Exercise & Me- Why Exercise is Key to Healthy Wellbeing
As part of our Jog Jan for Pan Can event, ultra-marathon runner and pancreatic cancer patient, Dan Godley, reflects on how exercise has impacted his life.
My name is Dan Godley, and I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 28. A week before I first went into hospital with severe abdominal pain, I had competed in the Maverick Adidas Terrex ultra-marathon. The distance was 35 miles in the unforgiving Peak District, starting and ending near the picturesque village of Bakewell.
Two weeks prior to this, I had also competed in the Brighton Marathon, an event which made the news as the organisers accidentally marked the course incorrectly on the day, resulting in the marathon being over half a kilometre longer than the official marathon distance. This is a cardinal sin in the world of marathoners and can cost professionals valuable qualifying points by affecting their finishing time.
Fortunately for me, I am far from being in this category, and the news greatly pleased me, as my time was four hours and three minutes. I could now claim that I would have completed it in under four hours if the course was the correct length (probably). I added that to my excuse that it was far warmer than it should have been during an end-of-September marathon, and I felt vindicated.
I’ve never been the fastest runner, but I have discovered over the years that I seem to have a good mind for exercise. My biggest achievement has been completing two separate 100km ultra-marathon events, one of which was the GB Ultra Scotland route in 2020. It was supposed to be a 100-mile event, and my brother and I had trained rigorously throughout lockdown in preparation. To our dismay, the event had to be cancelled just days before it took place. As we had trained so hard (and spent money on the accommodation), we decided to travel up and do the first 100km of the course anyway, deciding that the full 100 miles would be dangerous without proper support from organisers who knew the route. Our parents drove with us to support us throughout the day, something which proved to be rather pointless, as we struggled to see traces of society anywhere in the scarce Scotland wilderness. It was just beautiful scenery and pain all day. We loved it.
Exercise has provided so many benefits to me over the years that I feel I could write a book on the subject. It started out as a way of winding down after work. I would look forward to running home from the office in the evening, plotting new routes to explore and watching my time-per-mile slipping down. Then I started liking and buying myself the attire. Running shoes come in all sorts of obnoxious bright colours. Each pair I bought, I grew a little more in confidence, before finally peaking when I bought some fluorescent orange Nike trainers. They were designed so cars would easily see them at night. I wondered if they ever caused a car crash because they blinded a driver, but I never saw such an event take place. I do run with headphones in, though, so I could have been oblivious to it.
Once I started entering events, I felt a wider range of benefits. Knowing I had a marathon or ultra-marathon in the coming months motivated me to run five times a week, and I started to mix my training up. Hill sprints on Monday, slow run on Tuesday, tempo run Wednesday etc… Some days were hard, some days were easy. It may be raining, icy, or boiling hot, but I would be out there running. It made me feel hardy mentally, and I felt myself being able to focus more at work, as well as push myself further in challenging situations.
There were benefits to my relationships, too. I felt more relaxed and positive when I was regularly exercising. My training time was for training, and then my free time was to relax. I had earned it, so I felt like I could enjoy it so much more. My friends and I would cook each other nice meals and I wouldn’t feel guilty about eating seconds of dessert. My mind was relaxed, and I’d feel comfortable in company.
I used to go out a lot on weekends and have late nights drinking. The weekend would run away from me as I spent lots of money, stayed out late, and woke up feeling awful. With a structured training plan and a motivated attitude to exercise, I didn’t feel the need to waste my weekends like this. I felt comfortable only having a drink or two and leaving early. “Why are you leaving so early?” people would ask. “I’ve got a 100-kilometre ultra in four weeks”, I’d smugly respond. It would usually gain the respect of people, but where it didn’t, I knew what brought me more happiness and was better for my body.
Since my diagnosis, I have struggled to exercise to the extent that I had before. I’ve been getting into more mindful types of exercise, such as yoga. It has shown me another side of exercise that is far less intense, but just as rewarding. Learning new positions and perfecting my breathing provides plenty of benefits for my body, and it helps me sleep soundly at night.
Learning about the more meditative properties of this type of exercise has also helped me process elements of the cancer diagnosis that both me. It helps me synthesize what is going on with me, and better process the worrying thoughts. I have also started getting back pain as a side effect of the chemotherapy type that I am on. The yoga helps me tackle the pain, and it is far more manageable when I find the time to do at least 20 minutes of it in the morning.
I also find myself thinking about new content for my blog. It was launched in response to my diagnosis, and I find that the perfect time to write is just after a yoga session. My mind feels calm, and my body is relaxed. The blog helps me fill some of the void that the more intense exercise has left in my life: Having a structure to follow each week and challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone. Until the day I can say “I have beat pancreatic cancer”, and return to my strict exercise routine, I’m going to continue exercising in any way that my body allows.
By Dan Godley
Thank you to Dan for providing us with this blog. We wish him the best in the rest of his treatment and will continue to read his pieces. If you’d like to read Dan’s blog, you can click here.
If you are living with pancreatic cancer, or supporting someone with it, and looking for more information on exercise, diet and nutrition, or advice on living with your diagnosis, click the link below.