Two dear friends once quipped that they could raise the same amount of money (or more!) for charity without as much torture as involved in my ultrarunning by organising charity golf events. They were absolutely right! However, I am still not persuaded even when it is always true: golf events always raise more money for charity than any running event. I have mulled over this matter and am convinced - more than ever - that for me the appropriate manner of raising funds for the end-of-life cause is through running for hours on end.
Over the 5 years as the president of HCA Hospice Care, I have learned that one can die poorly - in pain and in loneliness.Two pertinent things I have learned through ultrarunning help me relate to the dying person:
1. No matter how well I prepare for an ultramarathon, I will experience pain. Similarly, even though there are many pain-relieving drugs and interventions available, a terminally ill patient has to live with a certain measure of pain. Instead of wishing the pain away during an extremely long run, I learn to cope with and befriend my pain.
2. Although running is an individual effort, no one really completes an ultra by himself. Even elite ultrarunners are dependent on a crew to support them during their races. I start and finish the 200 kilometres as an individual runner but along the way, a community of caring family members and friends embrace me and help me cross the finish line. This teaches me that one will always need sources of support and care, in order to die well.
As I run, I develop a better understanding of what constitutes a good death. When my time comes - when I am diagnosed with a terminal illness - I will lean on modern medical science to alleviate my pain. Even more importantly, I will lean into my circle of loved ones so that I do not travel the final miles of my life journey by myself. What drugs cannot eradicate in my suffering, the pure love and care from my fellow human beings will help overcome. No one should walk this final stretch alone. Everyone deserves a good death.