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Fighting My Way Out of Exhaustion

No one told me to expect a long recovery after completing chemotherapy treatment. Or if they did, I somehow mentally blocked it out. In any event, I expected to be back to ‘normal’ a month after completing 6 monthly rounds of chemo. The reality was it took closer to 9-12 months and a lot of work before I felt ‘normal’ again.

I remember sitting in my oncologist’s office nine months after completing chemo. I was dog tired. My doctor took one look at me and knew how I felt. He said “You’re tired aren’t you.” “Yes I am doc. How do I get over this?” was my response. I explained that I only had energy to work each day and then would come home and lay on the couch. Some days I could barely complete an eight-hour day. My doctor informed me that it just takes time. That’s not the answer I wanted to hear. I wanted to feel better right then and there!

I was waiting to feel my energy levels return so I could begin working on getting back in shape. Looking back, I think I was using that as an excuse to postpone doing something very hard: exercising while feeling exhausted. Exercise is hard enough without compounding it with chemo complications. Yet, my energy wasn’t coming back on its own. I was done waiting. I had to do something!

100 Day Challenge

I was 100 days away from turning 50. I wanted to feel great and be in good shape when I hit that milestone. So, with my doctor’s permission, I decided I’d do a self-imposed 100-day challenge. For 100 days I would do four things:

  1. Do intermittent fasting – only eating between noon and 8:00 PM.
  2. Eat a clean diet – ketogenic specifically.
  3. Run – Train to complete a 5K in under 30 minutes. If I could do that, it would be my fastest time ever.
  4. Burpees – Do one more burpee each day. So on day one, do one burpee. Day two, two burpees and so on until 100 days later I had completed 5050 burpees.


Here’s a few tips that helped me along the way:


It helps to let people know what you’re doing. You know friends and family will ask how you’re doing so it keeps you accountable and less likely to quit.

Training partner

My wife and caregiver put on a couple new hats: keto chief and training partner. On days I really didn’t feel like running, it was so helpful to have someone encouraging me to go and enduring the run with me. Having a training partner, someone relying on me to go running, made it much easier and much less likely that I’d talk myself out of running that day.

Expert guidance

Since I wasn’t an accomplished runner I sought one out for advice. I had an friend that regularly did triathlons, or rode a bike up and down mountains, or run 50K’s (31 miles, longer than a marathon). He knew how to train to run faster and further. I would regularly text with him to report my progress or ask questions.

How’d it go?

In a word: Rough! At least initially. I tried to run three times a week; one pace (see how fast I could complete 1.5-2 miles), one run just to run and not worried about time, speed or distance, and one 5K to track my time. There were many times when I forced myself to go run when all I wanted to do was lay on the couch. Some of those runs were a disaster so I cut them short, but often once I got running I had more energy and was surprised by how far or fast I could go.

As the 100 days ticked away, I found I wasn’t always tired. I was having some better days. I still had weird bouts of lethargy and while they were growing less frequent they were also frustratingly impossible to predict. For instance, I had a 25+ mile mountain bike trip I could go on with my 16-year-old son and a youth group. To see if I could handle the ride, I went for a short four-mile test ride. I had to stop a couple times, sit on the ground and recover. I barely made it out of the woods and back to my vehicle. Yet I couldn’t pass up trying the big ride the next day. Although it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I did have great energy and rode 27 miles from Fort Mountain Georgia to Chattanooga Tennessee.

About half way through my challenge the energy levels leveled out. I was no longer feeling tired. As a bonus, on some runs I sometimes felt strength I didn’t know I had. My 5K times went from 41:48 to 37:10 to 35:58 and 33:39. Finally the goal race arrived. I got a 32:36. I failed to reach my sub-30 minute 5K goal, but I succeeded in something much more important: getting my energy back.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

As I look back I wonder if I would still be struggling with low energy if I hadn’t done this challenge. I sure I would have to some extent. If I have any regret it is that I didn’t make myself start sooner.

I’m still running and have another 5K coming up this Saturday. I haven’t let myself off the hook on my sub-30 minute goal. I just keep training until I get it!

Editor’s Note: Since each person responds differently, we suggest always checking with your health care team before starting any new diet or exercise regimens.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    I’ve been doing many things to change my lifestyle and exercise is next on my list. Good for you. Running really helped my daughter to feel better too. Keep up the good work.

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    8 months ago

    @rusty_vs_cll Great post and a good way to help keep busy and overcome cancer for those who can do it. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

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