Why another Ironman


Seven years ago, I completed my first Ironman after being diagnosed with stage 4 COPD. This race changed the way I thought about my disease. My motto of “Never Let Your Disease Define You” was born from that race. Two years later I went on to complete two more Ironman events. Since my last Ironman in 2014 I have focused more on marathons to raise awareness and funds for COPD.

In May 2017 I contracted an infection which resulted in my worst exacerbation since my diagnosis. This exacerbation has impacted on my oxygen saturations which has resulted in slower marathon times. Trust me, I still feel privileged I can participate in races no matter how slow I am.

After having oxygen saturation issues during the Gold Coast marathon last year, I have wondered if my race days were coming to an end. Towards the end of 2018 my wife Leanne floated the idea of doing another Ironman.  At first, I was a little daunted by the prospect of swimming 3.8 kilometres, cycling 180 kilometres and the running 42.2 kilometres within 17 hours. But then I thought, what a challenge!

Yes, I have completed 3 Ironman events previously, but I have never had to use oxygen in any of those races. So now I face the prospect of racing the worlds toughest one day event with an oxygen concentrator strapped to my back. But why not!!  As the saying goes, to build resilience you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone, and I want to build as much resilience as possible.


While I believe personal goals are a cornerstone of managing COPD well, this race is also about raising funds for research and awareness of COPD. As far as I’m aware no COPD patient has ever completed or attempted Ironman with oxygen. So I figure it will be a great opportunity to shine a light on our disease.

Every major race I have completed I have had to have clearance from my doctor and the race medical director. This race has been different as I have also had to gain clearance to race with an oxygen concentrator. The Ironman organisation have never had to grant this type of approval. After months of correspondence I received race clearance for my oxygen concentrator, first hurdle overcome!

At the time of writing this article I have another 19 weeks until race day, 19 weeks of blood sweat and tears! As always with Ironman there are no guaranties. So many things can go wrong when you are asking so much of your body. Race preparation and managing my disease is paramount to ensure I make it to the start line.

Ironman training is a huge load on your body and puts plenty of pressure on your immune system. However, I have gained a lot of knowledge over the years about what my body can tolerate and what works for me. My four pillars of living well with COPD will be my strategy for getting through this next challenge – Knowledge, Medication, Nutrition and Exercise.

My hope is when the race is over, I would have raised some awareness for COPD, raised some funds for research and shown me my race days are far from over!

I’ve included a short video to give a sense of what Ironman is, wish me luck!


8 responses to “Why another Ironman

  1. Hi Russell,
    Are you collecting sponsorship online? If so – do you have a link to this – sorry but I can’t seem to find it on the website!
    Wishing you the best of luck!

    1. Hi Sarah, I do have an online sponsorship link -https://lungfoundation.grassrootz.com/run-for-lungs/copd-athlete Appreciate your support!

  2. copd new to me, just started in last 6 months
    i’m old 77 but like to dance a lot, kinda all thats left
    not using oxygen
    any suggestions for me
    i’m pool guy in az working 3 days week
    quit smoking in 1972 climed 14teeners in colorado til moved to phx in 1999

    1. Hi Barry, Keep dancing, it’s great exercise. As far as suggestions – diet is key with COPD. Eat clean and no processed foods, have a look at my articles on nutrition.

  3. Thank you, Thank you. Finally some definite answers.
    Newly diagnosed with COPD. The first question I asked the Dr was what can I do as far as nutrition, his reply was very vague and when he said there may have been things I could have done if I was younger, yes I am 70, he also mentioned 3 times that I didn’t look my age, so I guess I am old but look ok. lol.
    This is when I started my search online, found several references to the Keto diet but no specifics. I wasn’t finding any definite answers. I have tried the Keto diet several times without much success to lose weigh (15 pounds that refuse to budge) so wasn’t sure if that could help.
    I have already researched inflammation and boosting my immunity. I am now drinking herb teas and taking caplets of, ginger, licorice root, turmeric, Elderberry to name a few. I can’t tell you how much better I feel already, I able to do physical activities that now do not cause me to get out of breath.
    I will start again on Keto. If I understand you are using 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbohydrates. Do you stick with the low carb veggies that Keto and Atkins suggest? Do you stick to mostly berries for your fruit? Please forgive me if there are questions that you have already addressed. I still have not read all of your articles.
    Thank you again for sharing your journey and your knowledge

    1. Hi Pamela, my vegetable intake is mainly leafy greens, no starchy vegetables. Blueberries and strawberries are the only fruit I eat. Not everyone can do the ketogenic diet but just reducing processed carbs can help significantly. Good Luck.

  4. Hi Russell! Reading your story has inspired me. I’m 54. Diagnosed 17 years ago with emphysema. Im at stage 3. Just started the treadmill. Slow and frustrating, but I wont give up. My hubby has t too but not as bad as me. We work everyday in our business. Thank you for not giving up and sharing your story. Keep hanging tough. I will get more educated and do pulmonary rehab. Hope to be as tough as you are.

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