Outrunning Cancer

Junko Kazukawa has run more than 48 marathons and 14 ultras, but that's not even her most impressive feat. She also beat cancer—twice.

Image courtesy of Junko Kazukawa

For most people, running a marathon and simply crossing the finish line is a heroic accomplishment. For Colorado Athletic Club personal trainer Junko Kazukawa, the bar is set just a little higher. Not only has Kazukawa completed more than 48 marathons and 14 ultramarathons, she continued to train and compete while beating two breast cancer diagnoses, chemotherapy, and a double mastectomy. She was also the first person to finish the Leadwoman race series (a 100-mile trail run, 100-mile mountain bike race, trail marathon, 50-mile mountain bike race or run, and 10K) and the Ultrarunning Grand Slam (four 100-mile trail runs) in the same year.

You were first diagnosed with cancer during your training for the Leadville 100-mile bike race. How did you react?
“They said they needed to do a lumpectomy, but I asked my doctor if I could finish the race first, because I’d been training and it was in two weeks. I did the race, and then went in for surgery. It wasn’t until four years later that I found out I had cancer for a second time. After the second diagnosis, I had a double mastectomy and full chemotherapy. One month after I finished chemo, I did the New York Marathon. I kind of just said, ‘Why wait? Life is short.’”

How do you push yourself through a long race?
“You build up your mileage and confidence and strength, and then after a while you’re just ready to go. You have to have a strong mind. For me, 80 percent of it is mental.”

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You were the first person to complete the Ultrarunning Grand Slam and the Leadwoman series in the same year. How did you prepare?
“You just have to make sure everything is laid out well. One race is training for the following race. Of course, it was hard, but as long as I gave myself time to recover between races, it all perfectly lined up. From the beginning, I was confident I could finish— not cocky, but confident. I also had a really great crew that helped me with pacing and good friends to cheer me on.”

What’s your typical training routine?
“A lot of elite runners do 50, 80, 100 miles per week, but I mostly cross-train with the classes I instruct. I usually run once on Wednesday, maybe five or six miles, and then Saturday and Sunday I run 25 miles or so each day.