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Marc Schiff’s Story

I want to share an inspirational story about one of the athletes I train. His name is Marc Schiff (@maschiff), he’ll be 61 years “young” next month, and I’ve been working with him since 2017. While Marc has been athletic his entire life, he never considered himself a runner. And although he ran track as a sprinter for a couple of years in high school, running was more of a necessary evil to stay in shape for baseball and lacrosse. Then, in late 2012 a cancer survivor friend asked him if he’d run a 5K in Phoenix to benefit Colon Cancer. He thought what the heck, why not, it’s only 3.1 miles! So he worked his way up to the distance on a treadmill over a few weeks leading to race day and was ready to go. Little did he know his life would be changed forever! He ran a 28:43 5K which was good for a 6th place AG finish. One year later he ran the same 5K in 23:51 and landed on the podium, and all of sudden he became a runner! Since then Marc has completed 25 half marathons, 2 Ragnar Road Relays, 3 full marathons and countless 5Ks, 10Ks and 15Ks. He’s also run Pat’s Run 7 years in a row and the Mesa-Phoenix Half/Full 6 straight years.

I met Marc for the first time in 2016 at the Gilbert Half Marathon Expo and started working with him shortly thereafter. He felt like he was stagnating at the Half Marathon distance and wanted to work his way up to the Full. His first Full Marathon was the 2017 Rock ‘n Roll Arizona and he finished at a respectable 4:27. But he wasn’t the least bit satisfied. He went back to work and set his sights on the 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego full. Unfortunately, he tore a hamstring 10 days before the race during his last long run and it was back to the drawing board. Marc worked his way back and his next goal race was the 2018 Mesa-Phoenix full. We set his A Goal at 4:15 which would be a stretch but not completely out of reach. He ended up finishing in 4:18 with an unplanned porta-potty stop at mile 21! That was good for a 9 min PR! Still not satisfied, Marc’s next goal race was the 2018 NYC Marathon. This was particularly special for him as he and his entire family are from Brooklyn and he hadn’t been back in almost 40 years. Marc’s training was going well, and he wanted to set his sights on a 4:00 finish. Knowing the course well I told him that was too aggressive so we backed it down to 4:15. Then, once again, injury struck, this time a stress fracture in his left foot! After 8 weeks in a boot NYC was out of the question so he had to defer to 2019. Once again it was back to work, this time essentially starting over. I eased Marc back to running slowly and by June he was pretty much back to his pre-injury fitness level, running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half in 1:57. He was healthy heading into NYC with his final long-run being a 2:01 finish at the Lake Powell Half in October. Because of his previous injuries we decided not to set a goal time for NYC and instead just run for the experience of it all and have fun. He finished in 4:33, which for that course, and considering the huge crowds and multiple bridges, isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

Now most runners would be satisfied to take a break for a few months, but not Marc. He was already registered for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half in January and Mesa-Phoenix Full in February! Thankfully I was able to talk some sense into him and he dropped down to the Half for Mesa-Phoenix, which by the way, he ran in 1:58! Little did we know this would be the last live race before COVID-19 shut everything down. I’m sure it’s no surprise that he embraced the virtual racing phenomena head first. Not only did he run virtual races almost every weekend, but he organized and led a weekly Virtual Group Run that attracted more than 50 runners from all over the US as well as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and England! This week will be the 8th.

So now that I’ve given you a sense of Marc’s grit and determination, this next part is where the real inspiration comes in. On May 7th, I got a text from him telling me that he had just been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a relatively rare form of blood cancer. This particular cancer is in the bone marrow and it primarily affects the white blood cells that defend the body from infection and fight viruses. Instead, the cancerous white blood cells crowd out the healthy cells which results in a compromised immune system; not good ever but especially during a global pandemic! And if that’s not bad enough, the cancerous cells attack the bones from the inside out and cause “cystic lesions”, which in layman’s terms are holes in the bones. A PET Scan showed “innumerable” lesions throughout his body. This condition causes localized bone weakness and makes him much more prone to stress fractures, a runner’s nightmare. Marc started chemotherapy a week later and has just completed his first cycle. While the first results look promising, this is the “marathon of all marathons”. One without a finish line. There is currently no cure for Multiple Myeloma, although it is treatable. And luckily for Marc, it was caught in Stage 1. But the road ahead will be long and hard. Weekly chemotherapy treatments for 6 months followed by a Stem Cell Transplant to essentially wipe out the bone marrow and start over. He’ll then be on maintenance medication for the rest of his life. The side effects of the chemo are not fun; nausea, fatigue, insomnia, neuropathy and weight gain from taking highdose steroids. Add a compromised immune system on top and you get the picture.

I spoke with Marc yesterday and he said he’s doing pretty well under the circumstances. He sounded upbeat and positive. I was expecting him to say he wanted to discontinue coaching, but not surprised at all when he said just the opposite! He told me that he wanted to keep running as long as his body allowed it. He wants the accountability of having a plan to follow. He wants to remain a part of the BTB team and stay connected to the running community. He’s willing to roll out of bed at 5:00 am to beat the Arizona heat. I actually saw on Strava that he ran a 10K this morning at 6:00 am! And for those days that he can’t, he’s purchased a treadmill so he can run later in the day. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. When we talked about me sharing his story on Instagram he made a point of telling me that he doesn’t want people’s pity or to be treated special because of his condition. He’s a runner who happens to have cancer, not a cancer patient who happens to run. He wants to bring awareness to this cruel disease and provide hope and inspiration to those who are also facing hardships and adversity. A positive outlook and strong network of supporters can work miracles.

If you’d like to learn more about Multiple Myeloma, or make a donation to help fund research to find a cure and make treatment more affordable, Marc’s posted some links in his profile. You can follow him to keep up with his journey. While there may be no new PRs for the foreseeable future, this is a race that he must win, and I’m 100% confident if anyone can it’s Marc