To race or not to race

13 Jul 2015

The value of preparation

There’s a certain satisfaction you get from crossing a finish line, whether it’s a marathon, Ironman or any event you’ve trained hard for. But last week’s Gold Coast marathon gave me an extra bit of satisfaction when I crossed the line after far-from-perfect preparation.

One week to go

When you wake up on a Monday knowing that you’re supposed to be racing a half-marathon in less than seven days, the last thing you want is to feel unwell. But that was the last week: breathlessness, lethargy and oxygen levels in a less from ideal range – 85%.

What’s that mean? It’s accepted that when your blood oxygen levels drop below 90% that the risk to your internal organs is heightened. For people with COPD, exacerbations are a part of life and something we try to manage, but unfortunately sometimes the best laid plans aren’t enough. Faced with an exacerbation, breathlessness made worse by my asthma and a lack of energy. I could do one of three things: either withdraw from Sunday’s race, wait for the symptoms to pass or be pro-active and focus on getting to the start line.

My action plan

As people with a respiratory condition we always talk about action plans and how important it is to have one in place for when your condition flares up. 

Two important parts of my plan is to have antibiotic and prednisone prescriptions on hand so if I need either, there’s no delay. Last week, I suspected I didn’t have an infection as there no symptoms to make me think so, but I was struggling to breathe and felt that I should start a course of prednisone and make an appointment with my GP.

My GP confirmed my thoughts and said I’d taken the right course of action. It’s important to note that this wasn’t self-diagnosis as my specialist and I mapped out these measures when I was first diagnosed. I increased the dosage of one of my puffers and also the amount of zinc powder. Then it was a matter of resting up and taking it easy.

Race preparation

As the week progressed, I was unsure I’d be able to start – the reality for anyone with respiratory disease is that if you’re having an exacerbation on Monday its very unlikely you’ll be well enough to run a race by Sunday. But by Thursday I felt like I’d turned the corner, feeling less breathless and my oxygen levels rising, I started to think I might not be racing. The week before I’d been feeling a little flat and had backed off the amount of running I had been doing. By the day of the Gold Coast marathon I had only had 2 small runs in 14 days – far from ideal preparation.

Race day

On race Morning I woke up to a glorious day and feeling the best I had all week. Although I knew I wasn’t 100%, I knew that I was well enough to run. My expectations went from thinking of a personal best time to being happy to finish the race.

At 6 am I and over 20,000 runners started the Gold Coast marathon – a great spectacle. By the 7k mark, I knew I was going to finish the race. I was running slower than usual but well within myself. Three hours after the race began I crossed the finish line. While I felt a little sore my heart rate was good and my oxygen levels had not dipped below 93%.

This race and the lead up was important for one reason in particular: it gave me a model for what I would do if I become unwell before the New York City Marathon in November. My fitness levels, my lifestyle and my action plan all worked together to deliver me to the finish line. Not bad considering where I was on the Monday before the race.

Guest writer Russell Winwood
COPD Athlete