Running With Asthma

Training Run with Asthma

So I was starting to feel a little cocky about my running, thinking that I just about had this exercise-asthma thing licked.  I’ve lowered my medication, again, and I can run a long distance, so I’m thinking I’m a ‘real’ runner, right?  I got a huge dose of humble pie last week when I ran with another one of the mom’s during our kids’ swim practice.

We started out at a pace that was slow for her and fast for me.  This compromise turned out to be a major disaster for me.  It was only a 10 minute mile.  But, I had to quickly remind myself that “I can’t” run that fast right off the bat.  During the Santa Barbara 10K my average pace was about 10:37.  My fastest mile ever was 8:50, but that was for one mile and then I had to stop.

So here I am, running too fast for the first mile, not wanting to slow down and look like a wimp, not wanting to stop and look like a complete failure, and not being able to breathe.  My lungs made the decision for me.  I had to stop and walk after one mile! Then we started the slow ascent up the hill and my lungs completely rebelled.  “Hello up there, did you forget we have asthma?” they chided.  My running partner finally agreed to run ahead without me.  She ran up the hill, down the hill, and back up the hill without so much as an extra breath. And there I was, walking, gasping for air, and wanting to sit down in the middle of the sidewalk.  Shameful.

Shame on me for not honoring how far I’ve come.  Shame on me for getting too cocky and thinking I was ready for a big run.  Shame on me for not enjoying the journey and being so competitive.  Shame on me for being embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up. And why am I pouring shame all over myself?!

The next day I ran with one of the fathers on the condition that we run ‘really slow’ and he agreed.  He doesn’t run very far anyway.  The first mile was an 11 minute mile and every mile after that was between 11 and 12.  I ran a total of 5.5 miles.  I felt so good!  Great even!  I had so much energy afterward which continued throughout the weekend.

So what’s the takeaway that I need to hear?  I have exercise-induced asthma.  I can run, and I’m getting stronger, and my average pace is improving; I need to remember this.  I need to be okay with being slower than other runners.  My pace does not invalidate my efforts.  It is okay that other runners can run 7 or 8 minute miles and I can only do 10 or 11 minute miles. It is okay because I’m out there participating.  I am a runner.

–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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This is awesome! Thank you for sharing! I’ve had the same feeling, like I’m less of a runner because I can’t do a 6 minute mile like my friends. I have to continually remind myself that no matter my speed, I’m still doing better than the local couch potato. And really, running IS fun! Once I pass the first mile, so long as I don’t breathe in a cold headwind, I’m usually good for however long I keep going.

I have to say, though, albuterol really messes with my run. I ran a half last October (RW) and a mile in, I realized I’d forgotten to take my inhaler with me. Turned out I didn’t need it, but taking a puff before the treadmill, I had to walk after mile 1 because I just couldn’t get air in. Now I only take it if an attack has already started.


Comment by carlakempert

Hi Carla!
I’m not a fan of it either. Thanks so much for writing in! Best wishes, Tara


Comment by TaraSchiro

I’ve been trying to work up to a 1.5 mile run in 14.5 minutes (police officer physical exam) but find it difficult with my eia. Suggestions?


Comment by Rob

Rob I have several suggestions. First, train up to distances longer than 1.5 miles. Even up to 5 miles. 1.5 will never feel easy until you have gone well beyond that distance. Second, find the distance you need to go to get your “second wind” and do a warm-up run to get there, then rest a bit to let your asthma settle down. Some runners even do sprints to intentionally bring on an asthma attack 30 minutes before their run, because the body releases hormones to fight the asthma and gives them a period of relief once it subsides. Finally, hit an albuterol inhaler 20 mins before the run, then 10 minutes before the run. Give it time to work — don’t wait and try to hit it right before you hit the pavement. Best of luck!


Comment by mtjhax

Hi Rob, consistency is the key. There is a great, great, series of articles in Runner’s World Magazine called the Newbie Chronicles. If you can get your hands on it, please do. It will give you an idea of where you are in the crowd, which is well on your way! But, I would add that consistency is the key. Mtjhax is right about going farther than 1.5 in order to be comfortable with this and gain speed. I would suggest to you, since you are so new to running, that you start slow, and make it a point to go out 3 or times per week if you can. Cross training is good on the off days, stretching, weights, yoga, spin, swim, etc. But on the days you are trying to run, do a combination walk/run for 1 mile several times per week and go up from there. Eventually you will get to 2 miles, 3 miles, 6 miles, with a walk/run pace. When you get to the longer distances, you will soon see that your running time will begin to be longer than your walking time and your pace will gradually improve. Again, Runner’s World Magazine is a great place to start. No, I am not getting paid to endorse them, just love the mag. Happy running!


Comment by taraschiro

Wow. Your blog really hit home and brought tears to my eyes. I was diagnosed with eia in college. Still, I didn’t believe it. I just thought I was out of shape because I couldn’t finish a mile in the required time. No matter how much or how hard I worked out, I felt awful about myself inside because I couldn’t keep up with other runners. Right now, thinking of running stirs up such a fear in me because it has always been the visible proof confirming my failure at fitness. The truth was and is – I am very strong. I just can’t breath. Now, at age 45, I took the plunge and did a sprint tri. Everything was great until the run. Wheezing hard I had to walk. I so want to conquer this. I want to be able to run a marathon — mostly because it scares me beyond belief. But I know that it would be such a mental triumph for me. Today. Today is the day I start to train for it. Baby steps but I want to do it and show my kids that even if you’re slow and fat and old and breath funny it doesn’t end there. You can be strong in mind and body — an athlete. Today. I’m going to get my shoes on right now. Thank you. It helps to know I’m not alone.


Comment by Marietta

Rock on Marietta! I think you tapped into the same feelings that got me running despite my asthma. The fact that running is literally the hardest sport for me to do is what spurs me on. I hate feeling like this sport thinks it can defeat me!

fyi, my web site is on hiatus at the moment as I’m too busy to work on it… hopefully I will have a chance to get it going again because I really want to connect with all of you folks who go through the same trials and share our stories!


Comment by mtjhax

Thank you! I’m still on my way. I’m up to 2.5 miles at 11:45 pace before I have to walk for a bit. I’ve got a long way to go but I can push harder each week before the wheezing starts. Your other comment about when to use the inhaler is very helpful. I will try that for my Friday workout. The running certainly benefits me with my other sports. I’ve now reached a point with my cycling that my legs need to rest before my lungs do. Yea!!


Comment by Marietta

Tara, I’m a 43-yr old guy dealing with much the same issues. I think my asthma is slightly less severe than yours but all your stories give me a sense of déjà vu. I have also made the mistake of trying to run with those people who have perfect, genetically elite lungs. Ultimately, I feel like runners with asthma end up learning to shun other runners and running culture, which is really unfortunate.

I’m trying to start up a community web site at for people like us to discuss, vent, offer advice, etc. I just got the site up and running and it needs work, but I invite you and your readers to come by and check it out. After reading your blog, I’m thinking maybe it needs a page with links to people’s blogs!


Comment by Mike J.

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