by Kevin Robison

Photography:  George Scott Photography

Stories that inspire us in our sport are never in short supply. This comes from a community that strives to push their personal limits to find what they didn’t know was inside of them. This story in particular hits close to home as it comes from within UltrAspire. President and Head of Sales, Kevin Robison, details his recent experience with a cancer diagnosis and what it took to cross the finish line of a 100-mile race just 7 months in remission.

Chemotherapy to a 100 miler

When most people want to get back in shape, they probably do a Google search and stumble upon a couch to 5k training program. When I started to get back in shape after my cancer diagnosis I created my own person couch to 5k program. This plan evolved into what eventually became “chemotherapy to a 100 miler”. I completely realize that attempting to run 100 miles after only 7 months in remission is radical and extreme, but it’s important to understand the motive. This was a mileage milestone that I had been unable to reach pre-diagnosis. To be able to complete something post diagnosis that I was unable to do before was an amazing feeling. It made me feel like I had returned. As strange as this may seem, it made life feel normal. In life we all can experience things that can derail us for a time; whether it’s health issues, mental health, financial problems etc. After facing those obstacles, having a goal we want to achieve, having something to strive for can make us feel whole again. This goal can make us feel like we have returned. It may be something small that helps us get back to that point, or it may be a 100 miler. This is my story.

My wife and I were talking one Sunday evening (as couples do) and she asked me if I thought my right testicle was weird. So you know, just the regular chit chat. I agreed with her that the size and lumpiness was not normal. She kindly requested that I make an appointment with the doctor. My appointment arrived, so I made sure I was properly freshened up downstairs for the big day. I got to the doctor’s office, dropped my drawers and we began. While the doctor was examining my fruit basket he stated “oh, that’s concerning”. My family doctor typically was a bit more poised than that, so his surprised nervous statement instantly had me on edge. My mind immediately went to the worst case scenario, I questionably responded “… like cancer concerning?” He quickly and boldly confirmed with a firm “yes”.

To confirm that it was indeed a tumor we set an appointment with the imaging department at the hospital for the next day. I briefly met the person who would be doing the imaging and we began. When complete strangers handle my junk I prefer to engage in light conversation. We found out that we had mutual friends and knew some of the same people… so that wasn’t awkward. After the niceties I decided to get a little more professional and focus on the matter at hand… or in her hand… I don’t know… anyway… I asked what the next steps would be. She explained that I would hear from my doctor shortly with the results. 
The imaging came back showing that it was indeed a tumor. An appointment with the urologist was made and I was scheduled as an emergency surgery for the next day. After surgery I had to wait two long weeks to learn of my official results. I was diagnosed with stage one embryonal carcinoma. This is the most aggressive, but most common form of testicular cancer. I also learned that I had a lymph node invasion. Due to this, one round of chemotherapy was recommended.  

I won’t dive into too much detail regarding the chemo as it is boring and just flat out sucked. Chemotherapy was like the roulette wheel of side effects. I had diarrhea, constipation, nausea, fatigue and heartburn that felt like I was being stabbed in the chest just to name a few. Once one side effect was somewhat under control, another one would appear. To manage and feel any form of normalcy was impossible. I was blessed and grateful that I only had to do one round. While any cancer battle is difficult, I have so much respect for people that have to undergo multiple treatments and months or even years of fighting. You are an inspiration to me and helped me in my fight.

During treatment I had a rash develop, which led to a fever, which led to the ER. While in the ER it was found that I had a small infection develop and my white blood cell count was too low to fight it. I was kept in the hospital and given a shot to rapidly grow my white blood cells to get the number up to an acceptable count. Blood cells grow in the bone marrow, so rapidly that growing them was extremely painful. This process had me lying in a hospital bed for 4 days. I was fairly positive about my diagnosis up until this point. This process had me feeling low and helpless. My wife was such an amazing help and very patient. While in the hospital my hair started to fall out so she was kind enough to shave my head. I know this was difficult for her, but her kind presence and love is really the only thing that got me through those moments.

After my hospital stay and a short at home recovery, I was able to ring the bell signifying that I had completed treatment. I was officially deemed in remission on February 2nd, 2021. Since then I get CT scans and blood work done every three months. After treatment I was still fatigued and tried to run here and there, but I never really did anything overly consistent. I was really just dabbling and the longest run I had done was 4 miles. I didn’t really have the desire to put in much effort. The drive for the time being was gone. After several months I would just look in the mirror and really didn’t recognize myself. I could tell I was gaining weight but thankfully our scale was out of batteries and wasn’t working.

Near the end of June my wife rudely purchased new batteries for the scale confirming that I was the heaviest I had ever been. This was definitely a low. I wanted to get running again but still didn’t really have the drive. In the next couple days my 7 year son said that he wanted to run a 5k. With Independence Day quickly approaching we found a 5k on July 5th and decided that he could run that one. I starting going out with him in the morning and doing a 0.8 loop from the house. It felt great to run with him, feel his energy and excitement for his upcoming race. On race day he ran a blazing 29:41 5k closing his last mile in an 8:56. I was so impressed, proud and inspired. It was truly in that moment that the passion came back as I saw it in my son, and real training started.

I set my sights on the St George Races Last One Standing, which was set to take place on September 3rd. I had done that race the past three consecutive years, my best finish being 80 miles (my longest distance ever). This race features a 6 mile paved pathway loop. Participants have 90 minutes to complete the loop to be eligible to continue onto the next. The race ends at the end of the last one still running or 17 laps (102 miles); whichever comes first. My goal was to make it to the 102 mile finish for the first time. As I started building up my miles I wanted to focus on some speed. I started doing Tuesday tempo runs with the St. George Running Club. My first tempo I ran 2 miles at 7:26 mile pace and started to dry heave. 7 weeks later I ran 5 miles at 6:25 mile pace and felt strong. I could feel the strength and endurance coming back.

After two months of hard focused training, race day had arrived. I was anxious, nervous and excited. I had a million emotions as I started to prepare for the race. It was difficult to temper those emotions throughout the day as the race did not start until 7:00pm Friday evening. After a long day of waiting, it was time to start.

I hit the starting line with some relative confidence. My training had been strong, I had recruited a great crew with my parents and my wife and I knew I would chafe less than most now that the undercarriage was a bit lighter. Each lap was going according to plan. Nutrition was dialed, gear was functioning great. The first difficulty I hit was around 2:30am. I started to get really groggy and needed to keep my spirits high. As I was getting ready to start my next loop at 4:00am, Vanessa Thatcher, UltrAspire Founder and CEO Bryce Thatcher’s wife came and ran a lap with me before work. This put a spring in my step and helped me get through the next few laps.

As morning arrived my parents and wife came. This is truly when the real race starts. We had just run through the whole night, had 60 miles on our legs and now the sun was out. While the forecast had a high of the day of 95 degrees, we were thankful as St. George weather this time of year can easily be over 100. My crew did everything to keep me cool and make sure I was consuming the necessary calories. Family friends came out to support as well as friends from the running community. St George Running Center owner Steve Hooper came out and ran a lap with me. The support was absolutely incredible. I wanted this for myself, but I wanted it for all of them as well. Once I got to 78 miles I had four laps left. I started to be able to taste the finish. Every time I thought about finishing I started to get emotional and just focused on the lap at hand. After 24 hours I had finally made it to the start of the last loop at 7:00pm Saturday evening. My wife, kids and parents were all there. Two of my kids started the lap with me as they exclaimed how proud they were of their dad.

I ran the next several miles solo, reflecting on my journey. Thinking about where I was only a few short months ago, thinking about my family and their amazing support. I was also thinking that I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to do this. I was going to finish a 100 miler! As I approached the finish my kids ran over to me to run the final meters. We turned the corner together and I saw the finish line arch for the 17th time. My eyes started to fill with tears, my bottom lip started to quiver. I crossed the finish line, put my hands on my knees and I started to cry. I had just run 102 miles, my furthest distance ever. I had just achieved something I had never done before my diagnosis. After seven month is remission, I had run a 100 miler. I felt stronger than I ever had before. In that moment I felt like I had officially beaten cancer.

While I still have a long journey, this was a special moment. I had achieved what I set out to do. That’s really what this is all about. It’s about overcoming a difficulty and achieving a goal. Achieving something that made me feel strong, normal, returned. I think many of us search for those moments in life. On September 4th, 2021 at 8:20pm, I had that moment.

UltrAspire Gear Used: Lumen 600 3.0, Basham Race Vest, Momentum 2.0 Race Vest.