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


32 Comments so far
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Thank you Tara for your advice and past experience! i’m so glad I found your site as I’ve been struggling with this issue of EIA and trying to enjoy my passion of running at the same time!

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Comment by Chaya C.

I have been a runner for many years. I have run 5Ks up to marathons. I used to be able to run a 25-minute 5K. A year ago, I began to experience EIA. I have an albuterol inhaler which I use before I run. This has helped a lot but I still cannot run like I used to without asthma. I never feel like I’m exchanging air as well as I could before, and if I run fast (5K pace), I still wheeze a little. Do you think I will be able to get back to the runner I was without EIA?

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Comment by Michele

Is it okay to start cross country and do races while making a base?there is a race tomorrow and I have asthma I’m still debating if I should go or not

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Comment by Anna

Hi Anna,
Kudos to you for taking your exercise program seriously by taking interest in Cross Country! Joining a team is a big commitment. Running is running, so if you decide to join, then all the practices and all the races will contribute to building your base. This is fine. HOWEVER, keep in mind that you probably won’t realize your goals until next year’s cross country season, assuming you run consistently all year long to build a strong base. The reason for the base is this: to strengthen your muscles, strengthen your lungs and heart, and to strengthen your mind (we need to get a grip on the mind chatter). Once you have built all of these muscles from a year long building of your base, then when you start cross country for the second time (next year), you can use your new strength to springboard to your goals of running faster and farther. It’s hard to reach the goals of faster and farther before you worked out all the kinks and strengthened all the muscles. It’s fine to join the team now just as long as you know that you will be faster next season. It’s hard to be on a team without a base. You can do it but it will take more work. As long as you know that, then go for it. Good luck!!!

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Comment by TaraSchiro

It’s hard to run. I’m in the army with eia. One doctor diagnosed me and he want to kick me out for not passing two mile run in 1700. The first mile is hard but the second mile I almost wanna die. Another doctor said. Don’t have it, but I know I do, my worst trigger is in the cold. It is horrible for my lungs. Everyone keeps acting like I’m making it up. I know I’m not, my two younger brothers both have asthma. It’s getting so irritating having to take it over and over again and not pass. The fastest I can run it now is 20 minutes. Not sure what I can do.

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Comment by jones30jones

i have asthma and I want to run a 5k for school im kind of scared what would happen what should I do?

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Comment by Christine Peterson

thanks
i totally agree with u
can u please tell me i am using my levolin inhaler prior to running.
Is inhaler or medicine best for running?
Shall i continue with my inhaler

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Comment by mandeep

hi myself mandeep from INDIA.I am suffering from bronchial asthma.My age is 20year. Now i am preparing myself for INDIAN ARMY.But it demand to run 1mile in 5min. 15sec.and i am not able to run at this speed. Currently i am running 1 mile in 7min. 12sec. So please help me sothat i can run 1mile in 5min. 15sec. I have 4 month preparation time and also suggest me about diet and how to ru

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Comment by MANDEEP YADAV

Hi Mandeep, I apologize but I am not a running coach or a doctor. I cannot give specific advise for running a 5 minute mile. You will need to look for a running coach where you live to train you. Look for a coach who has experience training runners to race in track meets. Best of luck to you. Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Hi! Thank you so much for your blog. Like all the other comments above, it’s really helped provide me with some informative material. About 4 months ago I suffered from bronchitis and since I haven’t been able to breathe comfortably during longer runs. I’m a triathlete (half-ironman in 2 weeks) and also planning on running my 3rd marathon in Oct. When I had bronchitis my dr talked to me about allergies/EIA but it didn’t resonate with me as I’ve never thought I had “asthma”. Now when I’m on my long runs my lungs are tight, my breathing is shallow, and I feel like I cant get my breathing down. Frustrating as I’ve been running for 8 years! My question for you is have you changed your diet around? I’ve read a few articles about going vegan (no dairy/eggs), but curious if there’s certain foods you avoid?

Thank you so much!!

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Comment by Andrea

Hi Andrea!
Thanks so much for writing in. I can’t say there are any foods that I avoid in particular but checking to see if you have any allergies to certain foods is always a good thing. Runners World always has great articles about food choices, which give energy and which sap energy so I would check with them as a proper resource. How is the marathon training going? Still on track for October? I am also getting over sickness so will be posting soon about the “5 centimeter mass” I had in my lung recently. Getting over lung ailments is a drag. Hopefully you are all healed and on your way to the finish line. Let us know how you are doing! Best wishes, Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Hi Tara, I am so glad to have found your blog. I have been reading through it and, as one who has been living with asthma and much sickness through life, it has been very encouraging. The past few years my asthma has improved greatly and I have actually been able to get into an exercise routine the past couple months. Since the exercise classes have been going well, I have been considering running. Since I have never done running before, I have no idea where to even begin. You said we had to build a base and I know I would probably have to start out with walking and work my way to running. Do you any tips for getting started or how to safely figure out what a base would be? I was looking at the couch to 5k program and wondering if that would be anything I could go by. Thank you so much!
Adrienne

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Comment by mayidelightinhim

Hi Adrienne!
You are on the right track! Getting into running starts with intent, not speed so you are well on your way. You are correct; start with walking, jog 30 seconds, then walk, and keep alternating. If you do this 3 to 4 times per week you will see improvement in no time. A base is simply a “place to start (other) training, or a foundation on which to build from.” For example, if you jog/run for at least 30 minutes, 4 times per week, for 6-8 weeks, this is a base on which to start training for a 1/2 or full marathon, or even a 5K. Your body needs to get used to the idea of running and there are many kinks to work through during this time. Once your head and your body have come to terms with this routine, then you can build on the foundation in place to do longer or faster runs. Make sense? Let us know how you are progressing! Thanks for writing in, Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

That makes total sense. Thank you! And I hope you get feeling better

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Comment by mayidelightinhim

Thank you!

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Hi Tara.

I have just come across your blog, as I needed a pick me up. I have all round asthma, and every time I keep going back to the docs, they keep putting me on stronger medication.

I have also just recently started a blog/diary about the same topic. I started off power walking which was a huge step for me as for the past 3 years after having pneumonia and being told I had asthma I have been to scared to do anything and I have just let it take hold of my life.

I have decided to train for a half marathon which I have a year and 2 weeks to train for. At the moment I am only running 0.4/0.5 miles an power walking about 0.6 miles. I can’t yet run from the word go as a tire out very quickly, so I have to power walk first then run. I have been at it for 3 weeks now, and as you said it is extremely difficult to forget that you have asthma and not worry about passing out half way through, I am still currently trying to get over that.

Would you say a year and 2 weeks is a long enough time to train for the half marathon for someone like myself? And how often did you run/walk a week?

Great blog, really glad I found this!

Zoe.

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Comment by zhallam

Hi Zoe!
Yay for you! You are my hero. Absolutely you can do this! I love that you are starting slow and gradually increasing. This is key. But, just know that it will be a long time before you can “run on the word go.” We all need a good warm up before we start. Some people can warm up by jogging a slower pace than the race pace and some of us need to walk a mile and some of us jog/walk/jog a mile before we are ready to run. I have run five different 1/2 marathon events and each time it takes the first mile for me to warm up to “race” pace. I don’t actually “race” so maybe I should say “event” pace. At any rate, the first mile is much slower on purpose. Once I hit mile two then I am a little more comfortable and by mile three I hit my stride and stay at an even pace throughout. I’m very excited for you! Please let us know your progress! You can do it! Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Hi!
I’ve has asthma since i was really young and i really want to run a 5k called run or dye thank you so much for this information 🙂

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Comment by Megan

Hi Megan! Were you able to particiapte in the “run or dye” 5K? Let us know! Thanks for writing in! Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

You’ve put together a great chunk of information Tara! I hope that this information encourages more people with Asthma to work with the condition for a healthier lifestyle. It takes a lot of patience to work through but you have definitely achieved an amazing goal. You’re right- your lungs are muscles. They act just like every other muscle in your body. You can work your way up to being capable of running 10 k but if you don’t keep it up, you’ll fall right back to where you originally were.

Keep up the hard work!

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Comment by mcn9

Hi Tara,
First of all I wanna say thanks for all the info! This is the best info I’ve ever found on the internet.
Im not a runner, asthma has always frieghtend me. 2 weeks ago I decided to become a runner and not fear the unknown. Im up to half mile before I have to rest. I walk and then get back at it. but by the 2 mile range I start becoming very dizzy. I have weaned myself off the advair, singular and albuterol last year…but now am in more need of it than ever. Im concerned that I am getting dizzy. is this because Ive not been a runner, will this go away? Should I just do a mile for a while? I am planning a 5k in november.
Thanks in advance!

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Comment by Starlit

Hi Starlit,
Thanks for writing in! Glad to hear you are starting a regular exercise routine. Just make sure you start slow to build a solid foundation. There are many things that could contribute to dizziness such as dehydration and not enough oxygen and poor diet. I would say to start by walking first, not running. Walk one mile per day or several times per week. Just walk for a few weeks before you start working your way up to running. If you are dizzy, call it a day and go see your doctor. Regular, consistent, methodical, safe, exercise will make you stronger and will allow you to build a healthy foundation to run upon. Get a subscription to a running magazine, this will help as well. Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Hi Tara, I started running in 2005. In 2006 I was doing quite well and sometimes placing in my age group in 5k’s. Then I got Lyme disease followed that Fall with H1N1 Flu. Since then my breathing has suffered greatly. My body is strong, but my lungs won’t cooperate. Doctor said it is EIA. I tried a variety of meds. with some success at first, but then things always went bad again. I decided I was going to do my running without meds. I will be 50 this summer and am training for the Disney Goofy in January 2013. I have run some halves, not quickly, 10 to 11 minute miles. My lungs are getting stronger the more I run. I run 3 to 10 miles at 10 to 10:50 pace. If warmed up well I can run 400’s at 1:50 – but I cannot sustain this speed because my lungs won’t cooperate any longer than short distances for fast running. But every now and then for no apparent reason I have a terrible run. Can’t breath, legs heavy… Will this always happen? Several great runs then a terrible one. The most frustrating part of this is I cannot predict how a run will go before I start – I know usually within the first mile. Some days if I keep running I can push through it and at mile 3 or 5 my body just kicks in and does what it needs to do. This weekend I powered all the way through a miserable 5 miles, body never cooperated. The worst run in months. Is there anything I can do to keep this from happening? Thanks for any suggestions. Maria

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Comment by Maria Myles

Hi Maria,
You’re singing to the choir! Sorry for the late response, I’ve been on hiatus. The answer is “no.” I wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t. There are several factors that cause a miserable run: poor diet on a particular day or not enough hydration, something in the air, not enough rest, hormone cycles, viruses, over-training, under-training, you name it. We can be effected by the littlest things. I am a regular reader of running magazines and I also listen to the chatter of runners who do seven minute miles and they complain of the same thing: some days we just don’t have it in us. Speed is not my friend either. I”m better at distance. To get faster takes a lot of training…regular runs during the week with intervals, speed work, long runs, cross training with weights, yoga, etc. You have to build a strong foundation as a spring board for more mileage and speed. It takes months and years. Just be patient, diligent, consistent, and patient. This is hard but if you can just roll with those bad days you’ll be better off. It just comes with the territory. Thanks for writing in! Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Thank you Tara, you are so inspiring! if you can do it, i can do it!
I was always very athletic until i had my first asthma attack in my mid-teens. I was never the same again. Now i am in my late 30s, and have had the fantasy of being able to run for years. I want to run and feel free… not have a ball and chain. But every time i run, i can’t breathe. My lungs scream, my diaphragm tightens, my legs get heavy and can’t move, and my mind thinks i am going to collapse. So i have to stop. Meds (inhalers) haven’t helped. Going slower hasn’t helped. I haven’t found the solution yet…
Your blog has given me the inspiration to try again, and get through the hurdles and strengthen my lungs and find a pace that works.

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Comment by rebecca

Hi Rebecca,
You are singing to the choir, my dear! I have been on hiatus, hence the late reply, but I hope that you have found some middle ground in your exercise. I have a solution for you but I’m afraid that you won’t want to hear it; I didn’t. The solution is to start by walking. This is hard. I am very impatient and want to just RUN and “feel free” as you say “without the ball and chain.” I get it. I”m so with you. But the key to being able to do this is to develop a good base, a good foundation of strength. We all want to go out and “just do it” but running doesn’t work that way, especially if we are struggling with EIA. You must, must, must develop a foundation to run on. Start with walking a mile every day, or as many days as your schedule will allow. Do this for a few weeks. What this does is begin to train your body that every day you are going to exercise. It takes a while to teach your muscles and your brain what to do. The heavy feeling in your legs is lactic acid. All runners and swimmers get this, even the Olympic athletes. You have to teach your mind what your body is feeling and vice versa. Start this process with walking, let all the systems in your body get on the same page before you start running. Do a brisk walk, not slow, get your heart pumping, but WALK. After a few weeks, you can begin to incorporate some running but do it slow. Walk one minute, jog 30 seconds, alternate. And only do this a couple time per week at first so you can let your body adjust. On the other day continue to walk. Then you can slowly work your way up. It took me two years to get to the point where I could run 3 miles and beyond to the 1/2 marathon. A strong, consistent, disciplined, methodical, foundation is the key. Trust me. Get a subscription to a running magazine. This will help. Thanks for writing in and let us know how you are doing! Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

I am very impressed by your patience and guts. I am a competitive runner in my 60’s who ran in the 16 minute range in 5k races in my 30’s. Being a basketball player and not knowing what I was doing I had my ass handed to me in races but I eventually bullied my way to some good local times and successes in my age group. To the point, I never learned how to compete at the next level. Recently I decided to learn how to compete at a national level after being hurt off and on for two years…. You are 100% correct about being patient, resting and creating a strong base… You need strength to compete and wisdom to succeed. Running with asthma is much like running after 60….. It takes guts, patience and a belief that it can be done… Great job!
Pete

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Comment by Pete

Hi Pete! Wow, your words are like gold nuggets of encouragement! Thank you so much for sharing, especially your age. There are readers here that are under the impression that we are headed down hill after 40, and they seem to be settling because “we can’t do what we used to.” You are proving this isn’t so!! Keep up the good work and keep us posted! Thank you, Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

Just curious how you’ve managed to go med free. I’ve run for years and find I need stronger ones. Are you doing Buteyko or similar breathing exercises?

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Comment by Kim Ribbink

Hi Kim! Thanks so much for sharing! If you want the full story of how I went med free, it’s all here on the blog. You will have to read through the various posts. The short answer is this: consistent weekly workouts to develop a strong base, clearing out mental baggage that was holding me back in all areas in life (and it was showing up in my running…”I can’t”…), lots of prayer, and, as I got stronger mentally and physically, I just slowly weened off all the meds. The thing about medication is that the more you take, the more you need. This is just my opinion, I’m not a doctor, but medication can make us dependent on medication. In my case, I found that once I got my lungs to a point that they were strong enough to handle a 1/2 marathon, that is when I started the process of decreasing the meds. And then I discovered that the meds were actually making my asthma worse, keeping me symptomatic. I needed to decide whether to add more medication or go off of it completely. The meds do not strengthen your lungs like regular exercise. So when the meds get to their threshold of being effective (and again this is all just my opinion, I’m not medically trained), then the lungs will require something stronger or different. And this is when the doctor will want to up the meds or try something different. This is why regular, consistent exercise is soo crucial. Exercise adds strength, builds muscle, cleans the toxins out of the body, gets things lubricated, fuels the brain, etc etc. Medication cannot do that. Granted, sometimes we need it; I’m not anti-med. if you have to take it, take it. But in my case, the benefit that the meds once gave me had worn off and I saw the positive effect the long distance running was having on me both physically and mentally and so I decided to try to ween myself off the meds. I was scared, lots of mind games, I went slow, but once I was off I had the benefit of hindsight and that is when I clearly saw that the meds had ran their course and were holding me back. Building muscle, endurance, tenacity, mental clarity, we’re all keys to taking this step. We can get stronger with age, not weaker. Don’t fool yourself. Keep us posted on your progress! Thanks for sharing, Tara

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Comment by TaraSchiro

hey just curious of how i could start planning on joining the US Army i need a plan..I haven pretty sever asthma at times and other times its not to bad. But it only happens during exercize. There wsa a point in my life when it actually disapeared for a while. Just wondering what steps i could take as i gradually work into running wiht asthma…I.E like when should i use inhaler…when should i stop using it..how many miles. I really like to get this going and ive noticed a lot of people doing it on this site. I am also an athlete and played soccer in college just want to beat please let me know

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Comment by Kyle

Hi Kyle, Thanks for stopping by! I can’t give you advice on when or when not to use an inhaler; I’m not a Dr. Body awareness is an absolute must for runners with EIA who want to improve or try out for something, so the inhaler thing is something you will have to experiment with on your own. As far as “beating” the asthma, I would suggest reading through my blog starting with the first post in 2008 and moving forward to see the progression as I tried to figure this out. I am somewhat in “remission” right now but I believe this is because my lungs and mind are much stronger than they used to be. It is possible to be a great runner with EIA. The key is learning how to navigate and having complete body awareness, as well as learning where all the boundary lines are. Keep reading!

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Comment by TaraSchiro




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