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Med City Marathon: Cystic fibrosis won't stop him

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Matt Barrett runs in the Scheels Med City Marathon on Sunday in Rochester. Barrett, who has cystic fibrosis, won the race.
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Under any circumstance, all can agree that running a marathon is a challenge. A 26.2-mile tough, tough challenge.

Now try running a marathon if you’re suffering from cystic fibrosis. Mind you, CF is a treatable but debilitating, incurable disease, described by Mayo Clinic like this: "Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs. It affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices. Normally those secreted fluids are thin and slippery but those with CF, the infected gene causes the secretions to become sticky and thick. Instead of acting as a lubricant, the secretions plug up tubes, ducts and passageways, especially in the lungs and pancreas."

Congested tubes, ducts and lungs are definitely not things a long-distance runner wants to embrace. That said, meet Matt Barrett, 32, who was diagnosed with CF at the age of 9 months.

He has learned to deal with this abhorrent disease.

"I don’t consider myself someone with CF who runs, but I’m a runner who has CF," he said.

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On Sunday, Barrett won the 24th Scheels Med City Marathon with a time of 2:29.16, topping second-place Andemariam Hagos of Rochester by more than 10 minutes.

But it wasn't easy. Barrett was really struggling at the end.

 "The course was not easy for me and the last few miles were very tough," he said. "I was doing my best just to keep my body upright."

Barrett has completed three marathons but none in the past four years. Recently he has been dealing with an assortment of run-related injuries, from a bad hip, sore knees and an IT problem (iliotibial band ligament). In other words, he's been all over the injury-related board.

"I haven’t been 100 percent for a while, so today was all about seeing where I am at," he said. "Did I expect to win? Probably not, but just to get through it was a major test."

Barrett grew up in Monroe, Wis., and started to run in order to get in shape for basketball.

"Then I realized I was pretty good at this," he said.

He attended the University of Minnesota where he ran both track and cross country and was a top 10-finisher at the Big Ten cross country meet in 2009.

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"I’ve been running ever since high school," he said. "Doctors have told me that running will help put more years on my life. I know cystic fibrosis is not curable, but it doesn’t have to limit you, either."

Tailor-made day

Temperature-wise, Sunday was near perfect, 50 degrees at the 7 a.m. start and only reaching the mid-70s at the end. Compare that to a year ago when extremely high temperatures forced the cancellation of the marathon, as well as 20-miler and relay races.

A half marathon was held instead.

"The first few miles were relatively flat, but then the wind started blowing in your face," said Barrett, "and I found the course to be tough. More hills than I thought.

"Like I said, I was really struggling at the end."

The 32-year-old Barrett was scheduled to run the Green Bay Marathon last week but that one was canceled because of flood conditions. So he went looking for a marathon, found the Med City and signed up last Tuesday.

And there is a Rochester connection. His wife, Jess, who is an accomplished triathlete (she has completed four full triathlons), used to live here.

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"I will talk to my coach and figure out a plan for what is next," Barrett said. "My goal still is to qualify for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

In 2010, he was 18 seconds short of qualifying after being on pace with two miles left. And in the 2014 and 2015 Chicago Marathons, he fell four minutes short of the 2:19 Olympic standard.

The Barretts live in Verona, Wis., outside of Madison. Matt is a data analyst for a research company in Madison.

Stay active

One final word on CF, according to Jess Barrett.

"This is Cystic Fibrosis Month," she said "and if there is one thing Matt wants to say, especially for parents with a child who has CF, is to keep them active. Involve them in sports or anything else. We know CF is not curable, but we’ve come a long way in treating it."

Both Matt and Jess average 90-100 training miles a week.

"Matt has an inspiring story to tell," Jess said. "He puts in a lot of work and it certainly isn’t easy for him."

Meanwhile, Hagos, the second-place finisher, said he was leading until the 16-mile mark when Barrett caught up and took the lead for good.

 "This was only my third full marathon, but my best time," he said. "I did both Grandmas and Boston and both times finished with a time of 2:42."

Hagos, a nurse at Mayo Clinic, finished second last year in the Med City half marathon. He was scheduled to run the full marathon, but it was shortened to a half because of the high temperature.

"I never thought I would like this (running)," said Hagos, 39, "but now, I think I like it."

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