Farmington woman’s race to overcome asthma goes long distanceKristine Benjamin crossed “Run a Marathon” off her bucket list Sunday when she and about 11,999 other runners participated in the Twin Cities Marathon. And while she was probably not the only first-time runner in the pack, Benjamin was likely one of the few who has asthma and is a carrier for a rare lung disease commonly known as Alpha 1.
By: Michelle Leonard, The Farmington Independent
Kristine Benjamin crossed “Run a Marathon” off her bucket list Sunday when she and about 11,999 other runners participated in the Twin Cities Marathon. And while she was probably not the only first-time runner in the pack, Benjamin was likely one of the few who has asthma and is a carrier for a rare lung disease commonly known as Alpha 1.
For Benjamin, a 40-year-old Farmington mom, running a marathon was a goal she’d set for herself only five years ago — once she found out advances in asthma medicines could help her regulate her shortness of breath. She started running because she could. And that’s saying a lot.
“I have had asthma all of my life,” she said. “I never got to play in phy ed, never got to play in sports. I was that kid.”
In grade school, her asthma prohibited her from doing all of the running and jumping and playing other kids her age got to do. In high school, she stayed on the sidelines while her friends were on the courts and on the fields. It didn’t even occur to her that her asthma was a problem. It was just her way of life.
“They didn’t have the medicine. They didn’t know how to how to treat it properly. I missed a ton of school all the time, and I just thought it was no big deal,” Benjamin said.
Even as an adult, she dealt with the asthma every day. It wasn’t until about five years ago, when a doctor asked how often she was using her emergency inhaler that she really found out her version of keeping her asthma symptoms under control really wasn’t … under control.
“I told my doctor ‘oh, about three times a day,’” she said. “I didn’t know it wasn’t under control at all.”
It wasn’t long after that visit that Benjamin was put on some new medications. Advances in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - which is affiliated with the Alpha 1 lung disease - meant there were more options available. Benjamin got new medications, and not long after, a new determination to do the thing she couldn’t do as a child — run.
She started running because the new medications allowed her to, but also because, with the Alpha 1 diagnosis, she’s got a real chance that having more lung problems in her future. Instead of waiting for it to kick in, Benjamin decided she wanted to kick the problem.
“I just figured if it was going to hit me, I wasn’t going down without a fight. I figured the best shape I can get my lungs into, the better shape I would be in the long run,” she said.
These days, when she’s not training for marathons, Benjamin runs about four days a week, four or five miles at a time. She runs on the treadmill when it’s cold outside - the cold air hurts too much – but she gets the job done nonetheless. Going into Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon, Benjamin had completed four half-marathons and one 20-mile race this year. The Twin Cities Marathon was just 6.2 miles longer than her previous race.
She was placed in Corral 2, which meant she wasn’t among the fastest runners, but she wasn’t in with the slower ones, either. She and her husband, Chris Benjamin, were both running. They parked at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul and boarded a bus to the Metrodome, which was the starting line. The race started at 8 a.m., and wound runners through Minneapolis, past lakes and through parks, then into St. Paul, to come to an end at the Minnesota State Capitol.
Because the morning was cold – about 28 degrees at the start of the race – Benjamin was a little worried about how the cold air would affect her. In the past, she’s brought an inhaler along, but she’d forgotten it Sunday morning. Still, the run was not bad.
“Now I know how to control my breathing a lot better, and as soon as it started to warm up, it was a lot better,” she said. “I’m just really loud to run by. I’m sure I probably scare people at times.”
She knew she wasn’t going to win the marathon, and that really wasn’t a priority. Instead, Benjamin took her time and enjoyed the scenery along the route, the spectators, the people in clown suits and the people dressed like Mario Bros. characters.
“It was really cool. I was really impressed by the spectators,” she said.
Benjamin finished the marathon with a time of 4:48, which she is just fine with. Her husband, though, didn’t want to share his time.
Now that they’ve run the Twin Cities Marathon, the Benjamins will take a little break, then start training again in the spring. They’re planning to tackle Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth next June.