The COPD Athlete – Man Runs Marathons With Only 30 Percent Lung Capacity

An Australian man has become known as the COPD Athlete because of his incredible ability to run entire marathons despite having only 30 percent lung capacity as a result of an incurable and progressive condition.

Russell Winwood was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) in 2011. By that time, the Brisbane native had already turned his life around, having survived a stroke at age 36. He had given up smoking, cut down on drinking alcohol, started eating better, and, most importantly, he had taken up sports. For years, he competed in varying distances of triathlons, from sprint to Half Ironman and even a few ultra-marathons. Everything was going great, but at one point Winwood noticed that his usual training felt harder and he found it difficult to breathe. That’s when he received his COPD diagnosis, along with the warning that his lungs were operating at less than 30 percent capacity.

Photo: COPD Athlete/Facebook

“Being diagnosed with COPD was hard. I felt cheated because I had worked so hard to rebuild my health after having a stroke,” Russell told Lung Foundation Australia. “I could have let this disease slowly suffocate the life out of me. Instead, I decided to do an Ironman event and then another, and another. Then I thought I’d run marathons around the world and raise money for charities.”

Just six months after hearing the bad news, Russell Winwood completed his first full Iron Man triathlon, as if to show himself and the rest of the world that he would not allow COPD to control his life. That isn’t to say that he went into this chapter of his life completely blind. He started reading about his condition, taking the proper medication, eating well and increasing his cardio-respiratory fitness level.


Running full marathons is quite the challenge for any able-bodied person, but even more so for someone who struggles to breathe. Many people in Russell’s condition are generally housebound or completely immobile, and yet here he is pushing himself onward and inspiring millions with his ambition and never-say-die attitude.

Russell runs with an oxygen tank on his back, and always has a support runner along with him, but he still has to do all the hard parts – the running and the breathing – himself. He compares running at 30 percent lung capacity to suffocating or drowning, but adds that extra oxygen, consistent training, proper breathing techniques and sheer will allow him to keep doing what he loves.


At age 56, the COPD Athlete recently completed the 26.2-mile Chicago Marathon in 6 hours, 28 minutes and 33 seconds. That’s a very solid performance if you consider his specific running pattern. Russell has to run 400 meters and then walk for 100 meters in order to keep his lungs from hyperinflating.

The Chicago Marathon was fourth on his list of six major marathons, having completed the New York City Marathon in 2015, the London Marathon in 2017, and the Boston Marathon in 2018. He has already signed up for the 2023 Tokyo Marathon and hopes to complete in Berlin in the next couple of years, before his doctor finally tells him it’s time to quit.


Even if the day when he can no longer run because of his reduced lung capacity, Russell plans to remain the COPD athlete. He is currently thinking about taking up swimming with an oxygen tank and is analyzing ways to make that happen.