When Greg Soderlund says his goal to finish a half-marathon in February “shouldn’t be a big deal,” you believe him. He is, after all, a Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run finisher – not to mention, until recently, the longtime race director – and an avid runner who’s logged 32 ultra-marathons in his time.
But it will most assuredly be a big deal, if you consider these extenuating circumstances:
Soderlund, 65, is deep in training for the Feb. 9 Davis Stampede despite losing both kidneys, his bladder, urinary tract and prostate to cancer in recent years.
“I feel fine,” he said. “All is good.”
The irony is, if Soderlund is unable to finish the 13.1-mile journey on the streets of Davis about two months hence, it probably won’t be because he is missing some vital organs needed for running or just living; he’s got this tricky knee that’s bothered him for years.
“I’m thinking of getting the knee injected,” he said, laughing. “Knee surgery is the last thing I need.”
Surgery of any kind, for that matter. Soderlund, who lost one kidney to cancer in 2009, was forced to retire as Western States’ race director in 2012 after cancer returned and claimed his other kidney and his urinary tract. While waiting for a transplant, on hold until 2015 so he can rebuild his immune system, Soderlund administers dialysis on himself in his Sacramento home five days a week to rid the body of toxins that kidneys usually filter out.
The unusual part of his rehab routine is that, seven days a week, he’s out running – a few miles, most days, as well as a long run with friends around Lake Natoma on Saturdays. He said he received permission from his kidney specialists to hit road and trails again. In fact, three nephrologists plan to run with Soderlund at the Stampede, and he’ll use an i-Stat device to measure his sodium and other electrolyte levels – the same machine Western States doctors use to monitor 100-mile runners – at various points in the race.
“I’ll probably stop and weigh myself at some point, too, just to make sure,” he said.
Being ultra-prepared is so like Soderlund. So is seeking to motivate himself and others by accepting what some might see as daunting physical task.
The loss of his kidneys has made Soderlund, a former orthopedic surgical assistant and X-ray lab technician, more aware of the challenges facing about 400,000 Americans with end-stage renal failure who must filter their blood at least three times a week with hemodialysis.
Showing fellow dialysis users that exercise can help them, both physically and psychologically, is another motivation for Soderlund’s half-marathon plan.
“I have to occasionally go to the clinic where they have in-patient therapy,” he said. “Those people, I feel so sorry for them. It’s depressing. They just want to sleep after (dialysis treatments). It’s not much of a life. They become pretty sheltered. It’s frustrating for me to see them because they could change their lives if they wanted to. A lot of people would rather be passive and have other people take care of them.”
After his second kidney was removed, Soderlund himself was forced to become inactive during initial recovery. He admitted battling depression at times last year until he could get his blood pressure under control and improve his health. Performing in-home dialysis – “Only about 4,000 people in the country do that,” he said – five times a week, rather than going to a center for longer, thrice-weekly treatments, helped him feel he could regain control over his body and his time. Several months ago, he started thinking big, again.
“I always like to have a goal and so I thought, OK, instead of just sitting here feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to set a goal to run a half-marathon and maybe at the same time draw attention to people on dialysis, what it’s like for them, and that it’s not the end of the world. If you are motivated, you can still have a good quality of life and ultimately look forward to a transplant, which most of them get.”
Then, he laughed.
“Most of ‘them’? I’m one of them.”
Soderlund’s wife, Mary, exercises with him most days and has seen him regain strength.
“I’m not worried at all,” she said of Soderlund’s half-marathon attempt. “I have no doubt he can do it. ... Even without kidneys, even if he wasn’t feeling well, he’ll gut it out on a good day. ... You know what? That part of Greg hasn’t changed. He may not have kidneys, but his head didn’t change.”
Call The Bee’s Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis.