ONE RUN FOR ONE LIFE
Running 5,000 km on a treadmill to prolong a life
From June 1 to July 31, 2019
On June 1st, 2019, Patrick Michel, a Montréal endurance runner, started a 5,000 km run on a treadmill to help raise awareness and funds to help prolong cancer-afflicted Derek Johnston's life.
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RUNNING 5,000 KM on a treadmill to prolong a life
In order to capture the general public’s attention, sometimes it is necessary to perform something seemingly outrageous to the common individual.
On June 1, 2019, Patrick Michel, a Montréal endurance runner, started running on a treadmill. His objective was to cover in 61 days a distance of about 5,000 km to raise awareness and funds to the critical condition of Derek Johnston, who has stage 4 non-clear cell kidney cancer.
Through his run, Patrick appealed to the public’s generosity by asking it to make a donation that would allow Derek to continue to receive the experimental therapy that was keeping him alive.
Derek Johnston, kept alive by a miraculous experimental treatment.
Diagnosed with stage 4 non-clear cell kidney cancer in 2016, Derek Johnston was doomed.
Since being treated in immunotherapy under an experimental treatment led by the University of San Diego, Derek has shown a marked improvement in his health. He gained weight and his cancerous tumors showed a reduction of about 35%.
The price of a life.
Since his diagnosis, Derek is no longer able to work because the symptoms of his illness make him unable to do so.
Repatriating Derek to Montreal close to his family is out of the question. If he leaves the research group of the University of San Diego, leaving behind the treatment that extends his life, he would no longer have the opportunity to follow the same therapy in Quebec, because it is not available.
Without this treatment, Derek would not be able to survive much longer.
Courtesy of Montréal-based running store Boutique Courir, a 10’x10′ tent was installed on DAX Café’s terrace on Van Horne Street, corner of Stuart Street, In Outremont (Québec).
A one-foot high wood platform was built and covered with a green grass-like water-proof carpet.
A top-of-the-line Nordictrack commercial treadmill was purchased and installed on the platform.
A 10-foot vinyl banner was designed, print and installed at the front of the tent so people on the street could see and get a grasp of what was taking place.
In addition to the DAX Café’s patrons generosity, and to increase the chances of getting additional donations from a larger sample of the Montréal population, it was decided to install a live broadcasting system to stream the run on the event’s site.
Large posters and smaller ones, as well as information cards were printed to inform the café’s customers about the event and try to trigger on-the-spot donations at the cash register. The staff was instructed to hand out theses info cards to customers. Also, outside on one of the tent poles, an info cardholder was installed to encourage people walking in front of the tent to pick up a card and make a donation inside the café or when they got back home.
A social media campaign was devised to help increase the visibility of the event by promoting it via daily posts and the live broadcast system.
Most major media outlets were contacted and were informed about the event via telephone calls, a media advisory email, and contacts.
Patrick showed up daily around 6:30 am, sometimes earlier, and opened the tent, unlocked the treadmill, filled his bottles, changed into his running gear, and started running at 7:15 am. He would run until 15:30 or sometimes until 18:00, depending on how fast he ran or if he stopped to have lunch or not. Once the run was completed, the tent was closed and the treadmill locked. Patrick would go back to his place and recover until the next day when he would start all over again. The event started on June 1 and ended on July 31, 2019.
Donations keep coming in as we speak, so to see how much money was raised, please visit the GoFund Me site dedicated to Derek (https://www.gofundme.com/lifesaving-treatment-for-derek-johnston). Each Latte sold provided a $0.25 donation (about 2,000 were sold). Also, around $4,000 were donated at the cash, inside the café.
Patrick had his own sponsors and private financial backers so he could train for a period of 14 months, then run for 61 days without worrying about money.
Café DAX generously provided Patrick’s nutrition for the runs. Essentially energy gels, energy and protein bars, and Gatorade. Other individuals provided Patrick with his evening nutrition.
We are confident in saying that the event was a great success. We touched thousands of individuals during the 61 days Patrick ran. People would wave at him, drivers would honk, bus drivers would slow down and wave at him, firemen would stop and donate, ambulances would start their sirens, police officers would give him two thumbs up, and children would talk with him and ask all sorts of questions. For two months Patrick was that guy running on a treadmill that everyone became used to seeing on their way to work and on their way back home.
The run itself was a serious challenge. Patrick recounts it in a day-by-day recap (at the end of this page). Nevertheless, a world record was set for running for a 60-day period on a treadmill. Official or not, Patrick does not really care. This mission was not about a distance or records, it was about helping Derek in his fight against cancer. In the end, we believe we made a significant impact on Derek’s life and hope donations continue to pour in to help him even more in the future.
Patrick’s account of the mission
August 5, 2019.
It’s starting to sink in. I’m done.
It’s been quite a long and tedious process. A two-year sabbatical, 16 months of preparation, 2 months of running during the event, and here we are. Sounds simple, right? Not really!
As most of you already know, I was initially training to run from Vancouver to Montréal, but a few months before the event, I changed my plans so I could help out a friend with raising awareness and funds to prolong his brother’s life. Derek Johnston, the patient, is afflicted by kidney cancer and is currently still undergoing an experimental treatment that is essentially prolonging his life.
An event was set up on Derek’s brother’s café (DAX Café) in Outremont. It consisted of a 10’x10’ tent, generously loaned to us by Boutique Courir, a top-of-the-line commercial-grade Nordictrack treadmill, a truckload of Gatorade, GU energy gels, and Clif bars. The event was branded “One Run for One Life”. The idea was to bring together as many people as possible and make them pay attention to what was going on to raise their interest in helping out Derek complete his treatment by donating whatever amount of money they felt they could part with. I was attempting a 5,000 km run on a treadmill for 61 consecutive days. And boy, did we grab their attention!
One would think that running on a treadmill would be something simple to execute. Not quite! In retrospect, the running was the simplest thing in this entire humanitarian mission. I know, run a 5k on a treadmill is easy, boring, and unfulfilling. Now try running 84 km per day, in heat, humidity, wind, day after day, speaking to no one for hours on end. That’s a challenge worth going for! For me at least…
I trained for 12 months on roads and our mountain. Then, upon switching my plans, I continued my preparation at the Gym du Plateau (open 24/7), running hours and hours on a treadmill. 18 months later, I was ready. Or so I thought…
In this post, I want to set the record straight about how this whole thing unfolded and clarify a few things for those who did not have the opportunity to be close to me during the event. Also, many of my friends are around the world. I set up a live broadcast of the event so people could watch whenever I was running. But as you will see later in this post, and like Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth”…
Here’s a quick day-by-day recap of this gargantuan humanitarian running mission:
I have to admit, I was nervous, very nervous. I didn’t sleep at all the night before the start of the run. I had doubts about my readiness to undertake such a crazy running project. These doubts were triggered by the fact that in the two months before the event, I was not able to train properly and consistently due to so many hurdles and timeline issues with the logistics of the event. My mind was constantly worrying about things that were supposed to be executed by others at specific moments in time, but were not, or if they were, very poorly. I was not able to focus on training as much as I should have. I would start running and stop after 30 or 42 km because my mind was all over the place, wondering about this and that. Not being in complete control of the project made me very uneasy. I was not in control of the expenses, not in control of the marketing material, and not in control of the location. Suffice to say that not being in control was a new experience for me. I did not like it at all. But here I was, walking toward the treadmill to start running under the spotlight. On top of that, I was being filmed for the upcoming documentary that would be released later this year by BTC Films and directed by Pascal Guzzo. A few friends were there to support me, which made me even more nervous. Professionally, I have no problem being in the spotlight and pitching mega advertising campaigns to the toughest clients. But I am very apprehensive about public attention, I’m shy, and I prefer being in the shadows. This project was everything but discrete… I climbed on the raised platform (thanks Jasper for building it) where my instrument of torture was installed, stepped on the treadmill, and pressed the start button. The 61-day running mission was underway. To my amazement, I easily completed the 84K run. I thought it would be harder. I guess I was ready after all…
Everything was going so well… I was running smoothly and effortlessly. Until the rain started and water found infiltrated inside the section of the treadmill that housed the mechanism and electronics. The treadmill stopped cold and the fuse was tripped. It took about an hour an a half for me to open the housing and dry the water with a combination of compressed air and towels. Still, the fuse kept tripping each time I turned on the treadmill. I lost so much time with this issue that I ran out of time on that day and I only completed 70 km. I was not pleased, to say the least. Here I was, on day 2 and already I was not going the distance…
I ran 84 km each day without any issues. One thing I realized was that I was not able to ingest enough food during the run. It seemed that I needed a lot fewer calories than I expected. So I had to adjust my food intake. On the other hand, my hydration plan was perfect.
When I got out of bed that morning, I knew I was in trouble. My right knee was swollen to the size of a grapefruit and it was hurting like hell. Walking the 10 m from my bed to the bathroom was a considerable ordeal as I couldn’t bend my knee. On top of running, I have to walk daily from my place to the event location, which is 3 km away. How was I going to it? I was only able to complete 26 km on that day because I wanted to figure out what was going on with my knee and try to fix it so I could run the next day.
My knee was not cooperating at all. It was hurting very much and doubts started creeping into my mind. I was flooded with negative thoughts. Things like “what did you get yourself into”, “you’re not tough enough”, “you’re too old for this”, “your training was not good in the last few months”, “you’re going to fail”, “you’ll be a joke”, and so much more… And then sometimes, the unexpected occurs. A kid approached the tent and asked me if I was going to quit if my knee hurt too much. I responded, “absolutely not!”. Boom!!! Massive electric shock. Reboot! I completed 84 km on that day.
My knee was still hurting very much and was still swollen. But at 11 km, all hell broke loose. I was struck with rhabdomyolysis (detailed explanation here: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/rhabdomyolysis-symptoms-causes-treatments#1). On top of that, my right shin hurt like hell. I could hardly put my foot on the ground at that point. Rhabdomyolysis is nothing to sneeze because it can be deadly if not dealt with quickly. Also, my shin needed serious attention, so I stopped running and went back home to figure things out.
The rhabdomyolysis was not over yet and I could not even walk. I was in excruciating pain. Something had to be done, and quickly. I did not run that day at all. I stayed in bed only to limp to the bathroom and experience even more pain from the rhabdomyolysis…
Thank God, I have great friends! A super nurse and a very good friend of mine reached out and got me in front of an x-ray machine in no time. The results were not promising though… The inflammation in my shin was so severe that nothing could be seen on the x-ray images. An MRI was necessary! No running! Again. At that point, I was drowning in negative thoughts again. I was in a very bad place. But worse, I had to wait.
No running, no walking, and a lot of negative thoughts. Still waiting to know what was going on with my shin.
The MRI was done and I was told that I had a 12 cm Periostitis on my shin (details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periostitis). I was instructed to rest completely for 4 weeks (like that was going to happen) and told that I would probably no longer be able to run these distances in the future. Yeah, right! I’ll decide if I can run these distances or not! Now I knew what was wrong with my shin. Suddenly, my confidence in my abilities was back. The rhabdomyolysis was gone by now, and I was ready to resume my run, to a point…
I walked 42 km per day on the treadmill. Yes, I was in pain, but I was sticking to it. People were very supportive. They encouraged me, honked at me with thumbs up, inquired about my health, offered help, made donations, and more. I was regaining my confidence. There is nothing more mind-numbing than running hours on a treadmill. But walking 42k per day, now that’s torture for me. I don’t do slow very well…
I wanted to test my shin at this point. I ran 42 km. Everything seemed fine. I was so happy!
I decided to push a little more. I ran 60 km. I was good to go.
I only ran 42 km due to heavy wind and rain. It rained sideways and into the treadmill. I did not want to damage the treadmill permanently and ruin my chances to complete the event.
Carbon copy of yesterday. I only ran 42 km.
I was back into it and I ran 84 km. Like if I never had the shin injury! 4 weeks of rest!!! Seriously??? I always knew that I could recover quicker than the average runner. But I was truly amazed at how quickly I recovered from this particular injury. The feeling gave me a tremendous morale boost. My belief in my abilities skyrocketed and I was back on track.
Family negative comments, the night before, about the purpose of my run, its worthiness, the dangers to my health, consequences on my finances, and remarks like “it’s pointless to kill yourself running on a stupid machine for people you don’t even know”, got the best of my mind on that day, and I couldn’t focus anymore. I only ran 42 km.
Ran 84 km. No problem.
At this point, my mental distress was taking hold of me. The running was fine, but when you have nothing else to do for hours on end, if you lose focus you think too much. Why was I doing this? Was it worth it? Did anybody care about this cause? I was second-guessing everything and that weight on my shoulders heavily. I felt I wanted to quit. I couldn’t see past today. I couldn’t imagine going through another 30 days of this ordeal. I wimped out at 42 km. I felt awful that night and I could not sleep. I was cursing myself for not completing the full 84 km. I was again in a mental downward spiral. I hated myself for not finding the mental fortitude to go the distance. I knew I could handle excruciating pain for an extended period, but this mental thing was not looking good. I needed to snap out of it quickly or the event was over. I listened to the entire “North” audiobook by Scott Jurek that night. And indeed, I snapped out of it in the morning. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to get energized when all seems lost. It’s an amazing adventure. No need to be a runner to appreciate the lessons that are taught in this very entertaining book and how they can be applied in life (you can get it here: https://www.amazon.ca/North-Finding-While-Running-Appalachian/dp/0316433799/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=north+scott+jurek&qid=1564926875&s=books&sr=1-1).
At 60 km, my left Achilles tendon was in serious trouble. It hurt like hell. It felt like a dagger was stabbing me with each step I took. I was limping considerably while running and biting my lips from the very sharp pain. How could I go on like this? I knew I could persevere if the run ended today, but I still had to run another 30 days! I had to stop to be able to fight another day. I knew about this type of injury. It could take a long time to heal. I could be in real trouble now. So I stopped at 60 km to take care of this problem. On top of that, friends from the Netherlands came to see me run and I was not there… I felt even worse.
No running. I had Achilles tendonitis that was so painful, I thought the run was over. I bad tripped all day, swamped in negative thoughts. I watched a documentary that night “Made to be Broken” with Karl Meltzer (you can find it here: https://www.redbull.com/int-en/films/AP-1QDC5XUTN1W11). It set me straight!
I always knew I was not going to give up, not for a tendonitis, not for anything. Nope, not me. I willed myself into running regardless of the pain. I had to prove to myself that I could overcome this injury and continue on my way. And I did. I ran 84 km.
Upon waking up, I had no energy, which is a very rare thing for me. I always have a tremendous amount of energy in the morning. But today, I had tunnel vision, nausea, vertigo, the works! I only ran 42 km. These symptoms were not to be taken lightly. They were the sign that I had to fine-tune something in my nutrition. So I went home and analyzed my intake log for the last few days. I made the adjustments for the next runs.
I ran 84 km with no problems. A kid with a Superman T-shirt walked by the treadmill. He pointed at the logo on his shirt then pointed at me, and gave me a broad smile. At that very moment, I knew in my heart that I would go on to the last day of the event, regardless of whatever unknown hardship was still in store for me. Also, I decided to run faster than the conservative pace I planned in my preparation. I realized that running “slowly” was hurting me. As soon as I accelerated, the pain became bearable by my standards… interesting, right?
Delegating social media to a third party was not going as expected and wrestling with the course adjustments that had to be made to bring things to the level required proved to be a problem that would never be resolved. I was personally posting daily on my own Facebook news feed. The response was great and donations poured in from my friends and followers. But things were not going according to plan on the page dedicated to the event, which was not managed or fed by me. I was getting seriously aggravated by how little was done by people who claimed to know better. You see, one thing I want people to know is that, on roads and trails, I can fight through absolute misery and prevail, but it’s broken hopes and promises that will destroy me. That social media challenge played so much in my mind because it had a direct correlation with donations. This whole thing was about raising funds to support Derek. I was very upset by now. I wanted to take over and apply what I was doing right on my profile page. But I had to run, I had no business worrying about this matter, I had to let go and live with the consequences. I only ran 42 km.
My Achilles tendon was still hurting badly and for fear of permanently damaging it, I only ran 50 km. I went home, massaged it for two hours with a mixture of coconut oil and geranium oil extract. After, I did two hours of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) while watching “Unbreakable” (http://www.journeyfilm.com/buy/unbreakable-the-western-states-100/) and “Rocky”.
I was still in a lot of pain, but I bit the bullet and managed to run the planned 84 km.
I ran 42 km. Can you believe that I ran out of Gatorade? It pissed me off so much that I went back home fuming. Did I ALSO have to worry about not getting the fuel I needed to be able to run on top of everything else??? I was livid and I refused to go buy some.
I ran 84 km. The Achilles tendonitis was gone suddenly as it came. I was back in top condition and ready to rock.
I needed a day off to take care of some urgent personal matter. It’s funny how people who were told about this event did not get the point when I told them that I would not be UNAVAILABLE until August 1st. Lack of focus or attention I suppose…
I ran 84 km.
I ran 42 km. I suddenly did not feel like running anymore. The social media issue was still playing in my head. I wasn’t enjoying this anymore. It felt like business now. I run because I enjoy it, not because I have to. And now, I felt I had to. I went back home and did spinning for two hours, refocusing on my “why” and on everything that was accomplished so far. I got back into my endurance runner mindset. I was ready for tomorrow and eager to run again.
I ran 84 km in intense heat. The treadmill was suffering and giving signs that it would no longer cooperate. The live streaming cameras were overheating and shutting down intermittently. I was always worrying about technology issues triggered by the intense heat and humidity. Oddly enough, I was unaffected by the heat. I was getting stronger because of it. Bonus!
It was so hot that the treadmill overheated and shutdown at random. I only ran 57 km before deciding to give the treadmill a chance to fight another day tomorrow.
On June 1st, I started the event weighing 150 pounds. At this point, I weighted 138. And that was not good. I knew what I would experience if I lost too much weight. I’ve had serious problems when I dropped once to 134 pounds. I did not want to relive the experience. I took the day off to refuel properly. I essentially ate and drank all day. Beautiful!
I ran 84 km in intense heat and humidity. I was still getting stronger and running faster. I could almost see the finish line by now.
The treadmill gave up and broke from heating up, from the intense humidity, from the rust on the rollers created by my heavy sweating, and from the insane mileage I put on it in such a short period. I had to wait for a technician to come over and check it out. Also, since day 30, the heat was messing with the live broadcast and the cameras overheated and shutdown on their own. I decided to run 42 km on the road and the mountain when I could no longer run on the treadmill.
I had to wait for replacement parts for the treadmill. I ran 42 km daily on the road and the mountain.
I ran 84 km. 42 km on the treadmill which was fixed, but broke again, and 42 km on the road and the mountain to complete the day.
I was fed up with the treadmill issues and the horrible support I was getting. I ran 60 km on the road and the mountain. The repair was not done properly the day before. The treadmill did not work again. Another part was needed… I was fuming by now, cursing like a sailor, but happy to run on the road.
I ran 84 km on the road and the mountain.
I ran 84 km. 42 km on the road and the mountain. Then the treadmill was fixed. So I ran the second 42 km on it.
I ran 67 km on the final day of this 61-day event. My mind rebelled and, although I’ve been getting stronger and stronger since day 40, I was no longer willing to take one more step. The run was over yesterday, and that was that.
So, as you can see, this mission was anything but easy. I had to dig deep physically and mentally, but sometimes I was not sure if I could push more.
61 days later, I am happy to say that I’ve found the experience extremely positive from a personal perspective and eye-opening about human nature and enlightening about our society.
By now everyone wants to know how much I ran, right? I ran 3,209 km. I set a first-time world record for the 60 days at 2,603 km (the balance was run on roads). Between training specifically for the mission and running the event, I ran over 10,000 km in 20 months.
Whether my world record is officially recognized or not is not important to me. I know what I did, I logged every kilometre, and that’s what counts. If someone wants to officially beat that record and go through the tedious (and costly) process required by the Guinness Record Book, by all means, lace-up and try. Records are made to be broken after all…
This event was not about the distance, it was about commitment. Mine was about raising awareness and funds to help prolong Derek’s life. I’m proud to have helped, in my capacity, to make the general public focus on Derek’s condition and needs. I’m also proud that so many people I knew, and total strangers, contributed to the cause. If you want to know how much was raised, go to https://www.gofundme.com/lifesaving-treatment-for-derek-johnston. Many more donations will be added to this number because of the many individuals donated at the cash register at DAX Café. Also, additional funds will be added from the $.25 from each Latte sold.
I’ll conclude by offering my deepest thanks to each and everyone who helped us in this insane humanitarian undertaking. Whether you were a donor, a supporter, a friend, a family member, a sponsor, a DAX Café staff member or customer, or an Outremont city official, I’m eternally grateful for what you’ve done to help make this event a successful one.
I have a special thank you to DAX Café’s left and right neighbors, Le Serpolet and Boutique Tout Terrain for letting us use some of their sidewalk space. It helped us a lot. Thanks again.
A word to my sponsors, to manufacturers of products I used, and retailers is do business with (Café DAX, 2XU, GU Energy, Clif, Garmin, Boutique Courir, Hoka One One, Oakley, Gatorade, Nordictrack, Telestream, Nanuk, Apple, The North Face, Stryd, Shure, and Groupe CCL). Thank you for your exceptional products and/or support. I couldn’t have done it without you.
I close the book on this event with the following statement. Every great thing ever done started with “what if…”, then nothing great was ever accomplished without preparation, hard work, and passion. I want to encourage each one of you to one day say “what if…”, then apply yourself to the task with passion and dedication. You will quickly discover that when you think you’ve reached your maximum, you’re, in fact, only at 60%. You’ll be able to push yourself, as I do, driven by the following quote: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t”.