Running With Asthma


If You’re Running with Asthma, You Have Trust Issues

Getting your head out of the way when running is hard for any type of runner, but it’s a bigger problem for those of us with asthma.  Getting your head and your lungs to work as a team is almost impossible.  Adding a trainer or instructor to the mix could land you in the hospital. Trust is huge.

Before I realized I had EIA, I tried, and failed, several aerobic classes.  I could never keep up. I was immediately tired and about halfway through the class I was spent. The instructor would see me lagging behind and “encourage” me to keep going. I just couldn’t do it.  My body was so weak from lack  of oxygen that I had to stop. Completely embarrassed, I tried as best I could and then made excuses at the end of the class for why I couldn’t participate the way the others did. For three or four days after the class I was completely exhausted and wanted to sleep for hours. Eventually I gave up trying, thinking I was just too out of shape to attend an aerobic class.

I’ve always had the desire to run, but again, could never keep up. I tried and failed at running for the better part of twenty years.  When running with other people, I stopped to walk early in the run, like, in the first five minutes.  They would all say the same thing: are you tired already? Yes.  So I stopped running with other people.  I ran alone but never had much success going more than two miles and that was hard.

Once I figured out I had EIA, the real work began both physically and emotionally.  I wanted to run; I had the desire, but I felt my lungs were holding me back. What I realized is that my brain was holding me back.  The unhealthy dialogue in my  head went like this: I can’t run that far. I can’t run that fast. I can’t climb that  hill. I can’t do sprints. I can’t run a ½ marathon. I can’t, I can’t I can’t.  The reason I gave myself? I have asthma, so I can’t. It took me many months, if not years, to overcome this.

Runners need trainers to improve. Or at least good advice from reputable places such as Runner’s World Magazine. But here’s the thing, I discounted myself as a runner.  I was a runner with a handicap that a trainer or magazine or even a fellow runner didn’t understand. I would look at other runners who seemed to excel at their sport and immediately put clarification to their success: they don’t have asthma. I needed to trust myself and my body before I could have ears to hear the information that would make me a better runner, with or without asthma.

I had to trust that I wasn’t going to pass out on the trail.  I had to push myself to my absolute limit before I could trust anyone else to push me to the limit. I had to learn for myself how asthma affects me up the hills, in the wind, in 100 degree heat, in the rain, during allergy season, and during spin class. I am a member of a running team at church and they are all experienced runners; I could learn from them. It’s hard for me to take their advice so that I can run faster or longer because…they don’t have asthma. I don’t trust that my body will be able to do what their body can do.

I’ve made huge strides in the last four years.  I’ve completed four ½ marathons and more than 35 5K events. My time has improved, my speed has improved, but I still have trust issues. I’m learning to tell myself that I am a runner. Period. And runner’s need help if they want to improve. But to put yourself in a vulnerable position, to allow another runner, or an instructor, or a trainer, to tell you what to do and how far to push your body is just downright scary. It’s a major trust issue.

–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 http://www.amazon.com/No-Arms-Legs-Problem-happens/dp/0986305308 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble http://www.NoArmsNoLegsNoProblem.com


20 Comments so far
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Thank you for this blog! I moved to Denver in 2012 (after running my 4th half marathon), and have not been able to run more than 3 miles. EIA is brand new to me, and the frustration is off the charts. I am currently on Advair twice a day and use Xopenex 30 minutes before exercising. Neither seem to do any good. I ran 1.2 miles yesterday at a 1 minute slower pace, and still coughed all day. I slept 11 hours last night from sheer exhaustion from that small run. In other climates, I do not have EIA…at all. I lived in San Diego and ran a 2:11 half marathon 6 weeks before I moved here. Other than moving, do you have any advice that would be helpful for me? Does it sound like there is something I am missing?

Thanks agin for your blog!
Nate

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Comment by Nate

Hi Nate, thanks for writing in!
My first question to you is this: you said that right after you moved to Denver you started having problems. You also said that was 2012. This is 2014. So my question is, what have you been doing during the two years since you have been there? Did you stop running and now two years later are trying to run the same pace that you did two years ago? Or, have you been running consistently at that same pace four times per week these two years and are now having problems? Running is something you must be consistent with. You can’t stop for a length of time and then expect to jump back to the same place that you were before. My second question is have you tried running on a treadmill indoors? Maybe the cold weather is bothering you so you could try the warmer climate inside. Either way, a strong foundation is the key. Consistency is the key. Sounds like you need to build your base back up again. Start with walk jog walk jog for a while until you can get back to a comfortable pace. Remember that the lungs are a muscle; if you don’t use them, you lose them. If however you have been running consistently for the past two years since you’ve been there, then I would suggest going to the doctor. Maybe you have some sort of virus that is affecting your breathing. Best wishes to you and thanks again for writing in!

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Thanks fort the quick reply, Tara! I have been here 16 months and have ran off and on. In the beginning everyone said “It’s the altitude, it will get better”. But, during those periods, if I did run 2 miles, I would be hacking a coughing for the next day with chest pain. I finally learned to slow down my pace quite a bit. Even still, I am not able to run distance. I have found that if I slow the pace down and run a mile, then hack, cough, recover, I am able to run another mile or 2 after with minimal chest pain. The downside, is if I choose to push like this, I sleep anywhere from 10-12 hours that night. It exhausts me to the core. The big kicker: I have never had any symptoms of asthma (and no trace in my family) until moving to CO. When I go to other places, I do not seem to have these symptoms. I am seeing a new specialist and hoping there is some option for me, where I am able to train my body to go run at least 4 miles a few times a week without being such an ordeal. In the meantime, I am trying to educate myself as much as possible. Thanks again for this great blog! If there is any insight you have that I am missing, please let me know! nate@natepost.com

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Comment by natepost

I started running with asthma last year in the summer. Am always trying to push myself just a little further when I run. But what I want to know is how much do you push your self before taking a rest to catch your breath?

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Comment by Candace

Hi Candace,
There are some great training schedules on the net and also in the running magazines. I would suggest taking a look at these for safe increments in mileage per week. I can’t say how much to push yourself before you rest because 1) I am not a doctor, and 2) I am not you. We are all different in our EIA. But I can say that you will need to work to find your personal boundary line. This is the conversation that goes on in my head when I am trying to run farther or faster: This is how fast or far I ran last time; how did I feel after that? Did I pass out? No. Did I suffer for two hours afterwards? No. Have I had enough to eat and drink today to handle extra speed or more mileage? Am I in the safe zone for adding mileage? My legs are hurting…is this normal or am I being a wimp? The bottom line, Candace, is that you have to learn to read your body like an engine. Sometimes it is okay to push farther and sometimes it is not. It depends on the day and your mental state of mind and the fuel you have put in your body (or not). You need to learn your own personal warning signs of an impending attack and then learn to stop well short of that. It’s all a mind trip. Good luck to you! Thanks for writing in, Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

It’s good to know that there are other people with asthma who want to run. Mine is very mild, but it still interferes with my running. I also used to believe that I couldn’t run because of it, but training on the elliptical has proven to me that I can improve if I keep at it. I manage by taking sips of water to keep my airways from drying out, though I’ll have to try using my inhaler pre-emptively.

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Comment by albrightwrites

Good luck to you Joana! Thanks for writing in, Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Wow!!!Im so glad I found this blog…I have asthma..and I wish WISH very hard that I could run but everytime I try,,,,Its rediculous how fast I get tired…Literally 20 seconds…I keep telling myself Im out of shape. I recently started power walking and have a deeep desire to run and to trust myself. It makes me sad because I feel like I have a curse. I wish I could work out alot. Now I realized why I get so tired. After a good workout I get very tired…Now I know why…The lack of oxygen. This is a great blog. Finally a group of people that understand me….

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Comment by Ivannia

Hi Ivannia, welcome aboard! We definitely understand you here, you are good company. So that I don’t have to repeat myself, read some some of my posts to see how slow and steady workouts are the key to improvement. Just concentrate on regular walking workouts right now. Walk for five minutes, then jog for 30 seconds, them walk for 2 minutes, then jog for 30 seconds, and keep alternating as your comfortable. The key is consistency. Walk several times per week, a mile at a time. This will prepare your lungs for the short times of jogging. Soon enough, the times you jog will get longer and longer. You can do it with patience and consistency! Keep us posted on your progress. Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

i’m 42, grew up in emergency rooms due to asthma attacks, pneumonia from colds, etc. Ate prednis*** , Albute***, evey inhaler on the market for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was told by all the experts, coaches, doctors, marines, i could never run. I always tried to sprint my way, and never listened to myself/my body. Through my teens, 20’s,30’s, I would always try to run, but would last about a minute.

But, now, every time i run a half (7 so far, i think, hard to keep track), i keep getting faster. It took 2 years of training consistanly to get to a sub 10 min/mile 10k.

After 40 years of being told “no you can’t” and believing others that I “won’t be able to”, I realized that if you do only half of what you think you can do, start out half as fast as the experts “guess” you can, and build from there, you will be successful. Kind of like my “2” rule. It just takes twice as long to train. Twice as much effort to believe in, and trust, yourself. That’s all. When I started training I could run 200 feet. In 2 days, I’m finishing a marathon.

Don’t expect immediate results, just don’t give up. You’ll realize that 4 seconds better will turn in to 15 minutes faster, over time.

The Greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do. -Walter Bagehot

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Comment by chris

Hi Chris, thanks so much for your words of inspiration! Very powerful. Thanks, Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

I totally agree with you about the trust issues. I am learning to trust myself. I am my own trainer simply because no one can appreciate exactly how difficult it is to run with asthma. Because of this I do not call myself a “runner”, I consider myself a “jogger” because I am slow. I only compete with myself in terms of time. However, it is really frustruating to run with someone who is the same age, athletic ability and stamina and they beat you by 2 minutes. Yes there is some element of shame. I have to admit that I do get very fearful of bronchospasms but have just been pushing through them. I use both a preventative inhaler daily and albuteral right before I run but still have bronchospasms. My next race is going to be in the cold winter air and I am already contemplating not doing it. Although I feel that these goals are so important for growth as an individual both physically and mentally. Thanks for this site, it really is encouraging!!

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Comment by Crystal

Dear Crystal: The difference between running and jogging is intent, not speed. YOU ARE A RUNNER and don’t let anyone tell you different!! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us; it’s very helpful. Keep up the great work and let us know how you progress!!

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Comment by TaraSchiro

I am not in great shape, but I am very strong. I am training with some co-workers, most of them aspiring to run a 1/2 marathon and I am shooting for the whole enchilada. I know I my have to walk most of it, due to my severe asthma. But I am doing it, if I have to crawl. I have five more months of training and I am doing well.
My trouble lies in – I am the only one with asthma and I seem to be the only one not defeated at the outset. I am not sure if I am just being unrealistic, naive, or stupid. I know I can do this. I know I am capable. With training I can accomplish this, run/walking or even just walking. The negativity is starting to get overpowering. I am not sure if I should just say screw it and do it by myself. I know I will be sore, tired, miserable, etc. at some point – but I am ready to tackle this goal.

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Comment by jane

Hi Jane! I admire your grit and I’m wondering how you did on your marathon?! I would love to hear your story. Please give us an update on your tenacity. Love this!! Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

I’ve had asthma all my life – diagnosed only after I almost drowned during a beginner swimming test. I knew I had trouble breathing but everyone said at the time it was just that I wasn’t trying hard enough and out of shape – at 8 years old??? Now at 49, I’m attempting my 2nd half marathon with Team in Training – it has been very difficult and many times I feel like people just don’t understand when I say it’s my lungs – not my legs – that are holding me back. I keep trying though. I love the analogy of running with asthma is like breathing through a straw. I must admit though, even at this age, I still feel a sense of shame regarding it. I hate when people comment on how hard I’m breathing, or insist on trying to make me talk on long runs. Most people just don’t seem to get it.

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Comment by Jennifer

Hi Jennifer! I am re-reading some of the comments here and I’m curious, how are things going for you? I would love to hear how you are progressing; are you still feeling the shame or is this getting resolved with. Ore running? Keep it up, you can do it!!! Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Great blog! I’ve had Asthma (allergy/exercise.. just period!)since I was 1 years old. I’m on Advair and proair. It held me back from doing so many thing but I always wanted to run. Two years ago I met someone that said they would get me to run. I didn’t believe it would happen but it did! My asthma has improved but my time is slow and it’s hard to explain to people why I run so slow. SOmeone once said “running with asthma is like breathing through a straw”. I’d have to agree. I still do get nervous on some runs and races that if I push to hard I won’t finish. It’s been a journey but I’m amazed at where my body and lungs have taking me in the past 2 years.

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Comment by lisa

I collapsed once on a hike. Everyone was like “you can do it” but I’d already pushed myself beyond where I should’ve stopped. I just could not breath that day. It’s hard to find a trainer who understands the truth – there will just be days that my breathing is so bad I cannot push on. It is hard to trust someone who refuses to hear that.

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Comment by Joy in Seattle

Hi Joy! How are you progressing with your running? I would love to hear an update! Keep climbing those hills, you can do it!! Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro




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