Running With Asthma

How I Run with Asthma

This post is two fold: A response to Ashley’s question/comment and an update as I train for the 1/2 marathon coming up on Nov 2.  I’m starting to get really nervous!  For the first time, I am doubting that I will be able to go the distance of 13.1 miles.  Here’s why:  It took me two years to build my running foundation so that I could begin to increase my mileage beyond 4 miles.  I began adding mileage about 8 weeks ago.  I was fine with the increases until I did 8 miles.  I’ve done 8 miles two weeks in a row for my long run and my body (and lungs) is rebelling.

A week ago, I did 6 miles around my house and then 2 on the treadmill.  During the week I tried to do 5 or 6 miles but this was too much. My legs were killing me, my body was tired, my lungs were done.  So I took a 4 day break.  This past Monday, I did 8 miles which included 3 miles of hills.  I felt pretty good the first 7 miles.  The last one was tough so I walked a bit.  I felt the familiar expansion and tightening in my lungs so I just slowed down.  Tuesday, I was exhausted.  I rested.  Yesterday, Wednesday, I did 3 miles around the track for speed/interval training.  I took 1:30 off my PR for a 5K (yeah!) for a PR of 30:00.  But, today is Friday and I’m still paying for it.  My lungs really, really do not like speed.

So now I’m in a pickle.  I need to run today, but, my lungs are still symptomatic from Wednesday.  The 1/2 marathon is only 3 weeks away.  I need to get a least 10 miles under my belt, in one run, before the marathon and the ideal time to do that is this weekend.  But, I have a business trip to attend to.  And, there is also the possibility that since it took me two years to build a foundation, that it will take me another year to properly increase mileage so that I can do a 1/2, and eventually a full, marathon.  The thought is occurring to me that maybe my exercise asthma is not going to let me advance the way normal runners do.  Maybe I need longer than 3 months to train for a 1/2.  Maybe my lungs require more time.  I’m really not sure what to do.

So for now, since I can’t answer my own question, I’ll answer Ashley’s question that she left on the Home page of this blog.  The experience I have to offer to your situation, Ashley, is this:  I was diagnosed with EIA (exercise-induced asthma) in my 30’s.  The Dr. told me this was a typical time frame to develop “adult asthma” as he called.  He told me that childhood asthma, which is typically allergen related, is usually outgrown by the time a child reaches 18.  This was the case with my father.  He was terribly allergic to dust and dander but “grew out” of the asthma.

As I look back, I see that I had EIA as a child but did not realize it.  The only symptoms I had were not being able to keep up in Gym class.  In High School, College, and in my 20’s, I tried several times to run but was immediately tired, out of breath, chest tightened, and so I would stop again not understanding why I was “so out of shape.”  In my 30’s, after having kids, I had slowly and progressively decreased my activity level. Not intentionally, it just became a way of life.  This is when my lungs finally caught up with me.

Not only did I have symptoms with exertion, now I was having symptoms with no exertion.   The day it finally came to a head, I kept saying to my husband how tired I was.  I had to keep taking deep breaths.  “I’m just so tired!”  Every movement was a chore.  I went to lay down on my  bed and I started to pass out.  I quickly crumpled on the floor and each time I raised my head I got light headed. 

Mind you, I am not the type of asthmatic that starts gasping for air like you see on TV.  I melt.  Like a flower. First, I can’t stand up straight; I slouch.  Then I sit down.  Then I can’t sit up straight.  I’m just so tired. And eventually, if I ignore all the signs, I would just quietly pass out. Fluid also builds in my lungs, so my voice changes and I have to keep clearing my throat.  My shoulders hurt around my collarbone area. My chest and back feel like there is something really big inside of me, pushing, trying to get out; like there isn’t enough room inside of there.

So, long story short, Ashley, I think there might be something to the inactivity that makes exercise asthma worse (read previous post, Asthma Improved with Exercise).  I have never seen one medical report to this effect, this is just my personal experience and something that I believe needs exploring.  A friend of mine suggested that it was because the body is more efficient at producing and moving blood/oxygen at higher rates of exercise, or something like that.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that finding the balance between not enough exercise, which causes symptoms for me, and too much exercise, which causes symptoms for me, is very difficult to find.

There are also certain times of the year where my running efforts are sabotaged by allergies.  Spring, somewhere around March, and Fall, October, are the worst months of the year for me.  I’m not sure what I’m allergic to because I’ve been too busy to go get the skin test, but running is harder during these months because of the air.  Smog also hits me hard.  Since I am writing this in October, maybe the air has something to do with me still feeling the effects of Wednesday’s run.

Speed is not my friend.  My lungs hate speed.  I want to run, go fast, but every time I do, my lungs immediately expand, tighten, swell, whatever, and I am forced to slow down.  I really hate that.  So I do intervals.  Go fast, then walk.  Go fast, then walk.  This helps my overall pace, and strengthens my lungs in general, but isn’t as taxing on the lungs during the actual workout.  If I give them lots of breaks, they seem to like that better.

What I also know is that the pain of pushing through workouts, and forcing my lungs to work harder, is paying off.  My asthma is definitely better with the longer runs.  The only question now, is, is 8 miles my threshold or am I just entering another painful growth stage that I will have to push through to get to 13, or even 26.2 miles?  I just don’t know.  And, unfortunately, I will have to keep running, for longer distances, to find out. I’m probably going to have to suffer through the 1/2 just to see if I can suffer through it.  I hope I don’t pass out on the course, at least not before they take my picture.   No pain, no gain as they say; whoever ‘they’ are.

Asthma Improved with Running

Well, it’s official.  In my last entry I alluded that I might be on to something, that my exercise-induced asthma was actually better with more mileage.  This seems like an oxymoron because exercise asthma basically means I’m allergic to exercise.  But, I’ve noticed a huge difference between running 2 or 3 miles and running 6 or 8 miles. I’ll tell you the real kicker in a minute, but first, some context. 

Other kinds of asthma (“regular asthma” for lack of a better term) is allergy related.  If you are allergic to scents, dust, animal dander, etc., then for the most part, you can remove yourself from the allergen trigger and your asthma will subside; the airways in your lungs will stop swelling and will begin to relax.  Of course, you might need the aid of an Albuterol if the swelling is severe enough.

But, with exercise-induced asthma, in my particular case anyway, since my trigger is exercise, it is a little more difficult to remove myself from the trigger.  For example, if I run, the airways in my lungs react and become swollen, constricting the air flow. Once this happens, as long as my body is still in motion, my lungs think we are still exercising and therefore keep swelling.  So I personally have a hard time running in the morning or middle of the day because I still have to get through the rest of the day: straightening the house, vaccuuming, work, laundry, shuffling kids, grocery, etc, etc.  As long as I’m still moving, my lungs cannot relax and I cannot attend to my duties as mom, businesswoman and wife.  To combat this, I run in the evening and then sleep it off.

On a side note, my husband has prepared dinner many times when I’ve over-exerted myself and helped with putting the kids to bed while I laid on the couch or bed trying to keep myself from moving into a full-blown asthma attack.  God bless him and his patience is this area.  His other areas are not so patient but that’s another story and another blog!

Now,  here is the interesting part.  I’ve gotten to the point that if I don’t exercise my lungs begin to be symptematic.  I’ve also noticed that I am much more symptematic after running 2 -3 miles than I am after running 4-8 miles.  And, here is the real kicker:  I’ve decreased my Advair from 250 to 150.  More running, less medication!  My Dr. wasn’t too sure about me lowering the dosage but I insisted I wanted to try because I was feeling so much better.  I told her I could always go back.  But, 2 weeks later, I’m still feeling great. 

Last week I got myself into some trouble with all the increased running.  I discovered I was overtraining for the upcoming 1/2 marathon.  My legs were killing me.  My body was tired.  My lungs kept up, which was a welcome relief, but the rest of me couldn’t handle it.  This, I’m told, is a classic beginner mistake.  Too much, too soon.  So I took a break.  A funny thing happend.  By Sunday evening (3 days after my last painful run), and yesterday (Monday) afternoon, my lungs felt like they were closing!  Because of all the resting and taking it easy, fluid was building up, my voice changed, I had to keep taking deep breaths.  My lungs needed the exercise to open back up. 

So last night, for my long run for the week, I ran 8 miles.  This included 3 miles of cross country hills.  I did fine!  My body was rested, my lungs sucked in the air and for the first time, I felt like they were actually thanking me for the exercise instead of punishing me.  They want to work!  I like to run, but I guess I will  be running whether I like it or not because if I rest too much, and don’t get enough exercise, my lungs react by swelling the airways.

The key for me, and the hard part because I’m impatient, is to go slow.  I tried really, really hard last night to keep myself at a 12 minute mile because I was going far, but I coudn’t do it.  My body wants to be at a 10 minute mile.  My brain and my heart want to do an 8 minute mile but that’s for the future.  I ran the 8 miles in 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Through the hills I did 12 minute miles so I must have gone faster than a 10 minute mile somewhere along the way.  The Garmin ran out of battery so I will never know.

If you’re struggling with this like I am, there’s hope!  I think I’m going to start my own definition of exercise-induced asthma.  Instead of being allergic to exercise, I’m going to say that my lungs are addicted to exercise and I have to feed the addiction or they will rebel.  This time,  not from exercise, but from the lack of it.

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