Running With Asthma

Run Marathon with Asthma

The first words I associate with running are “I want to,” and the second set of words to come in rapid succession are “I can’t.”  It took me awhile to honestly recognize this. When I’m running my regular trail, I often look at the hill in front of me and say to myself, “okay, I’m going to run up today instead of walk,” and then the next thing I find myself saying is, “I can’t.”  I can’t because my lungs will close.  I can’t because I won’t be able to breathe.  I can’t because I have a disability.  I can’t because I’m not strong enough.  I can’t because I have exercise-induced asthma.  I can’t.

Some of the most recent comments left on the home page of this web site deal with “I can’t.”  The lady in the military says that her superiors think she is lazy and not trying hard enough.  Another lady runs with her husband and can’t keep up.  Another lady wants to run a full marathon but as soon as she hits a certain mileage, she’s suddenly symptomatic. The words “I can’t” are so powerful.  When others say we can’t, we mistakenly believe them.  I seriously doubt that the lady in the military is lazy.  She wouldn’t be there if she were. But we believe the lie, that we can’t.

Last month my husband and I ran a 10K in Santa Barbara, CA.  It was so, so gorgeous. It was 10 miles along the coastline; 5 out and 5 back. The weather was picture perfect: clear, 58-65 degrees, little breeze.  I had so much fun taking in the scenery, thanking God that my body could participate in the run…and then the unthinkable happened. I posted a PR. I would have to go back and look up my official time but I think it was about 1:48:21.  My average speed was a 10:46 mile (remember that when I started running my average speed was a 15 minute mile!). I remember feeling so good as I was running.  No anxiety, no pressure, just enjoying the run and taking it all in.  I can run well.

This past Sunday my husband and I ran to a historic park behind our neighborhood.  It is exactly 4 miles, out and back.  The 2 miles to get there are up a slight hill (I’m guessing a 2-4% incline). It is the first time I ran the whole way up the hill without stopping. Upon our arrival, my husband said, “let’s go another mile; I want to show you the canyon.”  “I can’t,” said the peanut gallery in my head. But we pressed on and I watched my Garmin like a hawk.  As soon as we hit the mile, and not a second after, I stopped and said, “That’s a mile.”  “The trail I want to show you is just up ahead, let’s keep going.” “I can’t,” said the peanut gallery but we kept going, at a walk.  Finally, the trail was close but there was a bigger hill to get there so I said no and we turned around. I believed the lie that I couldn’t.

We started running back toward the house, which was  now 3.5 miles away.  The chatter in my head was ridiculous:  I didn’t prepare for all these extra miles, I only prepared for a total of 4.  I didn’t eat enough, I didn’t drink enough; I can’t do this.  We ran the whole way back, except to say hi to a friend coming toward us on his bike.

I can run.  My body is stronger than I think.  I felt completely fine when we got back; great even. It is my mind that is weak.  It is my mind that tells me that I can’t “because I have asthma.”  Whenever someone asks me about my running, I usually start off with, “well, I have asthma…”  Translation: I can’t run as well as you because I have a defect. I can’t.

Yes, I can.  I just have to believe that.  I have to choose to believe that.

I did not pass out after the run on Sunday. I felt good. My mind is trying so hard to hold me back from running because the mind is a powerful thing; more powerful than the lungs.

–Tara Schiro is the author of No Arms, No Legs, No Problem: When life happens, you can wish to die or choose to live NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

9 Comments so far
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Taraschiro, I’m not running past many people young or old now. I run now just for myself, asthma came as a surprise at age 51. So now what it takes is humility, if someone obviously out of shape passes me I have to shrug it off and not run faster than I know I can that day. Humility, remember that when the gun goes off and everyone whizzes past you at a marathon start. Non asthmatics can’t go faster than the pace they prepared for. You have to also factor in the air conditions as well as your prepared pace. And the regular runner must adjust to conditions also such as extremely hot temperatures, etc. You just need to weight and measure more things. But most of all do as everyone should and enjoy the feelings of running, the health benefits mentally and physically are worth the struggle.


Comment by Ric Hart

For me any way it is a matter of knowing my limits. Judging the air quality in the corrals and forcing myself to start at a proper pace for that day. This is easier said than done, but when I listen to the inner self I do much better. I’m a 63 year old that has done 29 marathons so far, a member of the Marathon Maniacs and 50 staters. I say this for any new runners that are unsure of there possiblities.


Comment by Ric Hart

You are my hero!! And a hero to many of us “younger” runners, who watch very closely the seniors running past us and beating us to the finish line. Thanks so much for the reminder that anyone can run at any age. Woo hoo for you!


Comment by taraschiro

hello my name is ashlyn and I am 13 years old. I recently had a asthma attack in gym class, and that kind of crushed my dream to run in a half-marathon. But after reading this I realize that you are right. The mind is powerful, more than the lungs. Thank you for helping me get back on track!


Comment by Ashlyn

Thanks for a great summary. You are so right about “mental” toughness. I believe running a marathon is as much or more mental strength, in addition to physical strength. I believe training the long run mileage helps you train mental strength in addition to physical strength. I’ve gotten through many long runs telling myself – I am okay, just one more mile. Then when I get that mile in – just one more mile.

I have had controlled asthma using Advair 150 for about 10 to 12 years. I have run 8 marathons. I qualified for Boston in my 7th marathon. For some reason this year, my advair is not working well to control my asthma. I will be running Boston in April and am a bit concerned wtih my breathing difficulties. Going very slow but still feeling dizzy/light headed/feeling disoriented on a course I’ve run a billion times, and muscles just shutting down because they aren’t getting the proper oxygen supply. I absolutely will not quit. But it is sure a good test for how strong is my mind. You have to just leave absolutely no room in the mind for the negative doubts or thoughts. If any start entering – think of anything else, tell yourself YES YOU CAN DO THIS!!!! YOU’RE ALMOST THERE – ONE MORE MILE, JUST ONE MORE MILE. Its about looking back and saying – that was so tough, but I DID IT! I conquered the demons.

Best of luck to all of you – it really helped me reading your comments and listening to your drive and determination and perseverance.


Comment by Carol

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I’m 21 years old and have suffered from asthma since I was a child. While I played sports in high school, I always felt pressured by coaches saying things like: “you’re not trying hard enough” or “you’re the only one that’s this out of shape.” Well, I’m a college undergrad now and I haven’t played an organized sport since high school, but my roommates want to run Boston in 2011, and I’m training to be right there with them. I’m trying to add to my run every day. I’m trying to practice yoga breathing both during my run and every day life, in hopes that I can train my body to take in more air per breath. I have a looooong way to go, but I hope I can get there and I’d love any advice you have to offer! Thanks again.


Comment by Brianne

Thanks for posting your journey. I’m in my mid-20s and was diagnosed with asthma as a young child. With endurance that never matched non-asmatics, I had little interest in and was discouraged from participating in sports. Now that I’m older and have control of my symptoms and I’m trying to get into running. While I’m only on day two of training, I find myself already being discouraged because my body feels like it can do more than my lungs allow. Your posts have given me some needed support and relief that I’m not alone in these struggles, thanks!


Comment by Gina

Gina! Thanks so much for writing. I appreciate your struggle and am thankful that you wrote in with your story. Here is my advice to you: crawl, walk, jog, run, sprint. There’s no rush on time; start small, honor the process and your body, and you will see huge improvements over the long haul. Good luck! You can do it!


Comment by taraschiro

Thanks for posting your journey! I’m in my mid 20s and was diagnosed with asthma as a young child. I’ve always wanted to run or do sports, but didn’t have the endurance that non-asthmatics have, and was often discouraged by coaches and gym teachers. Since my childhood I’ve been able to do a lot of things they said I never could, and now I’m looking to tackle running. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who sometimes feels held back by their lungs, and who sometimes actually is held back by their lungs. It can be so frustrating when your mind and body are able, but you have to slow down because you can’t breathe. Good luck as you continue running, and thanks for the inspiration and advice.


Comment by Gina

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