Teacher Outruns Sickness to Complete Houston Marathon


Carson Lane

Elyse Rothfeld completed something few ever accomplish, under difficult circumstances.


She ran the path she was accustomed to; a simple two-mile trail that had become her routine. Once providing a sense of both calmness and exhilaration, every step now was an exercise in how much pain she could handle. Running cleared her mind and gave her a sense of something she couldn’t find elsewhere. Although the pain was tangible, running was something she could bear it for.

Except, today she couldn’t. Breathing hurt more with every step, and turning a corner, she gave out. Vision fading to black, she fell to the ground, passed out.

Although she got back up quickly, she realized she couldn’t do it anymore. Running had once given her a sense of calmness, but the cancer had taken it away.

Tracking back to her college days, running had been a part of Elyse Rothfeld’s life for years.

“I started for exercise, but I wasn’t very good at it, and it was painful,” Rothfeld said.

But three weeks ago, Rothfeld completed the Houston Marathon.

Rothfeld didn’t start running heavily until she entered her early 30’s, when running became a staple in her life. More than a simple healthy lifestyle, it was an escape: a chance to clear the mind and focus on something else. It was healthy, but perhaps even more so mentally than physically.

The health benefits that occur from running are countless: improved sleep, mental health, knee strength, cardiovascular fitness, cognitive strength, stress reduction. But more than that, it provides a less tangible benefit, something known as runner’s high.

“Sometimes when you run, it becomes effortless,” Rothfeld said. “Not that you aren’t struggling, because you’re still running, but there’s this moment where it all clicks, and things just make sense.”

“there’s this moment where it all clicks, and things just make sense.”

Put into other words, it’s the moment where she finds equilibrium, where her mind clears, everything seems to make sense, and everything unimportant starts to fade away. It’s not a feeling exclusive to running; it can be found in many different places. It’s a unique feeling that’s rare to come by, but enlightening when it’s reached. It’s a true sense of calm and peace among the usual noise.

To have it taken away by a life-threatening disease is crushing. Rothfeld spent over a year in 2014-2015 in chemo battling breast cancer, hoping to get back to where she was before.

“I tried to run, but I couldn’t,” Rothfeld said. “It was something I wanted to get back to.”

Rothfeld had a long, taxing battle that took away not just her ability to run, but challenged her physical and mental health. After a challenging year, however, she defeated the cancer. The transition back, however, was just as arduous and tiring as the battle itself.

“I was so out of shape,” Rothfeld said. “It was slow and frustrating. I just wasn’t healthy, and it was hard to do a lot of things. I was getting stronger, but the year back was challenging.”

As she worked back into her daily routine, Rothfeld had a vision. With memories of the first marathon she ever ran as fresh in her mind as the day it happened, she wanted to be able to run another one again. The goal of being able to run a marathon again seemed downright unlikely at many points, especially when she could barely run for minutes in her transition back. However, remembering her first marathon, she knew she wanted to do it again.

“It was 2008,” Rothfeld said. “I was training for it, because it was challenging mentally, physically, especially for a new runner. I remember feeling so elated and that runners high. It was amazing, and I was hooked.”

“I remember feeling so elated and that runners high. It was amazing, and I was hooked.”

When Rothfeld passed out just over three years ago from radiation, and struggled to run for minutes, the idea of experiencing that high again seemed like a dream. Yet, in January, Rothfeld completed the Houston marathon in 5 hours and 7 minutes, better than 78 percent of people who participated. Completing a marathon is a distinct accomplishment, one that most people in their lives never experience. To be able to complete a marathon, three years removed from chemo and finish better than over 17,000 people is a feat few could achieve.

“The idea that I can do it is the best thing,” Rothfeld said. “I’m a lot slower than I used to be, and I was never very fast, but I feel a lot stronger now. I remember being in the hospital, being sick, and think about people who have overcome obstacles even greater than me. I remember seeing a 75-year-old guy at the marathon, and I’m thinking, ‘you know what’, that’s awesome that he’s able to do that.”

As someone who understands how easy it is to lose the things we love doing the most, Rothfeld said she doesn’t take any of the moments for granted anymore. Maybe one day, she’ll be the 75-year-old taking on the marathon, experiencing the runner’s high that she’s found so many times before.

“Hey, I gotta be doing something at 75, I mean, right,” Rothfeld said. “I can’t just sit around.”