Kendall man trains for Boston Marathon year after chemo for colon cancer
Jim Baker says running saved his life, allowing for detection of tumor
KENDALL – Jim Baker had achieved a dream in April 2016 when he ran the Boston Marathon. Baker expected to feel triumph that day, but he struggled to get to the finish line.
His time of 4 hours, 59 minutes was more than an hour off what he was expecting for the race. Baker’s best time of 3:27 was at the Rochester marathon in September 2015. That time qualified him for Boston.
But on April 18, 2016, he felt a cramp and “side stitch” during the prestigious race in Boston. He almost stopped, but pushed on to the finish. It was the Boston Marathon after all.
“I wasn’t my normal self,” he recalled on Saturday. “But I gutted it out.”
The slow time wasn’t a one-day aberration. Baker, a Kendall resident who works as a chemist for Kodak, didn’t get back to his brisk 8-minute pace in the weeks after Boston.
The pain also continued when he ran. He went to the doctor and was diagnosed with colon cancer. He had run Boston with a plum-size tumor in his colon.
“I had a huge tumor in my side,” he said. “It had grown like wildlife.”
The tumor was removed and he started chemotherapy in June 2016. After seven months of treatment, his doctors declared him cancer-free a year ago on Jan. 13, 2017.
Baker didn’t let cancer derail his running. Even during chemo, he typically ran 15-20 miles a week – “at a very slow pace.” He battled nausea but kept going, except when it was cold out. The chemo made him especially sensitive to cold temperatures. He decided to take a two-month break from running during the harsh winter weather.
He picked up his mileage after completing chemo, with a goal of running a marathon again and qualifying for Boston. On Sept. 17, he ran the Rochester marathon in 3:35, and that 8-minute, 12-second pace earned him another chance to run Boston.
He will be back at the starting line for that big race on April 16.
“I’ve got redemption on my mind,” he said.
Baker wants to break 3:45.
Although he’s disappointed in his time at Boston in 2016, Baker said that race was a sign that something was wrong with his health. When he didn’t bounce back after Boston, he went to the doctor for a colonoscopy, which revealed the tumor.
“If I didn’t run I’d be gone,” he said. “I wouldn’t have known I had the tumor if I didn’t run. There were no other warning signs. I had no loss of appetite.”
He also didn’t get what he thought was a cramp, except when he was running. If he wasn’t a runner, he would have felt that pain.
He had a colonoscopy two years before the one that showed the tumor. Baker had been fighting Crohn’s Disease for 15 years. (When his tumor was removed, taking out part of his colon, Baker said the Crohn’s Disease went away, too.)
Baker started running 11 years ago when he was 44. He would go for walks during lunch breaks at Kodak, but Baker said that walking didn’t do anything to chip away at his extra pounds. He initially couldn’t run more than 200 yards without stopping. But he didn’t give up.
Conquering 2 miles while running was a milestone. He ran his first race at a 10K (6.2 miles) and enjoyed the energy and people at the races. He signed up for more races and joined the Bagel Bunch, a running group in Greece.
The other runners have become good friends and given him plenty of advice on increasing his speed and avoiding injury. He has completed 11 half marathons and five marathons – and shed 40 pounds.
Baker grew up in Albion and wasn’t a runner. He didn’t have the slightest inkling to run in high school or as a young adult. “Back then softball was my form of exercise,” he said, laughing.
Baker and his wife Stacey moved to Kendall about 27 years ago. They have two grown children, Kyle and Megan.
He knows running is difficult for many people, especially when they start. He encourages people to stick with it. It took him about six months of steady running to feel comfortable and really enjoy his runs.
Running also makes you more in tune with your body. If you’re running a little slower than normal, and that time lingers, you should go to the doctor.
Baker said that ultimately saved his life.