I'm sitting in my dad's RV in the middle of the Arizona desert, having just completed a 10-mile run, knowing full well that I still have another 20 miles to go for the day. The heat is nearly unbearable, and there's no barrier separating myself from oncoming traffic. On top of that, my feet are on fire and my legs feel like they're made of lead.
It is moments like this that could easily cause me to lose hope and give up.
About 10 years ago, when I was 14 years old and still fairly new to running, I had figured out that the farther and farther I ran, the more I excelled. I always wanted to push my mileage as far as I could, and occasionally ran over 100 miles in a single week. I felt unstoppable. During one long run in particular, I recall going down the old railroad tracks in my hometown of Canton, Pa., and dreamed about one day running across America. How cool would that be! I fantasized.
A few years later, while watching the news, I saw a story about a girl who rode her horse across her home state to raise money to rebuild her town's tornado-ravaged library. It was at that moment that the idea of running across the United States came to mind again. After thinking that it would be too grueling of a journey to complete, I instead began thinking about running across Pennsylvania.
This was right at the time when our school board was debating whether or not to build a track at our school, something we had never had in my lifetime. Our track team always had to run around a 400 meter paved, circular elementary school parking lot. Needless to say, there were many injuries each season, and dodging traffic during workouts was less than ideal.
That said, I decided to run the 426 miles across Pennsylvania to raise money for the new track. The plan was to complete the run in 31 days but I ended up finishing it in just 24 days, averaging approximately 18 miles a day. While it was certainly a huge challenge, the key was just staying relaxed, not thinking about the distance and taking it one day at a time, one run at a time.
I had a pretty successful running career in high school and then went on to compete collegiately at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. It was during college that I first became aware of Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). I realize that I'm pretty lucky. Against the odds that one in two men will have cancer in their lifetime and one in three women, I have never been directly affected by cancer, nor have I ever lost anyone close to me because of cancer.
Upon looking into SU2C, I learned of all the great things they were doing to bring researchers together from a variety of institutions to team up in this important fight. We truly can make a difference and fight back against the horrible things in life, I told myself.
Deeply inspired by the work of SU2C, I vowed to make my dream of running across the United States a reality -- and in doing so, help raise money for SU2C and hopefully inspire others along the way. The more I learned about cancer, that one in four deaths in the U.S. are due to cancer, that more than 1.2 million people in the U.S. are newly diagnosed with cancer each year, the more certain I became that I could do this. Certainly I could endure the physical demands of this journey.
I contacted SU2C to let them know I was challenging myself with a transcontinental run to benefit SU2C, and began training. Then, everything started happening very fast. I'm going to run across America for SU2C, I excitedly told myself.
And on May 11, 2014, in Oceanside, CA, I embarked on my running journey across America with the goal of finishing on Aug. 15 in New York City.
Today (May 23), more than 300 miles into my grueling transcontinental journey and after having just completed yet another 10-mile run in the blazing heat, my feet are in excruciating pain and I'm totally exhausted. I have another 20 miles to run before the day ends, and another 2,700 miles before it's all said and done.
This could easily be a time to let self-doubt creep in and wonder so many things: Is my goal too aggressive? Can I make it? Should I just throw in the towel?
The answer is: I've never been more determined and more committed. In the 97 days I expect to be running, another 2880 individuals will receive word of their cancer diagnosis. Yes, there will be bad days during the run, but there will be more days when I feel invincible, able to run as far and as fast as my heart desires. I believe this applies to life as well. No matter how bad things can get, we have to keep holding onto hope that better days are ahead, and that all of this is worth fighting for.
Garth Watson currently resides in Red Bank, New Jersey. Garth's Coast2Coast Run Against Cancer began May 11th, 2014. Donations benefiting Stand Up To Cancer are currently being accepted at crowdrise.com/garthsrun