enough to decide that stopping wasn’t an option and that I’d better get some fluids and sugar in, which did help a bit. But once the damage is done, it’s done, so the run was a nightmare. Still I managed to get through it by constantly doing deals with myself to run 2 km and then walk 100m. Probably my least elegant running performance ever!

Still, once I crossed the finish line I was happy. I had dealt with my unfinished business with the half-Ironman and in a masochistic way it had been fun. And I was really happy about my great swimming experience. Also I had no idea what time I had swum but I knew for a fact that I hadn’t been the slowest. Later when we checked out the results I was shocked by swim time. Last year that distance was taking me about an hour and on Saturday I swam in 47:44! So I HAVE improved!

Ironman 703 mallorca 0699_001715

That evening I was happy that I could now also put half-Ironman on my CV as well as the full distance and that I now could turn my full attention back to training for my ultra trail run in the autumn. But the next morning I was already thinking though that I can do much better with some proper focus and planning. So I’m fairly sure I’ll do another one in the future – just not this year!