Scott Spitz has cancer. On August 23, he’ll begin an ultrarun that will officially make him the most badass cancer patient ever—or maybe the most foolish. He’ll cover almost 350 miles in just seven days to run the length of Indiana from Dunes State Park to Louisville, Kentucky, all to benefit Family Reach, an organization that provides financial assistance to cancer patients and their families. He’ll have no aid and no assist vehicle, carrying all his gear in a Burley running stroller donated by The Bike Line. Why? Per the name of Spitz’s event, “Because We Can.”
Spitz was the last person you’d ever expect to get diagnosed with the big C. He’s been vegan for almost 20 years. He’s been an avid runner all his life, the type of runner who once cranked out 5 ½ minute miles for 26.2 in a row. He’s never touched booze, drugs, or cigarettes. He was—and is, even with cancer—the picture of health.
In April 2013, Spitz was diagnosed with pseudomyxoma peritonei, a rare form of abdominal cancer. On October 27, he’ll go in for his third, and maybe final, surgery to remove tumors from his abdominal wall. But first, he’s going to run 50 miles a day. For 7 days. Alone.
I chatted with Spitz in one of his favorite “offices:” the Monon Coffee Company. When he’s not running ridiculous distances for charity, Spitz is a one-man graphic design company, fuelled by any and all of the independently-owned coffee shops in Indy. He was witty and animated at first, but when we got down to business and started talking about the run, he looked nervous.
I asked him if he was scared. He laughed. “For a while, I thought, yeah I’ve got this…But more and more, I’ve had a second voice in my head: ‘Dude, who do you think you are? 50 miles in a day?’ I’ve literally never run 50 miles before. The most I’ve ever done is 45 on a treadmill. At first, I had this idea that I’d be running the whole thing strong, running well. Now I know that I’ll be slogging through some of it. Maybe a lot of it.”
Keep in mind that for Spitz, “slogging through it” will mean running 8-minute miles, maybe with a little gimp in his stride if he’s sore. For most people, running a single mile in 8 minutes seems impossible. Running 50 of them sounds like a joke. But Spitz is no stranger to distance running. Pre-cancer, he was winning races and training for an Olympic-qualifying marathon time. Post-cancer, he’s still racing, placing well, and even winning. He knows what he’s doing, and he shares what he knows with others as the coach behind White Pine Distance Training.
I asked Spitz if he was working with a coach for the benefit run. He looked me in the eye and shook his head. He’s doing it himself.
That seems to be a theme. As much as Spitz is doing this ultrarun as a benefit to an organization he believes in, it’s also a test of his self-reliance. He’s raised $16,000 of his $50,000 goal, but his internal goal is pass/fail. He’s determined to complete this damn thing, no matter what.
“So what’s your contingency plan if you wake up on the third or fourth day and realize that you can’t do it?”
Spitz smiled, “It could only be a physical thing. Mentally, I am not going to break down.” He’s not giving himself much room for failure on a physical level, either. Short of a broken leg, Spitz is going to get to the end. “I’ll limp there if I have to.”
I don’t mean to downplay the depth of Spitz’s generosity. He’s raising an amount that’s far, far more than he makes in a year, and giving it away. Not many of us would do the same.
However, and Spitz is the first to admit this, there is a selfish aspect to it. “I love to run, and I’m going to do it for a whole week. I’m also acknowledging the cancer experience. On the day of my next surgery, I’m going back to zero. I’ll have no muscle strength, I won’t even be able to sit up. I will have lost everything I built. But, in the moment, I can still do something. I wanted to take advantage of that moment and do something epic.”
Donate to Spitz’ charity run here.