In My Marathon Training, I Run for and With Sarcoidosis
Race helps a columnist learn how to run a half-marathon despite chronic illness
I’m training for the TCS New York City Marathon this November. It’s been quite a challenge, as I’ll be a rookie marathoner over 50 years old who has pulmonary sarcoidosis.
Needless to say, I do all this with my the approval of my doctor at the Johns Hopkins Sarcoidosis Center, along with advice from great running coaches. Even without chronic lung disease, training for and running a marathon are huge things to undertake. But for me, this has become a “bucket list” item.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of running the 50th anniversary Portland Half Marathon in Oregon.
At this point in my training, I have my long runs each Sunday. During September, my long runs were first 13 miles, then 14 miles twice, and finally 16 miles. So in theory, a 13.1-mile half-marathon in early October is no different from the past four Sundays.
Except this time, I got a medal for my long run. And I learned how to push through unexpected adversity.
The run started out as I’ve been trained to do — with a pace slightly less than the running pace that I intended to achieve. Whether I feel great or not so great, I know to start out slowly, recognizing that I often need time to feel good during a long run.
The miles just ticked along, like normal. Mile one, two, three, and so on. I was running right around my goal pace, which is great for a long run. But then, at mile eight …
Cramp. In my right leg.
That was different.
I often get the normal discomfort that can come with a long run. At this point, I’ve begun to learn the difference between discomfort (that you can push through mentally) and injury (when you need to stop running). I don’t know if it’s because of my relative running inexperience, my age, my sarcoidosis, or some combination of all of them, but many of my runs come with some discomfort. At this point, I get most excited when the discomfort comes, because I can still push through to meet my goals.
Many times I’ve read and heard about runners getting cramps while they run. And I’ve certainly had minor cramps while running that went away after a short time.
But this cramp was different.
It started on mile eight, on a really steep hill. And this cramp didn’t, wouldn’t go away after a short time. And it hurt. A lot!
At mile eight, with another five-plus miles to go, I certainly could’ve stopped running, and there would’ve been no shame in that. Sometimes, the smartest thing to do is to stop — to decide to stop today to be able to run again tomorrow.
But I was convinced that I wasn’t injured and that I could run through the cramp by pushing through the discomfort. After all, I’d started to know the difference between pain and injury, right?
So I kept running.
Mile eight turned into mile nine, then 10 and 11.
By mile 12, the cramp hadn’t gone away, but it also hadn’t gotten worse. And now, I was just a mile from the finish line. I’d run one mile hundreds of times at that point.
I could definitely run one mile.
So I pushed — and crossed the finish line!
Unlike some of the other races that I’ve been blessed to finish, this race was more of a relief — because even when you run your own race, I’ve learned that you should treasure each mile, each run, each race. That’s especially true when you have sarcoidosis, because there are constant reminders that each race could be your last. So I was relieved to finish this one.
Yet even with the cramp — or especially with the cramp — I was also full of gratitude.
Because I learned that I can push through a really bad cramp. Despite all the miles, runs, and races since the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d never had a cramp that just wouldn’t go away until this race. And now, because I experienced it during the Portland Half Marathon, I know now that I can push through if it happens during the New York City Marathon.
So I’m thankful for that.
As of now, just one day after the race, the cramp is completely gone. It’s like it never happened.
I’ve learned something new about myself, and hopefully that will help me push through the 26 miles in November. I’m truly excited for the challenge, if only to prove that sarcoidosis doesn’t always get to win.
Shortly after the race, someone on social media saw a post and asked if I was a “charity runner” racing to raise money for sarcoidosis.
She asked, “Are you running for sarcoidosis?”
I responded, “No. I’m running for and with sarcoidosis.”
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.
As a pulmonary sarcoidosis person myself, I really appreciate this story, and congratulations on your marathon achievement - well deserved! I am training myself for a run at Mt Everest Base Camp, next year, and have been considering doing some fund raising/awareness.... but feel much like Calvin here.. "I am running for and with sarcoidosis". Super accurate and if along the way, I can help others dealing with this, all the better.
Well done Calvin - keep running
Well done Calvin and Mark. Do you find that having pulmonary sarcoidosis effects your breathing while running? Do you blow a good lung test when being checked? I also have pulmonary sarcoidosis. I blow usually about 74 % on my test. I do notice I get winded when walking up hill and climbing stairs. I walk as much as I can, not bringing a runner. I’m 64 years old and fit the most part and feel great. I take a low dose of methotrexate 5 mg per week to keep my sarcoidosis in check. I have also had other symptoms of sarcoidosis such as high calcium, small fiber neuropathy and gout associated with the disease. Thanks to Dr. Barney at UAB IN Birmingham he keeps me on track. Your stories are inspiring. Keep up the good work.
Jacquelyn J Pinckney-Hackett
Great article! I hope one day to run with and for Sarcoidosis.