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Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 15:56 UK
Running for your life

Trace Allen running
Trace said running was therapeutic for him

What will you be doing on Sunday 20 September 2009?

Trace Allen already knows.

He will be joining the 50,000 or so other people lining up for the start of the Great North Run in Newcastle.

It will be the 24th time Trace, 64, has taken on the 13.1 mile course, which finishes by the coast in South Shields.

An impressive statistic by anyone's standards - but even more so considering Trace has undergone intensive chemotherapy and surgery after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004.


Running, and the Great North Run in particular, have been closely intertwined with Trace's battle with the disease.

In fact, it was as he got ready to head north for the Great North Run in 2004 that his wife, Joy, noticed he looked jaundiced and made him go to A&E.

He was kept in overnight, missed the race and a few days later found himself back in hospital to see a specialist gastroenterologist.

"That was the most frightened I've ever been," he recalled.

"They told me there was a mass on the pancreas and they thought it was cancer and they needed to do tests.

Trace Allen running
Trace likes to set himself sporting goals to aim for

"If it hadn't have been for the jaundice it wouldn't have been discovered basically... and within another couple of months I would have been dead. So I was lucky, basically."

Einstein and Armstrong

The general prognosis for those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is poor.

By the time someone has symptoms the disease is often quite advanced and only about 15-20% of people diagnosed are suitable for surgery. Most are told they may have less than one year to live.

Faced with those odds Trace did not give up hope.

The first attempt to surgically remove the tumour from his pancreas was unsuccessful so he underwent weeks of chemotherapy and radio-chemotherapy, which shrank the tumour sufficiently for it to be removed at the second try.

Physically the treatment was extremely tough but Trace says it actually made him feel "elated" because he was fighting back.

He also took strength and inspiration from two unlikely bed fellows: Albert Einstein and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Trace had read that Einstein used to shout out his window every morning that he was glad to be alive and started to do a similar thing, shouting out loud at his tumour that he would not let it beat him.

Runners in Great North Run by Tyne Bridge

And he found Lance Armstrong's book about his fight with cancer extremely motivating, following his example by always asking the doctors for the maximum possible chemotherapy.

"If it's possible to read something to destruction I destroyed that book," he said.

Goal beating

On the advice of a friend Trace also started to set himself sporting goals, so he had something to aim towards, and has continued to do so ever since.

It started with a cross country race in 2005. Then in 2006 he completed his 21st Great North Run - two years later than planned.

2007 saw him get into the GB age-group triathlon team and compete at the World Championships in Hamburg.

And so it's continued. In 2008 his achievements included finishing four half marathons (including the GNR) and cycling from London to Poland to raise money for the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK (PCUK).

In May 2009 he took part in his first half iron man and came second in his age group.


Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the UK [Cancer Research] but does not get as much publicity as some other forms of the disease. As a survivor Trace wants to do everything he can to help raise awareness of both it and PCUK.

It's a fantastic race. It's like a party
Trace Allen

"When I was diagnosed there wasn't a website and I didn't know what it was. There was very little support or knowledge before PCUK," he says.

"Now I'm regularly emailing people my experiences [through PCUK]. I tell them just don't give up. Whatever you do don't give up.

"Having someone to turn to is very, very important and the PCUK website and the information on it is very important."

Trace's next goal is the 2009 Great North Run. Formerly a resident of Newcastle (he now lives in Hertfordshire) he just can't stop himself coming back to the Toon.

"It's a fantastic race," he said. "It's like a party. It's not like other half marathons where you sort of start on the line, you don't see anybody, and it's hard work and then you finish. It's not like that.

"It's a brilliant race... the more years you do it the more years you want to do it!"



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