Running With Asthma

If You’re Running with Asthma, You MUST Run Consistently

One of the most popular questions that lands people on this blog is “Can I run…a full marathon, a 1/2 marathon, cross country, a ten minute mile…a 5K… with asthma?” The second most popular question is, “How…do I breathe while running with asthma, run a faster mile, keep up with my fellow runners, train for a 1/2 marathon or 5K?

The short answer to both questions is, “Yes, you can,” and “be consistent.”

The lungs are a muscle. The more you use them, the stronger they get.This is true for everyone. Using your lungs consistently, to make them stronger, is what coaches and trainers call “building your base.” Again, this is true for all runners. But if you have asthma, laying a running foundation can take twice as long and might need twice as much discipline as our non-asthma-running counterparts for two reasons: 1) we might need more rest, and 2) we who have EIA have the added benefit of thinking we’re going to pass out and die right in the middle of the trail. .

Building a base, or foundation, is not easy.  It’s the process the entire body engages in to prepare itself for the lofty goal of running faster or participating in an event. There are a lot of hills to overcome and many rainstorms to get through both physically and emotionally.The brain is key here: discipline, negative self-talk, fear, self-esteem, pain threshold, etc. all need to be addressed. When I first started running with asthma, as soon as I felt my quads or lungs (weak muscles), the mind trip began. “I have to stop, I can’t do this, I can’t breathe, I’m in pain,” and on and on. I had to train myself where my boundary line was. I had to remind myself that I’ve climbed that hill before and nothing happened. I didn’t pass out, I didn’t die. And I’m not only fine, but I’m a little strong for it.

Laying a running foundation is akin to bringing self-awareness to your body. As you run on a consistent basis (three to four times per week with cross training in-between), you begin to learn who you are as a person and as a runner. Do you have the discipline to run if your roommate wants to watch a movie instead? Of if it’s raining? Will your ego allow you to stop and walk if you get tired? Do you run on a treadmill or after dark so people won’t judge you? Do you give up easily with sore muscles? The process of building a base works out all the kinks. It might take four to six months, or it might take a year to learn about your mind and your body through consistent running, but it’s necessary to allow your muscles (lungs, heart, legs, back, core, brain) to get stronger so they can handle the upcoming speed or mileage increase to train for a marathon.

The amount of people that have written me to ask, “How can I run faster to pass the test…next week,” is enlightening. Whether it’s a military or academy or sports trial or test, the questioner wants immediate results. I wish I had a magic pill they could take but it doesn’t exist. Humans naturally want to do better without first laying the foundation, myself included. Wanting the reward without putting in the work has tripped me up more times than I can count.

I remember vividly it taking two or three days for me to recuperate from a two mile run. Once my lungs were inflamed from a run, any type of movement–laundry, straightening the house, running errands–would be understood by my lungs as exercise. I had to stop moving and rest. That was when I was on four asthma medications per day. It took me a couple of years to build a strong base because I had to rest A LOT. I am now med-free and have completed five half-marathon events and the full Los Angeles Marathon in 2014. 26.2 miles, baby!

Here’s the bottom line about consistency: it allows you to gradually and safely reach your goal. No weightlifter starts out lifting 200 lbs. No swimmer gets to Olympic speed in a few months. It takes time, patience, discipline and regular workouts to get where you want to be. Once you are physically fit from building a base, now you can work with a coach to run faster or longer. A base gives you a foundation to pull from, experience to lean on when the workouts become harder and more demanding. You know who you are and what you can handle; this information will propel you to your goal.

Maybe you can only walk for one mile. Maybe you can run for two or ten miles. Regardless of where your starting point is, start slow and work your way up a little bit at a time each week. This prevents injury and safely gets you to your next goal. Get rid of your ego and give yourself a break. Walk if you have to.Get on a good nutrition plan. Read about other runners. Sign up for a 5K and don’t worry about your time. Above all, be consistent.

Remember, it’s not just the lungs that need consistent workouts, it’s also the mind. We need to train our brains, through consistency, that we can do this. We can run with asthma without it running us.

–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 at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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