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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

60 Miles for My Husband's Healing and for My 60th Birthday

Updated: Jan 19

Birthday Milestone

On my birthday last year I ran 5.9 miles on a cold January 2 to celebrate turning 59. The plan to celebrate my 60th birthday was to run the 2018 Across the Years 48 hour ultra – my 28th and my first 48-hour endurance run – the last weekend in December into January 3. Right before planning to register for the ultra, my husband’s shocking diagnosis of rectal cancer that metastasized to his left lung took us for a loop. Plans to celebrate my 60th by running my first 48-hour ultramarathon came to a quiet halt.

I had wonderful parties for my 40th and 50th birthday. I never imagined that, on my 60th birthday I would be laying on a hospital bed next to my husband Jon as he sat for his bi-monthly chemotherapy infusion. I never imagined being a cancer caregiver offering up 60 miles for my husband’s healing.

One Mile 60 Times

I have learned that, when life throws you or those you love a curve, the best thing to do is to stay positive, reman prayerful, adapt, never give up, and make new plans. Unable to run 48 hours in Arizona, I shifted gears and ran 60 miles in Maryland, where my daughter, son-law-in, and our two grandchildren live.

Because I would be at chemo with Jon on my birthday, I opted to run a 1 mile loop 60 times in my daughter's neighborhood on a cool and sunny Saturday on December 29 with the support of my crew and pacers - my family - all home for Christmas. Jonna paced me for 8 miles, my son Sebastian for 11 miles, and my daughter-in-law Taryn for 1 mile. My 3-year old granddaughter Jordan, who wants to be a runner like her Mimma, paced me for three quarters of a mile. My son-in-law Max paced me for 3 miles, including a mile pushing my grandson Sawyer, age 2, in the stroller.

Calories, Hydration, and Family

Jon paced me the last half mile to the finish in 14 hours and 55 minutes. It was after 9 pm under the pitch black night sky as my tired and cold body, lit with my fluorescent green night runner LED visibility vest over layers, and my shoe lights lighting the street, propelled itself to the finish.

My children and their spouses cheered me on. I ran through the green finish line birthday streamer held at one end by Sebastian and at the other by Taryn. The lawn was festive with bright color Christmas lights wrapped around the tree and porch. Here’s the link to a short video Jonna took. And then it was on to a hot shower, sausage pizza, a delicious birthday brownie cake Max made, and ice cream.

Through out my run, they fed me from a cooler at the aid station – my daughter’s lawn. I ate approximately 200 calories per hour. I fueled on Ritz crackers with almond butter, avocado and hummus wraps, grilled cheese on whole wheat grain bread, salted potatoes, dark chocolate Hershey kisses, chocolate chip cookies, and Pepsi. I stayed well hydrated with Nuun electrolytes. My Fitbit Surge and Jon logged my miles and recorded my times. Jonna kept track of my laps on the sidewalk with chalk.

Calories, hydration, and my family kept me going the last seven miles as the sky turned pitch black and the temperature dropped from 48 degrees at the crack of dawn and the start of my solo run to the upper 20s by 7 pm. By now my grandchildren were having sweet dreams.

Gratitude and Joy

As my son paced me at around mile 50-mile, he asked what I had been thinking about during my miles. I told him, “I haven’t really been thinking about much. I’m just really happy. I have my family with me. I would never be able to do this without you guys. I’m just glad I can celebrate my birthday and run for daddy’s healing.”

I did what I normally do during long ultra events. I prayed. I thanked God for giving me the strength to take me to the next mile. I thought about friends and families who have endured pain and suffering, and cancer, and are no longer with us. And I thanked God for keeping Jon strong, active, and still working during aggressive radiation treatments and bi-monthly chemotherapy the last eight months. And I thought of all the blessings I have received in my 60 years. It was the best Christmas. I was filled with joy and gratitude.

Keep Moving Forward

I have been running 30 years and 14 of those years ultrarunning. I’m now training for the Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 hour ultra on a 400-meter track in May. I will also dedicate this endurance run to my husband and his healing.

A friend recently asked me, “You still have time to be optimistic and deal with your life’s problems with such grace. How do you do it?” This is not an easy question to answer. What I do know is that tough times don’t last; tough people do. I have experienced my share of adversity, obstacles, and medical challenges. They have made me stronger. I don’t let obstacles set me back and get in my way. I adapt. I stay positive. I pray. I keep moving forward. I keep my feet off the ground and keep reaching for the finish.

Ultrarunning helps to heal the heart, soothe the soul, and overcome obstacles. My journey as an ultrarunner is made possible with the support and patient love of my family. As I begin the next chapter in my life and my third act, where age is only a number, I run ultras for my husband’s healing, to keep me physically, mentally, and spiritually strong on my journey as a cancer caregiver, and to help me cope with the unknown of my husband’s cancer journey.

Copyright 2019

Originally published January 14, 2019 in Thrive Global

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. The love and support of my family and my journey as a cancer caregiver are themes in my memoir. You can read praise and reviews, and order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.


Running in Sickness and In Health - first published in Chicken Soup for the Soul - Running for Good (2019)

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