A Runner Celebrates Life

Posted August 8, 2008 at 2:49pm

Dan Rose is a self-proclaimed “regular guy” who cheers for the Boston Red Sox, drinks beer and begrudges his student loan bills.

But the affable 31-year-old is also a cancer survivor who 10 days ago completed a 192-mile run across his home state of Massachusetts.

The journey — to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — took just three days, but Rose said his astounding run from Sturbridge to Provincetown was not as grueling as the months of chemotherapy he endured at the Boston-based clinic.

“You just sort of put your head down and plow through it,” Rose, a special-events coordinator at the Library of Congress, said of his nearly 200-mile trek. “It’s sort of the same mindset as going through chemotherapy.”

Rose was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in December 2003, two months after completing a marathon in a respectable three hours and 40 minutes.

A golf-ball sized cancerous cyst was quickly removed from his neck, and the then-26 year-old began intense chemotherapy at Dana-Farber the day after Christmas.

As he sat in a hospital bed for hours each day receiving injections of medications that caused him nausea and severe pain, Rose considered ways to help the clinic and fellow cancer patients he grew so attached to during his three-month treatment.

“The dream when I was in the hospital was that I could get myself back into the physical shape to run a marathon,” Rose, slim and with a runner’s build, recalled.

The former high school track star had already completed two marathons and found the 26.2-mile races not challenging enough.

So he decided to run the equivalent of seven and a half marathons.

Every year, Dana-Farber sponsors a 192-mile charity bike race, the Pan-Mass Challenge, which has raised more than $200 million since 1977 for the clinic.

Rose set out to become the first competitor to run the course, which required three years of training and a bit of planning with the race coordinators, who required that Rose complete his personal race two days before cyclists set out for the official event.

[IMGCAP(1)]The lone runner trotted through the Bay State from July 30 to Aug. 1, and the cyclists spun their wheels Aug. 2 and 3.

Rose dropped from 175 pounds to 157 pounds while he was receiving treatment at Dana-Farber. After his run that raised nearly $7,000 for Dana-Farber, Rose still weighs the same, although, he says, “It’s a very different 157 pounds.”

To gear up for the event, which took him 60 hours, Rose completed two 100-mile races.

He ran eight and a half miles three nights a week and took a 50-mile run on Saturdays, most often along the Mount Vernon Trail. Rose’s wife, Elizabeth, used those mornings as her “girl time,” and the two would reconnect in the afternoon to relax and celebrate each run with dinner at a favorite Capitol Hill haunt.

“I’ve learned to live, love and work on the Hill,” he said.

Rose changed his socks twice and his shoes three times during the run, refueling himself every hour with an energy drink and meeting his crew, a handful of friends who supplied him with solid foods (mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), every five miles.

After he finished chemotherapy, five miles was all Rose could handle. Even with the impressive running record he has logged since treatment, Rose is most proud of that first five-mile jog he panted through just after finishing chemotherapy.

“Everything was burning and hurting,” he recalled of that first sweaty jog. “But I was so happy to be in the sunlight and not under a fluorescent light in a hospital room.”

Rose majored in Latin, classical history and education at Brandeis University. He takes road trips to see the Red Sox at away games and relishes the historical sites in Washington, D.C., where he moved in 2005 a few months after finishing chemotherapy.

Running ultralong distances, however, remains Rose’s greatest passion.

He plans his nutrition and training regimens with as much care as he does for the Congressional receptions and lecture series he plans at the Library of Congress.

“Running is the way he expresses himself,” said his wife, who also works at the Library of Congress.

Rose keeps his head shaven as a reminder of those arduous days of chemotherapy treatment.

He visits the clinic often to talk to patients and hopes to coordinate an ultramarathon race in the D.C. area to raise money for Dana-Farber.

“I could do a lot of things to help,” he said. “I could put on concerts, but I like running. It reminds me what I have to celebrate.”