‘The hardest 13 miles of my life,’ Oklahoma City marathoner still recovering after COVID-19


OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — For events that affect us all, no matter who we might be, the markers in time we remember are framed by where a journey begins and where it ends.

On a bright Sunday morning, as the elite runners charged across the finish line, seemingly without much effort, a few more clicks of the timer’s clock revealed the struggles of the past year and a half more clearly.

“Even if you’re in good condition,” says runner Jeff Greenlee, “It’s still hard work.”

Greenlee’s race with COVID-19 began in mid-November of 2020.

It cost him a week in the hospital and three more weeks on oxygen after that.

A veteran long-distance runner who qualified for the Boston Marathon in the 2019 Oklahoma City race had trouble walking to the end of his own street for a while.

“I felt really slow,” he laughs. “I don’t have patience to be slow. That’s my problem out there.”

It was February before he started short runs at a reservoir in his hometown of Altus.

When we spoke a few days prior to the 2021 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, he was optimistic about running only the half-marathon, 13 miles.

“I’m probably back at about 85%,” he tells us.

On the morning of this year’s run, Jeff told us he started out too fast and ended a little slower than he would have liked.

Greenlee has a saying, “I always say ‘you either compete or you complete’.”

He didn’t compete this time, but he did complete.

Jeff is gaining on his race with COVID-19.

“That’s the toughest 13 miles I’ve ever done,” he admits just after his race. “I didn’t have the lungs. My heart rate was getting up there, but it felt good.”

One thing he noted about this Run to Remember that he hadn’t seen or maybe hadn’t noticed before, the portraits of the 168 people who lost their lives in the Murrah Bombing of 1995.

“If that doesn’t touch you, you’re not going to get touched out here,” he says.

For most of the runners, the race is secondary to a different kind of struggle, the kind where finishing carries a victory all its own.

Greenlee plans on coming back to ‘compete’ at the next Memorial Marathon in 2022, and to run the full marathon as well.

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