A New York Marathon Update from COPD Athlete Russell

A Marathon for Change

A New York Marathon Update from COPD Athlete RussellWith my departure to New York just about upon me it’s made me look back and reflect on the progress I’ve made since May on and off the training track. There’s no better stage than the New York marathon to bring COPD and other lung diseases into focus!

A Tired Body

It’s fair to say the body and the mind are a little tired. I’ve run over 700 kms so far in training, with another 200 to go before race day. My legs are tired, but the harder battle is being mentally prepared to hit the road for the last group of long runs, which culminate in a 35km run four weeks before race day.

For the last 10 weeks I’ve had a weekly appointment with my physiotherapist to help keep my legs injury free, and to help with muscle soreness that goes with the workload that my legs have had to endure.

Unfortunately the physiotherapist can’t help my tired mind — that’s something only I can do. But it has been made easier by the messages of support I’ve received from fellow patients from around the world. There is not a training session that goes by that I don’t think about the positive thoughts that have been sent my way, and that goes a long way to keeping me motivated.

Running Like the Wind

When my coach and I sat down to figure out what would be the most effective training program for me to achieve my goal of finishing the New York marathon in under six hours, we knew it would be new territory. I have yet to meet a stage IV COPD patient who has run a marathon, let alone run it in under six hours.


At this stage I still have some work to do, but the signs from my training and lead up races are very encouraging. Each race has been a personal best and my recovery after the races has been very quick. In my last lead up race, I had aimed to finish the quarter marathon distance in two hours 45 mins. Finishing in two hours and 42 mins certainly brought a smile to my face.

Going from Ironman training, which was mainly low heart rate and long training sessions to a training regime that involves shorter sessions with high heart rate has been a challenge, especially with my COPD. However, the change has me running stronger and faster than I had ever imagined.

From a day-to-day perspective my increased fitness levels are having an impact on the simple things in life. Daily household chores have become easier because my breathing is less labored and my energy levels have increased. I also seem to be coping with the spring pollens better than I have done in the past, which could be because a lot of my running is in the early morning when pollen is more prevalent.

Learning Along the Way

An important aspect of what my coach and I are trying to achieve is how we can apply what we are learning along the way to other COPD patients. The New York marathon is really secondary to what I’m hoping to accomplish. If we can apply some of our training techniques to people with respiratory disease and give them a better quality of life as a result, that would be the real success story.

Learning to listen to how my body reacts to each training session has been a primary focus for me, as it allows both Coach Doug and I to make changes if needed. How my respiratory system reacts to high and low heart rate sessions, whether up hills or on flat ground, is amazing. I’m now running in high heart rate zones that I never thought possible and I’m doing it without my oxygen levels plummeting.

Getting to know your body is so crucial in dealing with COPD, as it allows you to know your limitations as well as enabling you to better inform your respiratory specialist on how you’re feeling. When I started training for the New York marathon I thought I knew all there was to know about how my body performs with exercise — how wrong I was.

Next page: raising awareness and support network

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