It is midnight, we have been running for sixteen hours across stunning landscapes and now, by the beam of a head torch, I catch a glimpse of two giants' silver teapots before hurtling down the next sand dune.
Today is the third and longest day of the toughest footrace in the world “Marathon des Sables” held annually in the Sahara Desert and the teapots are not a hallucination but mark the finishing line, within reach but still several dunes away.
Life can change rapidly. In 2010 I had achieved a lifelong goal of running “the world’s toughest footrace” Marathon des Sable in the Sahara Desert and now, a year later, I was coming to the end of treatment for cancer, including surgery and three rounds of chemo. From super fit to flat out sick in under twelve months!
The positive was that I had been physically fit going into my illness and this helped me tremendously. I had been diagnosed early and received excellent care for curable cancer. I am happy to report that now, after much effort, all is good, if not better.
For me, it has been the vast array of conflicting emotions, and the psychological impact of illness which has been a far greater personal challenge.
The gentleman next to me on the ward as I received my first chemo was resplendent in his red Manchester United pyjamas. He did not get an early diagnosis; he had collapsed at his workbench in a car plant. I can remember that he had two young children and an eight-hour operation to remove secondaries on the day his second child was born. His name was Mike, and he did not make it.
We often hear “how grateful cancer survivors are to have won their battle” whereas I felt for a long period of extreme guilt over those who had not survived, a fear that it may happen again and anger as to why it had happened to me. In the earlier stages of monitoring following my treatment I had been purely surviving.
It took me a long time to deal with these thoughts, as a track athlete I had always been grateful for the positive mindset, grit, and self-belief the sport had taught me, and slowly moving back towards those principles helped me heal and move towards a position of thriving rather than surviving.
Cancer made me prioritize my health over work, I no longer wanted to exhaust myself physically or mentally for unappreciative employers. There had to be something more to life. It has been a challenge and I have flexed the rule often. I can manage my time, work smarter with teams, extend myself when necessary, and hone expectations.
With some organizations it felt as if sharing this personal story was a sign of weakness and that I may not have gotten a job… it took me some time to realize anyone who operated this way was not worthy of my representation or efforts.
We all slow down as we progress in years, but I came to relish the benefit of quality rest and recovery, taking time out to create memorable experiences, and prioritizing unique events for me with close friends or family.
I felt a strong need to give back to society for the support I received and to help alter those things within my power. I appreciate the value of belonging to community, my role as a coach with Junior middle-distance athletes and as a mentor for The Princes Trust helping young people launch their own businesses enables me to fulfill this need.
My physical training is now more varied including hiking, strength & conditioning, trail running, gravel biking, sea swimming, kayaking, flexibility, and mobility with more emphasis on recovery and longer cycles of training; this approach keeps me mentally fresh, looking forward to training sessions and a better-prepared athlete less prone to injury.
Understanding that recovery is a part of training and the benefits of quality rest and recuperation, has been vital as has been taking time out to create memorable experiences and prioritizing unique events with close friends or family.
Technology has also played an increasing part in tracking, analyzing, and motivating me to stay active.
I felt a need to give back to and partake in society, repay the support I received, and to help alter those things within my power. I appreciate the value of belonging to the RLA Global community, my role as a coach with Junior middle-distance athletes and mentor for The Princes Trust helping young people launch their own businesses enables me to fulfill to this need.
My recovery over a prolonged period was formed on a broad wellbeing approach combining medical, physical & spiritual.
As Strategic Health & Wellness Advisor with RLA Global I use my experiences in forming amazing, memorable wellbeing opportunities for guests to enjoy, recover or improve upon their health & wellbeing, meeting them on their wellness journey, no matter what brings them to these spaces.
About the author: Simon Lee Saunders, RLA Global, Strategic Health & Wellness Advisor
Simon Lee Saunders serves as RLA Global’s Strategic Health & Wellness Consultant. His multi-decade experience has been finely crafted through both professional and personal wellbeing experiences that distinguish his ability to connect with the most diverse projects.