Los Angeles runner serves as inspiration to others as he undergoes chemo, trains and completes marathons.
By Henry Howard
Alex Magdaleno learned he had cancer on Dec. 22, 2008. As the diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia continued to sink in on New Year’s Day 2009, Magdaleno set a goal for himself.
His goal? Run and finish the Los Angeles Marathon that May “to prove to myself that I could finish a marathon despite undergoing chemotherapy.”
Not only did he finish the Los Angeles Marathon six months after the initial diagnosis, Magdaleno has completed 14 overall marathons including the Ventura County Marathon on Sept. 7, the day before this interview. For him, it’s the marathon or bust. No 5Ks, half-marathons or theme races.
I Can’t Be Dying if I Can Run!”
Magdaleno has one DNF — Los Angeles 2012 — due to cardiac arrest at mile seven, brought on by the meds he was taking as part of his chemo treatments. Why does he continue to push himself through the miles, even though he sometimes pukes mid-run or mid-race? “I still continue to run because I adopted the mantra of ‘I can’t be dying if I can run,'” he says.
Before his diagnosis, Magdaleno was not a long-distance runner. He was a multi-sport athlete growing up near Los Angeles, where he lives today. Back then he focused his energies and attention on sports such as football, track and basketball.
As most marathoners know, it’s not necessarily the 26.2 miles that exact a toll on the body. It’s the pounding in the peak weeks — for Magdaleno, that means 60 to 65 miles during the key weeks. But that type of commitment — call it a distraction, if you will — is exactly what Magdaleno envisioned for himself when he received the news in late 2008.
“I chose the marathon because I thought it was the ultimate test to the body. I knew I would have to fully commit to a training plan that would allow me to have a distraction of the daily issues of dealing with cancer,” he said.
Many runners choose their hobby as a way to relieve the stresses of modern life. But work stress and home stress don’t measure up to the every-day battle that Magdaleno is facing and embracing with gusto.
His determination not only guides him through the miles of training, and on race day, it inspires other runners who interact with Magdaleno via social media. He has generated a significant following on Twitter and Instagram and interacts regularly with fellow runners, often praising their commitment and drive.
For Magdaleno, he feels like he has a responsibility for others dealing with the disease. “I truly believe being physically active is crucial to someone’s journey through cancer,” he says. “Although I’m not sure I would recommend a marathon to another patient because of the strain it places on the body, I hope I can inspire other patients to live an active lifestyle.”
Not only does he inspire those battling diseases, he helps runners get through their misery. Complaining about that 20-mile run? Have to do a speedwork drill? Griping about a run in the rain/snow/cold/heat/wind? Really? Magdaleno faces immense challenges before lacing up. “I take pride in the fact that unless I actually die on the course, there’s no way in heck I’m not finishing a marathon.”
Whether a cancer patient is a runner or not, Magdaleno encourages each individual to stand tall and fight for their passion.
“My advice would be to not let whatever health issue they are facing to allow it to define them and take away from whatever passions in life they may have. I, personally, will not allow cancer to take running away from me.”
Favorite race distance: I’ve only ever run full marathons, so I’ll go with 26.2!
Favorite pre-race meal: Typically oatmeal and banana and l love “Zumxr” energy drink.
Favorite music on the run: When the tough gets going during a run, I actually turn to Taylor Swift! She reminds me of my nieces and that pushes me!
Favorite or inspirational mantra or saying: “Dont Bitch Out!”
How can people follow you online: Twitter: @The_Amag or Instagram: thealexmagdaleno