When you think you can’t – Know you can!


It’s been some time since I have blogged but the lessons I’ve learned and applied from the Tokyo marathon are worth a mention. I briefly forgot the power of the mind and how you can apply it to life’s challenges.

When I first entered the Tokyo marathon, I read the cut-off time was 7 hours, a time which I could comfortably manage. Since I have been running with a portable oxygen concentrator attached to my back my run times have slowed substantially. With the extra 4kg of my concentrator & backpack as well as a progression in my disease, thanks to a nasty infection back in 2017, running is now more difficult.

A week before the Tokyo marathon I received the runner’s handbook. This details everything a runner needs to know for race day, including cut-off details. To my horror, not only was I allocated a starting position at the very back of the race field, the cut-off times were not as they previously seemed. The cut-off time was still 7 hours, but it was from when the first runner started not from when I started. After making some enquiries I found out I would start 30 to 40 minutes after the first runners were to start, meaning my cut-off time was around 6:20 to 6:30. On top of this there were check points along the way which you had to make before a certain time, this added more to already heightened stress levels.

In particular the first two check points at 4.9k & 11.2k were going to mean me running PB’s (personal bests) just to pass these points. The bottom line was I had to run 11.2k in under 1 hour & 30 minutes, not something I have done since carrying oxygen. If I were able to make it through these points the other check point times were achievable.I then did something I haven’t done since my first event after being diagnosed, I panicked! I worked myself into such a state I briefly thought about withdrawing from the race.

From my understanding through my previous conversations with race organisers, I was to start with the disabled athletes at the start of the race field.  The delayed start was not something I had prepared for. I emailed the race organisers pleading with them to move me up to the front of the starting field. They responded with a no! I emailed them again and pleaded again, telling them my race would be over in 1 hour 30 minutes if they didn’t accommodate me. They said no! No exceptions were to be made even though I was clearly starting as a disabled athlete.  I’m now in very unfamiliar territory, I’ve entered a race that my mind is telling me I cannot complete.

On my right arm I have a tattoo, my only one, it is of my first Ironman event after I was diagnosed with COPD. It is a reminder of my mantra – Never Let Your Disease Define You! I knew of one absolute now – I had to beat those first two cut-off times. With that my mindset changed. It was now about running as hard as I could for the first 11.2k and then using my mind to grind out the following 31k. Every runner fears the SAG (support & gear) wagon. This is a vehicle which picks up injured and slow runners, I need to keep it well behind me.

Race morning provided some more challenges, making sure I caught the correct train to the start line was the first. Once arriving at the start line, I felt relaxed within myself. I had managed to move my way through to near the front of my starting gate, trying to find any small advantage I could. I was still in the last group to go but at the front of that group. When it was our time to go off we were ushered down to the start line, around a 1k scramble every man for himself type of scenario which made me quite breathless but warmed up the legs.

When you have COPD, you are never sure how each day is going to start, some days can be more breathless than others, you have good days and bad. My COPD journey has culminated in me having more good days than bad. However, on marathon days I never know how the race will go until I start running. Can I breathe?  Can I run?  What am I doing here?  I’m not a runner, are some of the things flowing through in my mind? “Is this going to be a good day?”

Fortunately, the 5th of March 2023 was a very good day. I smashed my 5k PB, 10k PB which meant I beat the 11.2k check point time. From there on it was all about race management, something I have become very good at. 21.1k was the next goal, the halfway point, checkpoint time 3 hours 5 minutes – me 2 hrs 52 minutes. Boom! I was now owning this race. From this point on and with the motivation of the SAG wagon doing its best to chase me down, as it collected the injured and slow runners mounting up behind me, I knew I was going to finish the race within the cut-off time. I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 18 minutes, 10 minutes quicker than my run in the Chicago marathon back in October 2022.

Tokyo marathon didn’t teach me a new lesson, but it did give me a refresher course in a lesson I hold close. Never Let Your Disease Define You! Your mind is a powerful tool, dream big, aim high and let the cards fall as they may. If you don’t give yourself a chance, you’ll never know your limits.




4 responses to “When you think you can’t – Know you can!

  1. Awesome job. I was in your corral and saw you before the start. For reasons very different than yours, I had valid concerns about the checkpoints – especially the first two. That slight downhill in the first 5 or so miles was a godsend. I made it to the 1st checkpoint with 15 minutes to spare, and then the second with an almost 40 minute cushion! Definitely PR times for me. I walked the remainder of the race starting at mile 7 and made it in 5:52. Not my fastest time, but not my slowest either! Congratulations on getting it done!

  2. Hi Russell, you are my hero! I have asthma, and I know the good and bad day´s. I´m running London, it´s my 7th marathon and 4th star. I´m 53 years old, I´m vegan, so my weight is down. I’m so overwhelmed about your story and I think whenever I have a bad time, may I think of you? Every marathon it´s harder to train, but my asthma problems are better with a lot of training. I hope I can compleed my 6 Stars in Tokyo in 2025. 2024 I hope I run Boston, I´m afraid with the hills, because I´m always in panic. NY was realy hard. I wish you a good time for as long as possible and many more miles to run. You are my my role model and I send you many thanks for your encouraging words.
    Best wishes

    1. Thank you for your kind words Tamara. So excited for you to complete your 6 stars in 2025. I’m planning to finish mine in 2024 in Berlin. Boston was tough, try and do lots of hill training if you can. Keep me posted please. Best Russell

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