It’s 3 days after the New York marathon and as I leave the Big Apple heading for Las Vegas for some down time, I can’t believe how quickly this event has come and gone. My hope for this adventure was that I could raise some awareness for COPD, asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as showing people just what’s possible. Along the way the COPD Athlete team has managed to raise $10,000 for the American Lung Association. While the trip has been a success it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
Pre race negativity
I arrived in New York as two positive articles about my journey had been published and while the feedback from the articles were positive, I had people making comments on social media that I was a fraud and my Doctors had incorrectly diagnosed my disease. In fact, I didn’t really have COPD. I can understand that people may want to ask questions about how someone can run a marathon with COPD, however, I can’t understand why people would think I would fake having such a debilitating disease.
Stage IV COPD identifies patients having severe shortness of breath. At times I have that, but the fitter I become the less the frequency. Patients are commonly on supplementary oxygen, I only require oxygen when I fly. Fev1 <30%, from the day I was diagnosed my fev1 has fluctuated between 22-30%, which in real terms is not a lot of difference. So I meet the criteria of having Stage IV COPD.
For me that means little as staging this disease is an old fashioned idea. If you look at two stage IV COPD patients with similar symptoms, patient A is still smoking and has made no positive change to their lifestyle, patient B doesn’t smoke, eats healthy foods and exercises regularly. Obviously patient B is going to have a better quality of life, however they are both Stage IV COPD patients.
Everyone’s disease is different from symptoms to severity and to focus on how sick you are isn’t as important as how you deal with your disease. I consider myself the patient B in this scenario as I no longer smoke, I eat healthy foods and exercise is a major part of my life.
What I found disturbing about the negative comments is people with no medical credentials questioning my Doctors ability to make a correct diagnosis. I think a Doctor with over 30 years as a Respiratory Specialist, who has their patient regularly undergoing Pulmonary Function Testing is probably a little more experienced than those whose only credentials are from Google and their own experiences.
The fun stuff
Happily we dispense with the negative stuff and move along to what has been a fantastic journey. Before the race we had the opportunity to do plenty of site seeing around New York which included a weekend in Washington.
It was wonderful to visit so many iconic landmarks in both cities, the highlights for me being a trip up to the top of the Empire State Building and a night time bike ride with my wife around downtown Washington. Being able to take in a NFL game, Ice Hockey game and a Broadway show before race day made for a busy lead up to race day, but well worth it. We were also lucky enough to have a guided tour of a photographic exhibition in an old hospital at the Old Brooklyn Navy yards. After catching the subway to the exhibition we walked back to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge on sunset. The view back to Manhattan with all the city lights was amazing and one I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t done this.
Our bus to the start line was leaving at 5:30am so waking up at 4am on the morning of the race was always going to make for a long day. As my wife Leanne, Coach Doug, his wife Tracey and I arrived at the start line nothing could have prepared us for the enormity of this, the New York marathon. The starting area was divided into corralled areas to cater for the 50,000 plus runners, it was truly like a small city.
We were in the first wave of runners of the day which started at 9:50am which was good as it meant we’d Finish before the sun went down. Three of our team of four runners had trained hard for the months leading up to this race, my wife Leanne however had not been able to train due to a constant foot injury and whilst she was starting the race, had only planned on experiencing the start and pulling out around 5 miles into the race.
With the sound of a cannon firing we were off on a twenty six mile adventure through the five boroughs of New York, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and finishing in Manhattan. What lay ahead was something that will stick with all of us for the rest of our lives. Hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets, music bands, choirs, and an atmosphere that I could never have imagined.
My race started as expected with the slow pace I planned to build on. My focus of the day was to firstly run within my limits making sure my heart rate and oxygen levels were kept in control. Secondly was to try and finish in under six hours, this was a goal for me as my previous marathons were all well over 6 hours. It wasn’t long into the race that it became apparent to me that this race was going to be a little more challenging than I’d initially thought. Two triggers to me becoming more short of breath had appeared, many long inclines and cigarette smoke.
We had looked at the course profile several times before the race and knew there would be some inclines I had to run up, I just hadn’t taken into account the length of them. Unfortunately there were many smokers in the crowd and I was constantly catching their second hand smoke along the course. What this all meant was I was more breathless than normal and my heart rate was rising quickly as I run.
By the half way stage I decided in order to finish this race safely I needed to back off my pace so my heart rate would stay where I wanted it to be, 155 to 160 bpm. I’d completed most of my training in this heart rate zone and new if I pushed to hard I might strike some problems later in the race. The last half of the race I slowed by pace and focused on taking in the party atmosphere, that is the New York marathon. I stopped to take some photos and talked to some COPD supporters along the way.
I was having such a great time the finish line arrived well before I wanted it to. 6 hours and five minutes after the start of this race I crossed the finish line with much satisfaction. I hadn’t broken my 6 hour goal but that didn’t matter. I’d raced a sensible race that was still a personal best time for me and loved every minute of it.
I’m in shock
After crossing the finish line my support crew phoned me to tell me coach Doug and his wife Tracey had finished around 1 hour before. I asked to speak to my wife Leanne, expecting they would have her with them, as the plan was always she would pull out after 5 miles. I was shocked when they told me she was still on the course at the 20 mile mark. Knowing how bad her feet had been for the last six months I couldn’t believe she was still out there. People don’t complete a marathon with no training, no way!
I couldn’t make my way back to where Leanne was so I decided to position myself behind the barriers about a half mile before the finish line. I told my support crew to tell her I was waiting for her to come and get her finishers medal. By this time Leanne could hardly walk, she was dealing with pain from her feet and knees as well as suffering from large blisters on both feet which had been treated by medics at the halfway stage of the race.
Nearly seven and a half hours after starting the race I spotted Leanne hobbling up towards the finish line. She spotted me and came over in tears, she was in a lot of pain. I asked if she wanted me to walk with her over the finish line. I jumped the barriers held her hand and headed towards the finish line. The sense of relief on Leanne’s face as she crossed the finish line told the story of how hard she had battled through the day.
The New York marathon had thrown up some surprises for all of our team on and off the course. I went to bed feeling satisfied of what I’d achieved on the day but more so feeling like the proudest husband in the world after watching Leanne’s amazing determination to cross that finish line.
Raising awareness for respiratory disease and spreading the exercise message was always my reason for running the New York marathon. So did it work? I guess time will tell, but the feedback I’ve received so far is positive. Four stories have been published about our journey since arriving in New York, all about the message are trying to spread. Two days before the race I was contacted by a global media outlet about doing a short documentary about what I’m doing. I’m happy to report that we’ve just completed two days of filming straight after the marathon. The short film will be out hopefully early in 2016 which will help show COPD patients around the world just what’s possible, with positive lifestyle changes.
Along with this short film we have filmed the entire time we’ve been in New York for our own documentary titled COPD-A Marathon for Life, which will be much more in depth.