On Sunday, Nov. 4, Darien resident Paul Nelson said he felt “surreal” as he joined 50,000 people across all five boroughs of New York City as part of the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon.

Nelson, 30, has come a long way from last June when he was lying on a surgery table at Yale-New Haven Hospital, getting a tumor removed after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He has since learned that if the cancer hadn’t been caught early, it would have spread.

“They say most guys wait six months before going to the doctor,” he said. “If I had waited, it would have been a worse case.”

Now cancer-free and fully recovered, he said his experience has given him a “reality check” and caused him to reflect on his life.

“When you’re in your 20s, you think you’re invincible,” said Nelson, who works as a media buyer for the Lawyers Group in Darien. “Having cancer helped me realize that life is short and I have to do the things I really want to do.”

“I knew I needed to change something and wanted to challenge myself,” he said. “I wanted to do something with health. Even though I was never a runner and always hated running, I decided that as soon as I was healthy, I would run a marathon.”

‘The fat kid’

When Nelson was growing up, he said he was overweight.

“I was the fat kid. Everyone laughed at me. I got bullied a lot,” Nelson said. “My solution to dealing with being bullied was to eat more.”

While at college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he began playing sports such as baseball and soccer, and even helped to start an Ultimate Frisbee team.

He lost weight and started feeling better about himself, he said.

However, during his three-month recovery period from surgery for cancer, he wasn’t allowed to do any exercise and began to put on weight.

“I could barely walk or bend for the first few weeks. It was very painful,” he said. “A month after surgery, I went back to find out the results of biopsy. This was a scary moment because I had to find out if it spread. If it did spread that meant major surgery and-or chemo. Luckily, I caught it so early it did not spread.”  

Once he was fully recovered, he found a one-mile loop right by his house to run. He made it his goal to run one mile a day, every day of 2018.

“I began running in November and my daily running streak officially started December 9, 2017,” he said.

He also raced 5Ks (3.1-mile races), Spartan (obstacle course) races, and half marathons.

In January, he entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon and got in.  

Feeling like a runner

Nelson now runs year-round, tracking his mileage on Nike Run, an app on his phone.

He got injured one time while running at night when he rolled his ankle in a hole in the road. This did not set him back, however. After icing it, he was back out there the following day.

On the coldest days of the year, he runs in his house — from the kitchen to the living room to the dining room.

Over the past two months, he said that something shifted in him, and “instead of feeling like a person who runs, I feel like I’m a runner,” he said.

“Every day when I wake up, I think about when I’m going to run,” he said.

At the peak of his marathon training, he was running 20 to 30 miles in a week.

Marathon man

Over the course of the big day, all the people he came into contact with motivated him, he said.

“There were all different people running for all different causes for all different reasons,” he said. “This gave me a lot of energy.”

He kept getting high fives throughout the race.

While the first 10 miles were “pretty easy,” by mile 15, he said he was struggling since he had never run more than 13 miles at one time during his training.

However, he persevered.

During his last 10 miles, he was in constant pain, he said.

“My knees were locking up, my hamstrings were threatening me, my ankles were really hurting, and I had a blister on my left foot,” he said. “I fueled right and kept moving forward.”

He sprinted the last 800 meters and crossed the finish line with a time of 5:52:02.

Looking ahead

Nelson continues his daily running streak. He has already run more than 330 days in a row, and nearly 500 miles in total.

He said he now greatly enjoys being a runner. While it used to feel like a “punishment” to him, he now finds it “very meditative, relaxing, and de-stressing,” he said.

He’s considering running the Chicago Marathon in October of 2019. He also plans on running the New York City Marathon again next year, and would like to complete it in under five hours.

Nelson said he will never forget the experience of running the New York City Marathon.

“I collapsed when I crossed the finish line,” he said. “I fell on the ground, I was so happy.”

“I did it.”

For Nelson’s podcast, visit @Cr3ateYourself on Instagram, and cr3ateyourself on Facebook.