How I Finished My 4th Half-marathon, Despite Sarcoidosis
Part of the reason I named this column “Run Your Own Race” is that I found (much to my great surprise) that running can easily be a metaphor for life. And when you have compromised lungs from sarcoidosis, running is also a fight for your life. In a good way.
Earlier this month, I completed my fourth half-marathon in Brooklyn, New York. That is four times that I have run at least 13.1 miles at one time. Four times since turning 50, four times since moving to New York City, four times since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and most importantly, four times that I have run a half-marathon since my sarcoidosis diagnosis so many years ago.
I must admit, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I probably would’ve never run any of those races. But given my high-risk status as a pulmonary sarcoidosis fighter, outdoor running was one of the few forms of exercise that my doctors at Johns Hopkins approved.
This year’s race was hot, with temperatures in the upper 80s and high humidity. Sadly, someone passed away following the race. And while I’m not a fan of cold weather, I’ve learned that my lungs like the cold much more than heat. So these were tough conditions for anyone, let alone someone like me who ran with a sports mask on.
Despite the temperatures and the early-morning start, I was excited.
Back in January, I had COVID-19, which forced a three-week, doctor-ordered isolation. By February, I found that I could barely run a mile before I had to walk. I was nowhere near where I used to be. I was never that fast (though my 10-minute-mile pace is pretty good for someone with sarcoidosis), but now I could barely jog.
So making it through my training, little by little, was the real race for me. Just getting to that starting line was a victory. All I had to do now was just not stop. No matter how long it took.
I’ve heard that a half-marathon comes in three parts: the first 5 miles, the second 5 miles, and the last 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).
Miles 1 to 5 were easier than I expected. Maybe it was the crowd of almost 20,000 runners. Maybe it was the folks who called my name as I ran by (I had my name on my shirt). Who knows? But my staring pace was really good. Much slower than I was before COVID-19, but still better than I expected.
And then the heat came.
Miles 6 to 10 (the second 5 miles) were tougher than I expected. The heat was taking a toll. Fortunately, I was well hydrated and had plenty of fuel. I wasn’t cramping yet, but the heat felt like a weight on my shoulders. I truly appreciated the experience of the prior three half-marathons, because I knew from those races that sometimes, if you just keep running, your body will feel better over time.
But then the heat really came.
Miles 11 to 13 were all about just refusing to stop. I had come too far to stop — through sarcoidosis, through COVID-19, through travel, through rough training, through all of it. All that was left was 3 miles, a distance I had run tons of times before.
At this point, my pace was extremely slow. There were times that I saw walkers moving faster than my slow jog. But I was afraid that if I started to walk, I would actually stop. For me, it was better to jog really slowly than walk really fast.
Unlike in the prior races, my body began to hurt everywhere. My legs cramped and my arms were sore. But oddly enough, my breathing was almost close to my normal for a long run. So I just had to keep going.
At mile 12, we got to Coney Island, where the finish line awaited. At that point, I knew the end was near. I just had to keep going.
At mile 13, we were on the boardwalk, and I could see the finish line and the cheerleaders.
And suddenly, I felt a burst of energy. I could actually run.
As I heard the announcer call my name, I pumped my fist, once, twice, and a third time.
I made it.
And then I broke down in tears.
I’m not ashamed to admit that all the struggles of the past year, along with the blessing of a new CEO opportunity, washed over me all at the same time. I leaned onto a fence and just cried. Hard.
I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder, another runner asking if I was OK. I looked up at her, with tears in my eyes, and smiled, and said,
“I made it.”
Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.