Matt Englander believes there are two key ingredients to running a marathon: time and will.
And he certainly has the will.
Ten months after undergoing surgery for brain cancer in fall 2011, Englander, Case Western Reserve University’s head baseball coach, ran his first marathon. After that first one, he was hooked.
Now he’s on his way to running one in each state and making marathons a lifelong pursuit, traveling the country with his family along the way.
“If I’m going to run one or two every year to accomplish 50 of them—I’ve got to be around for 25 to 50 years,” he said. “It checked all the boxes for what I was looking to get out of it.”
He’s completed seven so far, most recently running in the Cleveland Marathon in May, which he finished with a time of 3:48:21. (His best time is 3:37:42, which he accomplished in Delaware in December 2014). Next up? With his brother-in-law by his side, Englander will run in the Missoula (Montana) Marathon July 10. His wife will join him on the trip and run the half-marathon.
Englander looked to run marathons after his cancer diagnosis as a way to take hold of his health again. He adopted a vegan diet almost immediately—dropping sugar, dairy, meat, processed foods, white bread, alcohol and caffeine from his diet.
“I remember when they told me that I had [cancer], my wife was with me,” he said. “We were real sad for about a minute or two, and then it really changed into a resolve real quickly to not let this be predictable and not let this take my life any sooner than I wanted to.”
He needed something that would get him off the couch every day, and that was training for full marathons. He signed up for his first marathon before taking even a single step of training.
After consulting with cross country coach Kathy Lanese and referring to online resources, he began his regimen, which today involves running four to five days a week at varying distances.
“We make a distinction on the baseball team of things that are hard and things that are difficult,” Englander said. “Training for a marathon is hard, but it’s not difficult. Difficult is there’s another force acting against you, and that’s not the case here. It’s simply hard. You know what you have to do; you just have to do it.”
The time needed to train for a marathon? Well, that’s a little challenging. After all, this comes in the midst of monthly chemotherapy treatments, which he began again in January after his MRI scans showed clear growth of the cancer.
He also just wrapped up the baseball season, in which the team posted a 26-15 overall record and made a trip to the NCAA Division III Championships.
Running in the Cleveland Marathon was the first time Englander was able to complete one during the season. He says he has a solid support system to help him make it all work—in addition to time and will.
“You have to get up early and it’s got to be something you want to do every day,” he said. “It’s like anything. We all do what’s important to us, whether you realize it or not. We tell our guys all the time: ‘You are what you do, not what you tell people you are or what you think you are.’”
Englander recently sat down with WKYC to explain why he won’t let cancer stop him.
Get to know Englander better with this week’s five questions.
1. What’s the best way to spend a summer day in Cleveland?
I would start by getting up in the morning and going for a 4- to 6-mile run, have some breakfast with my family when I got home and then we’d take off for Cuyahoga Valley National Park or the Cleveland Metroparks. We’d go hiking, hang out with the two little guys [his sons, Quinton and Miles] and see a bunch of wild animals.
Then, come back, get lunch and go to the Tribe game. I’m a big Browns and Cavs fan, but I love the Indians.
2. What motivates you to work hard?
Understanding that life is about more than pleasure. There are things that are important to us and you can either hope they’ll happen or you can make them happen. Something I tell myself is that hope is helpless. You can’t do anything about something you hope happens; it’s something that you want to happen to you. Hard work is taking the reins and making something happen that’s important to you.
3. Who is your favorite character from a book, TV show or movie?
Tyrion from Game of Thrones. No matter what he goes through or has to deal with, he always has an angle and never loses his sense of humor.
4. What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
Probably run my first marathon 10 months after I had my head cracked open and never having run a race in my life. That, and I think every guy who’s married would say asking their wife to marry them. It was a big gamble because I thought she’d say yes, but I’m lucky to be married to her.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
The people, the kids that I get to work with every day. I love the guys on our team; I really, really do. It’s so much fun to be with them and be a part of their growth, to hopefully help them through their lives and help them be better people.