“Stronger Than We Think” – Joelle Zarcone on Running a Half Marathon
February 23, 2015 – On March 8, Joelle Zarcone will be running in the San Diego Half Marathon to raise money for CAF. Below, CAF talks with Joelle, a person with thalassemia, about her decision to participate in this endurance event.
CAF: How did you decide to participate in the San Diego Half Marathon?
Joelle: I volunteer a lot in my spare time, but recently became aware I have never actually done anything to raise awareness of or support for thalassemia, which seemed sort of wrong considering I actually have beta thalassemia and it’s such a critical part of my life. I was already planning to run the San Diego Half Marathon, and figured it was the perfect choice to raise money for CAF. I also realized that it takes place almost exactly on the 28th anniversary of when I was diagnosed with thal (I was 6 1/2 months old when I was diagnosed, back in 1987). It felt meant to be. (To support Joelle in her efforts, click here.)
Have you ever participated in an endurance sport like this before?
I have! This will be my fourth half marathon. I have been running since I was in college, although I just recently started running long distance races. My first half marathon was in August 2013 and was literally the best day of my life so far.
What is your training routine like for this event?
I run three to four times a week, which includes a couple 3-4 milers plus one long run each weekend (typically 6 to 12 miles, depending on the weekend — the long run gets longer as we get closer to the race date). I also do some strength building on non-running days, like with yoga or barre classes.
Are you getting encouragement or support from friends or family members to help you practice and run?
I have always felt a tremendous amount of support from my family and best friends, and my boyfriend has been an encouraging influence as well. My parents have always believed in me and taught me to make my health a priority since I was a baby; they’ve attended every race I’ve ever run. It can be tough sometimes to want to walk a mile (never mind run a mile!) when you need a transfusion soon, but I feel privileged to be able to run and, frankly, be alive with that option. I was raised to know that everyone has SOMETHING (whether it be thal or whatever), and you should try to be the best you can be regardless.
Do you find that training (or running itself) is affect by having thalassemia? If so, how do you handle this?
To be honest, it can require some thinking ahead and planning. When I am coming due for a transfusion (I get one every two weeks), running can sometimes feel impossible. I’ll run a half a mile and just be exhausted and need to take a break. Since I know this, though, I devised a training plan for myself that puts my really long runs on weeks I’ve had a transfusion, and the following week will be a shorter long run (like 4-6 miles, depending on how good I feel). I have been running for so long that I suppose my body is more used to it than non-runners so maybe that’s why I can still run when I have a lower hemoglobin than usual, but I also just tough it out and commit myself to running even when I don’t feel great (as long I know I can safely do so!), regardless of how long it takes or how uncomfortable it may be. Usually this is hardest a few days before a transfusion, but on those days I’ll try to get in a least 2 or 3 miles.
Do you have a message for other people with thalassemia?
My main message and really the purpose for dedicating this half marathon (13.1 miles) to CAF is that it’s so, so important to take control of your health and live a healthy lifestyle – even if you don’t have a lifelong illness, but especially if you do. I also want to make it abundantly clear that we are ALL so much stronger than we think, both mentally and physically, and anyone typically viewed as “sick” or at a disadvantage – as those of us with a chronic illness are often labeled – are so much more than our illness. I’m not a superstar or miracle – I just refuse to allow thal – which is a piece of me – to become all of me. And I’m sure there are plenty of other thal patients out there who are doing the same
What else would you like to say?
CAF thanks Joelle for helping CAF raise funds and awareness in this special way and congratulates her on her accomplishments and her terrific outlook. Best of luck on March 8 (and beyond)!