Marla Smith outruns asthma
Marla Smith crossed a goal off her bucket list when she ran the Tokyo Marathon this month.
It was the final of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors she needed to complete to get the Six Star Medal. She had already tackled New York, Chicago, Berlin, London and Boston, a total of 177.313 miles.
You would never guess she had asthma.
The 58-year-old battled it throughout her childhood. Dust, pollen, mould and smoke made her wheeze.
Her husband, Keith Smith, urged her to start walking.
In 1993, when she became pregnant with her twin sons, Damani and Sondai. She decided to cut back on her asthma medications because she did not want them to impact her babies in utero.
Four years later she signed up for the End-to-End Walk and then decided she wanted to move a little faster.
“I started teaching myself to run,” said Ms Smith, the Youth Services librarian. “At first I would walk, run, walk, run, until I was able to start putting some distance down.”
She signed up for the Bermuda Half Marathon Derby. Her mother, Joan Gooden, was very nervous, having spent long nights tending to her when she was sick as a child.
But on the day of the race she planted herself on the sidelines on Front Street with Ms Smith’s sons in tow.
“My mom was screaming and cheering when I went by,” she laughed. “That was really out of character for her. When I finished it felt like the Olympics. I never could have dreamt, with the terrible time I had with asthma, that I could actually finish that race. I started thinking maybe I should do a full marathon.”
She believes the exercise improved her asthma. She rarely uses medications or inhalers now.
“I think my lungs got stronger and I learnt how to breathe while running,” she said. “I definitely think it helped. I am also eating well and doing all the things I need to do to take care of my health. I stay away from mould and dust.”
The TCS New York Marathon was a “wonderful” experience in 2010.
“We ran through all five boroughs. All these different communities came out to cheer us on. We ran past churches with choirs singing on the steps. There was music and cheering all along the route. It was very inspiring and encouraging.”
It inspired her to complete the series. In every race she wore a button with a picture of her mother, who died in 2015.
Her best time was in 2011 when she did the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 4:32:32. In 2018 she ran the BMW Berlin Marathon (5:13:30) and the Virgin Money London Marathon (5:39:00).
“The fact that I did two in one year was a fluke,” she said. “That year I did not get into the London Marathon, so I applied for Berlin. Then the Mid-Atlantic Running Club had a Christmas raffle where they gave away a spot in the London Marathon. I got it. One race was in April and one was in October so there was enough space in between to make it possible.”
Ms Smith completed the Boston Marathon last year in 4:57:12. In doing so she raised $10,500 for Brigham & Women’s Hospital, where her mother received care.
She signed up to run the Tokyo Marathon in 2020 but had to reschedule because of Covid-19. This year was the first time since the pandemic that foreigners were allowed to participate.
She started training 18 weeks ahead of the race, rising at 5.30am to do so. Her husband, who served as her coach, “would run with me for part of the way and then switch to a pedal bike or car and follow, for safety reasons”.
“As I get older, training every other day works best and I build up to longer and longer distances as the week goes by. I got up to about 35 or 40 miles a week. A month out from the race, I did 20 and 22-mile runs,” Ms Smith said.
She was full of excitement at the start of the Tokyo Marathon on March 5. There were 38,000 people competing; it turned out to be one of the hardest races she has run.
“The Japanese people were cheering us on,” she said. “I don’t know what they were yelling but it was enthusiastic. At mile 22 I started to get cramps. I walked the rest of the way. The important thing was just to finish. My mantra was, just put one foot in front of the other.”
She finished in 5:25:59.
“It was not my best time,” she said. “But I felt very emotional when I finally crossed that finish line. I started thinking of everything I had been through and everything I had to do to get to that point.”
Her next run will be the Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby in May.
“I have done that every year for 22 years,” she said. “I might like to do the New York Marathon again. I will definitely continue running because, in terms of health, it is great. I find it very relaxing.”
To other people considering running, she said: “If I can do it, so can you. Just start small and slowly build up. Walk and run. Running is great for getting out in fresh air and getting your heart rate up.”
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