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Throwing Bones to Trails

Published on June 4, 2019

kenny-capps-runningI rolled out of Camp Clearwater at White Lake pretty early this morning, and slowly built up to a wog (which is a “walk-jog,” for the uninitiated). The sun was coming up in the East (which it seems to do with regularity, I’ve noticed), and school buses and trash trucks started making their rounds, picking up and hauling off.

Except for another pretty morning on the road, there wasn’t much to get too excited about, so I let my mind wander a bit. I started thinking about the miles that I have already come (362, but who’s counting?), and what a joy this whole experience has been. About how much I have learned about North Carolina and how diverse this state really is.

As I waxed philosophical (in my head, I was doing some serious waxing), I must have allowed my mouth to hang open, because all of a sudden the most foul smell and taste combination entered my mouth that nearly made me eject the oatmeal and banana that Chuck had so painstakingly made for me this morning. If you have never experienced a tractor trailer full of chickens, then you haven’t truly lived.

I spent several moments rinsing out my mouth with water, and felt dirtier than usual, it being only 30 minutes into today’s run. I learned a valuable lesson today. Treat all big trucks like chicken trucks. Keep your mouth shut when they go by and give them a wide berth. Blech.

NC Highway 53 is especially busy on Monday mornings, so I was passed by no less than 10 trucks before I made it to a side road where the Mountains to Sea Trail headed slightly east towards Jones Lake. The trail started off on sidewalks that led to the lake, then followed the northwestern edge of the lake on honest-to-goodness trails - with roots and rocks and everything!

The trail quickly led to North Carolina game lands and sandy roads with some super deep puddles, but it was still nice to get off the roads, away from the cars and on something a little softer, even if it was challenging to run through.

Soon I came to a yard with some chickens wandering in front. I could hear them, long before I could see them, because the rooster was letting his presence be known. When I got closer, I noticed that there were actually several roosters and not just one that was making a series of rat-a-tat crows in rapid-fire succession. The roosters were situated on the right side of a tree crowing, strutting, scratching the ground and bragging about the size of their televisions. The hens were huddled on the left side of the tree, scratching, pecking and figuring out how they got stuck with the losers on the other side of the yard.

While all of this might be predictable, I realized that there were more roosters than hens. How can that possibly be productive? We all know perfectly well, that you’re going to need two hens to every rooster, just to fix whatever he screws up. There’s no way that this ends well.

A few miles down the road, the trail dipped a little east to go around Jones Lake, steering me even further away from cars and nipping dogs. There were gorgeous views, and the rain hadn’t started up, so I was able to take a few pictures, and run on something besides asphalt or sand, if just for a little while.

The trail became sandy after a couple of miles, and there were a few pits of water that had to be foraged, but it was all in fun. And, no, Mom, I didn’t see any snakes today.

kenny-capps-smilingBefore I made it back to the road, I thought that my back was unusually sweaty, but cold and it was somehow dripping on the backs of my legs. Ew. No, wait, the bladder in my hydration vest was leaking. I was soaked and now a little chillier. I kept the pack on because it was good place to store my food and phone, but I got a handheld water bottle from Dean and muscled on. I would have said “… like a good soldier”, but honestly, it didn’t feel very soldier-like and I feel spoiled enough by my crew. Perhaps I should have sucked it up and kept the cold, wet, slimy thing on my back until it emptied its remaining contents on my already squishy butt cheeks and shoes. That’s what a tough guy does, right?

When I got back on the road that would lead me west to NC Highway 53, I encountered the first of two dogs that didn’t care for my funky scent and preferred that I go back to where I came from.

Now, before I tell this part of my story, let me caveat it by saying I love dogs. I have cared for many dogs, and most have been larger than 60 to 70 pounds, so I’m generally more comfortable with big dogs than small dogs.

Puppy number one was medium-sized, about 50 pounds, noisy, fairly harmless, and he just wanted me to leave without much drama. I obliged, and we were both much happier when I passed the end of their yard. He stood in the middle of the highway daring me to come back. I didn’t.

Puppies number two and three, however, were the canine Hanson Brothers with more teeth and they liked to bite. I saw the two off-white pit bull terrier mix dogs coming my way from the back of their house. With so many vehicles passing by, they weren’t sure what to attack first, but since I seemed to be much slower than the cars, I was a pretty easy target. They wasted no time and their barks weren’t warnings – they were battle cries.

The smaller of the two kept tripping the older one that seemed to have a cataract in its right eye. The freaky eye didn’t make it look less demonic, by the way.

I tried to say, “Hey guys!” in the friendliest tone I could muster, but it came out as more of a hiccup as I was side-stepping their jaws and squirting them with my water bottle at the same time. I felt one of them brush the back of my leg as it just nearly missed biting me again, and I was starting to get pissed on top of getting worried. These dogs were coming into the street after me, and they didn’t care where they took me down. Cars be damned.

As I was doing the watusi in the middle of Highway 53, at least three drivers slowed down just long enough to be annoyed by the inconvenience of this runner mauling, but not one offered to help or interject on my behalf. Two different vehicles unintentionally saved me, however.

First, a truck drove by close enough that it distracted them, and they chased the truck a little ways, giving me time to get a little further up the road. They quickly remembered the easy kill and came back my way and began to surround me on both sides – no bueno. To surround me, however, the younger one stood in the middle of the road in the path of an oncoming Buick. The driver blew his horn at the dogs, rolled down his window and yelled apologetically to me, “I don’t want to hit them!”

I yelled back, “At this point, I’m not sure I mind!”

But the brothers weren’t happy about this interruption and decided to take it out on the Buick. That was my cue to ease on down, ease on down the road. When I looked back, Older and Creepier were head-butting the front bumper and Youngster was chewing the tires. Shortly thereafter, somebody in bright red pajamas walked out of their house to discourage them from such rude behavior.

After the adrenaline wore off, I stopped shaking and decided against telling the owner what I thought of his puppy parenting skills. I had a relatively uneventful, yet cold and rainy remainder of the day. I only had four more chicken trucks and two more pig trucks befoul me before I reached the post office in White Oak. 24 miles more miles closer to home.

Set your sights on truly experiencing whatever trails you happen to be on, whether they’re asphalt or rotting leaves, and you’ll always find “the funny,” even in the seemingly darkest times. 

Who Am I?

kenny-capps-patientMy name is Kenny Capps. Last year, starting on April 1, I ran across the state of North Carolina on the Mountains to Sea Trail in 54 days. I started at Jockey’s Ridge State Park to prove to myself that I could do it and to encourage and inspire others with cancer or chronic illness to keep moving forward. I have cancer. 

How Did I Find Myself Here?

Towards the end of 2014, I was just another middle-aged weekend athlete with marginal ability, even though I had been competing in endurance sports since I was 13 years old. 

I was running 30 to 40 miles a week on roads and trails around Asheville. The Mount Mitchell 40-mile Challenge was scheduled for the end of February, and I was actually considering an attempt at running the Boston Marathon in 2016 if I could get my times down. At the age of 43, I would have had to run faster than 3 hours and 15 minutes, and since my most recent trail half-marathon was about half that time, I felt pretty good about getting there in a road race.

In October of 2014, the wheels starting to come off a little bit. I thought I had the flu, so I went to my primary care doctor and he gave me a blood. The next day, Dr. Thrash called me and said that I did not have the flu, but my iron count low. I was a little anemic. So, he told me to take some iron pills and to come back to his office to have some more blood drawn. He just wanted to make sure that I was okay. 

On Christmas Eve, he called me to let me know that he got results back, but he knew enough about hematology to be dangerous, so he decided to send me to an oncologist to talk a little more. 

By the middle of January, when I walked into Dr. Vashist’s office, I actually felt pretty good. My headaches had mostly gone away, and I was back to running a lot of miles on the trails in and around Asheville. But when the doctor told me I had a blood cancer, my life changed. My goals changed. What I thought about the world changed. I had cancer, and I had to figure out what next.

I quickly had two more opinions by leading oncologists at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and at Duke Cancer Center, but the end result was the same. I had multiple myeloma, I just had a little more clarity on how aggressive and how advanced it was.

I had multiple lesions or holes through the bones in my body. That included compression fractures in my spine and lesions in my skull, scapula, collar bone and a pretty big one in my hip. 

I was directed to stop running immediately (for which I cried) and I began treatment in preparation for a bone marrow transplant as soon as my body was ready. 80% of my plasma was taken up by cancer and, despite my doctor's admonitions not to Google this disease, I spent many sleepless nights reading with horror and dread that I had 3 to 5 years to live. That’s one part I left out when I tried to explain the disease to my three kids.

kenny-capps-childThe treatment was inconvenient and a little painful at first, but mostly tolerable. But, after a couple of months, the medications made my hands shake so much, that I couldn’t use the touch screens at the grocery store checkout aisles, and I had to hand my smartphone to somebody else if I wanted to respond to a text message.

In August of that year, I had a bone marrow transplant. My immune system was destroyed and reset. I spent four-and-a-half weeks at the hospital in Atlanta, and by the time I was released, walking up or eve down stairs winded me to the point that I had to rest afterward. 

The cancer didn't go away completely, but it was pushed back and I got a little more time. The cancer was manageable and with the permission of my healthcare overlords, by the end of the year I started walking a little bit, jogging a little bit, and I gained strength and stamina within a couple of months, that I didn’t I’d ever feel again. At the end of January 2016, I ran the Hot Chocolate 10k along the French Broad River. It was the slowest 10k I have ever run, and I wanted to barf afterwards. I loved every painful step.

By the end of 2016 I had run 16 races, including 4 half-marathons and the Shut-in Ridge Trail Run which is an 18-mile point-to-point race with over 5,000 feet of vertical gain. I had never run slower. My training miles were half what they used to be. Every time I went into the woods, I experienced a lot more hiking than running, and I spent a lot more time doing it than I used to. Quality time not miles became my focus, and runners in the middle and back of the pack were actually a lot more fun than the folks up front. I was never going to be a podium guy anyways. I never knew what I was missing.

During my December 2016 reflection, I realized that although it had been almost 2 years since my initial diagnosis, I would not have come back as fast as I had, had I not focused so much attention on being healthy and active before I knew I was sick, during my treatment, and after the bone marrow transplant.

I frequently heard from healthcare providers that I needed to “take it easy” and “take care of myself”, without really understanding what that meant and why. I think I get it now, but that’s only because I was already doing it.

I realized there was a gap when it came to addressing myeloma patients’ health and well-being. So many people with chronic and even terminal conditions don’t know what I had discovered by accident - in order to have the best life - truly, the best life - you have to keep moving forward.

The reality is, that staying healthy and active contributes to increased quality of life. Purposeful physical activity allows for increased:

  1. Strength 
  2. Endurance
  3. Pain tolerance
  4. Energy level
  5. Maximizing the return that you can get from your treatment, and 
  6. The psychological benefit of just doing something - even it’s just to RAGE. 

kenny-capps-pathI knew that my experience with cancer, coaching and training was a platform - a springboard to not only inspire, or lead by example, but also a way to pay it forward. I founded Throwing Bones for a Cure, to encourage, inspire, and activate patients suffering from multiple myeloma, other cancers, and all chronic illnesses to stay healthy and active during and after treatment.

To really motivate patients, I needed get everyone’s attention. I wanted to do something big - selfishly because I needed to feel like I wasn’t just dying anymore. I wanted to show myself and everyone that I could convince to watch, that big things are possible even when we feel our worst. 

I came up with the idea of running the entire Mountains to Sea Trail in 2018, and surprisingly, my kind, considerate, and amazingly generous wife, only asked “how long do you need?”

Planning

Without really knowing the terrain of the entire Trail, I almost arbitrarily picked out a number that I thought I could hit every day as long as I manage my pace had a couple folks to help me. The number was 22 and two friends, Chuck Dale and Dean Hart, were the geniuses that helped me get there.

I spent the next year training, running, lifting, cycling, swimming, and collecting information about the trail and about what I would need to finish.

Every bit was valuable, and none of it truly prepared me. How do you train for running several Ultramarathons every week? The short answer is: 

  1. Don’t get ahead of yourself - take your training and the journey itself, one day at a time;
  2. you learn to listen to your body, when it needs something and how to distinguish good pain from bad pain from reallybad pain; and
  3. Always assume you’ll get to the end.

A myeloma patient in Raleigh loaned us an RV, Dean rented an SUV, and we made it to Nags Head on March 30th. After a day of raiding Wal-Mart for last minute supplies, my 4-year old and I climbed the highest dune we could find on Easter Sunday, took a few pictures, hugged a few people, and I took off running.

The next 8 weeks were among the most magical times I have ever experienced. I saw North Carolina in a way and from a perspective that most people can’t. 

I explored battlefields that I didn’t know existed. I went through towns that disappeared years ago when the industries that created them left little more than the skeletons of extinct economies.  

I circumvented lakes made from once-raging rivers that now held villages, towns and small cities. I kicked rocks down old railway lines that have now been converted to trails. I climbed mountains up ravines and past waterfalls. I ran past tourists too enthralled with the natural wonders to pay attention to the “Danger” signs at the edges of cliffs and high whitewater creeks and rivers. 

I suffered through plantar fasciitis, shin splints, sunburn, blisters, pig trucks, chicken trucks, spiderwebs in the dark, dogs, cows, snakes, rain, and teenage drivers that like to text. Maybe one day, I’ll do it again, but next time, I’m thinking of slowing down.

Slowing Down

After I got back home, I ran a few more races, I attempted my first 100-mile race in November, and I dove in completely to directing Throwing Bones for a Cure.

We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission to encourage myeloma and other cancer patients to stay healthy and active. Our vision is to get everyone to keep moving forward.

We currently have nine board members and hope to have at least three more in the next few months. This year we had our second annual Throwing Bones Trail 5k race, and we’re still attempting to have our first ultramarathon, as soon as we can convince Dupont Forest or some other location that looks just as amazing to let us bring a couple hundred runners out into the woods for a day or two.

We’re working on a two-part interactive video series for patients to self-assess and begin a plan of being as healthy and active as they can be. We’re applying for funding now and hope to get good news from different sources this Summer.

We’d love to have you be a part of this. Please take a flyer and ask questions. I’ll stick around for a bit, or you can message me later. Go to ThrowingBonesrun.org and find out how you can be a part of improving lives.

Kenny Capps

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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