Running recharged: Oncologist John Strother heads to Boston Marathon

April 2016 Posted in People
Dr. John Strother has run six Boston Marathons.

Dr. John Strother has run six Boston Marathons.

By Steve Ritchie

Dr. John Strother is heading to Boston for the Boston Marathon on April 18. It will be his seventh time to run Boston and his “30th or 31st” marathon overall. A dedicated runner since he moved to Oregon for his residency in 2000, Strother, 42, says his distance running regimen enhances his life and work.

“I have found that (running) marathons actually help me be a better doctor and a better husband and dad because I am able to decompress a little bit,” Strother said. “I love taking care of cancer patients but it is intense work emotionally sometimes, so running allows me to think about things and process things and by the time I’m done with my run, I’m feeling good and feeling recharged.”

Strother’s practice in hematology and oncology is based in Salem, but for the past three years he has been spending one day a week in Silverton, which he said he enjoys.

Like most physicians, his work days are long and his schedule is packed, but he has found an unusual and efficient way to accomplish the time-consuming training the marathon requires.

“I’ve gotten creative. I realized that if I drive to work and drive home, have dinner and help with the kids I never would go back out and run, (so) I incorporated running into my commute to work.

On the four days (each week) when I am in Salem, I bike to work and bring with me two days of dress clothes, then I run home – I live about six miles away from work. I bike in to work, then run home. The next day, I reverse it. I run in and bike home . . . whether I am feeling good or not, I’ve got to get home. By and large that is how I do most of my training. Then I will do one long run on the weekends.”

Strother has been following this routine year-around since he moved from Portland to Salem in 2008, and generally does two marathons a year: Boston in the spring and Portland in the fall. A native of Pennsylvania who has also spent time in Florida, Strother says the Oregon climate doesn’t bother him in the least.

“What I love about Oregon is the climate,” Strother said. “Year-round you can exercise outside. You get a little wet but that’s fine. Running is perfect out here.”

Renowned for its unique tradition and large crowds, the Boston Marathon has become a special experience for Strother.

For many of the 30,000 marathoners who, like Strother, qualify annually by virtue of their marathon time, it is the culmination of a major life goal.

Strother first qualified for Boston by running 11 seconds under the qualifying time for his age group, and has managed to re-qualify every year since.

“It’s one of my favorite races to do . . . Everybody who is there is super excited to be there. It’s a big accomplishment to make it. There’s a lot of excitement in the air and the whole city gets excited for the day.”

Boston was the scene of a horrendous terrorist bombing in 2013, which took the lives of three people and injured 264 others. Strother was there that day and without hesitation, shares his experience of the tragedy.

“Obviously that (day) is seared into my mind. Ironically, the day was absolutely beautiful and it was one of my favorite races that I had done up to that point. I was on this big runner’s high as I finished up. I high-fived everyone on the finishing stretch on Boylston Street because I was feeling so good and it was my best time at Boston.

“Then I went back to my nearby hotel room. I had just taken a shower and I heard this noise outside. It wasn’t that loud – it was a little muffled and sounded like a 21-gun salute. Then I heard it again. Shortly after that I heard more sirens than I have ever heard. Then I realized something is going on here. I looked out the window and saw smoke. Then I turned on the TV and saw exactly what was happening.”

There was a 15-block area that was blocked off for days after the race, as police searched for clues and more explosives. Strother was right in the center of area, but early the following morning he was able to walk out of the area to get a train to the airport.

“It was surreal. It was 4 in the morning, but there were so many lights set up and Humvee driving all over the place. It did not feel like you were in an American city.

“I was never personally in any danger. I had finished the race not long before the bombing. I had an 8-year-old son at the time, the same age as one of the victims. I have never experienced PTSD and this probably doesn’t count, but I did experience a flavor of it. I came back (home) and at the airport I was crying. When I came back to work that week it was really hard to focus. . . it was really emotional.”

Strother returned to the Boston Marathon in 2014 and found it to be very “cathartic.” There were many tributes – to the victims, and the heroic efforts of first responders, and law enforcement personnel.

Strother felt glad to be part of the healing process that occurred. In 2015, he returned again and said there was a sense of normalcy again in Boston. 

Strother’s commitment to fitness is shared by his family. He and his wife, Stephanie, have three boys, ages 11, 9 and 7, who are in “a million activities,” including the Mt. Hood Ski Team and Little League. Stephanie recently did a Half- Ironman Triathlon in Boise and does her open water swim training at the Silverton Reservoir.

“I wouldn’t say she has the running bug the way I do. If I go more than a week without running I will start to miss it. She’s not quite that way, but she really enjoys the challenge of the half-iron.”

While his training routine might seem hard core to some, Strother says he is actually relaxed about training.

“The only two days a year I wear a watch while running is on the marathon race days. I don’t run that fast on the other days, but, honestly, most of the time when I am running I just want to relax… The marathons are just a way to keep me motivated, but that’s not really why I run most of the time.”

Strother says that while his job caring for patients can be intense and emotional, it is also a “wonderful line of work. I get to help people through what will be the most difficult time of their lives. We have made some incredible breakthroughs and we are able to help so many more people than we were even 10 years ago. It is a lucky time to be an oncologist because the treatments are just getting so much better.”

So does the good doctor have any advice for people who want to exercise more but are finding it difficult to do so for one reason or another?

“You have to find something you really enjoy, something that gives you pleasure doing it and something that you would miss if you couldn’t do it. Find something you love whether it is biking, running, swimming and make it part of your routine in some way. If you have to make a special effort to do it every time, it’s too easy to let it slide.”

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