Running With Asthma

If you’re Running with Asthma, Breathe with your Heart

Every summer at the local college, approximately 500 runners line up on the baseball field to run a 5K Cross Country Series through the campus and the rolling hills adjacent the 5 freeway. It begins the first Thursday after the Fourth of July and continues each week for six weeks to benefit the local cross country teams. It has been a tradition for 42 years and counting.

My husband and I heard of this event right after I was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Asthma. He wanted to run the race. I wanted to watch. My immediate fear was not being able to keep up. He encouraged me to “just walk.” How embarrassing. And besides, the doctor had said running is not a good idea. What if I have an attack? Not able to stand up for myself, I allowed my husband to talk me into signing up. I pumped my body with the prescribed meds and headed to the start line.

Mind games are a given in any type of pressure situation. I have barely uttered, “I want to accomplish that,” before my own mental assault barrages me with lists and flip charts and excel sheets selling me on the top ten reasons I should not go forward. The reasons vary depending on the goal: “You need a team to do that, you don’t have the knowledge or the proper education, you are only one person.” At the start line of my first 5K: “You can’t do this, you have asthma, go slow or you’re going to pass out; you might die before they find you on the trail.”

The COCCCS is a real eye-opener. The high schools cross country teams compete so the kids in the front of the pack are fast, the leader finishing somewhere around 15 minutes. The walkers are in the back finishing around 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how many of the world’s problems they need to solve during the course. The middle of the pack is where it gets interesting.

Runners ranging in age from 80 to 10; people who if you look at them you wouldn’t think they’d be able to run to the donut box, let alone be among the fastest. There is a myth that “runners” have a certain body-type, “that’s why they can run.” Go watch a running event and that lie will be dispelled. Not many runners “look the part.” I cannot tell you how many stories I’ve heard, mine included, where a runner has said, “there was this gal or guy that I thought for sure I was going to beat and they blew me out of the water!”

They breathe with their heart.

I was gasping for air. As the pack ran ahead of me and out of sight, I began beating myself up. “I have long legs; I should be able to go faster. I’m so behind. They are probably closing down the finish line by now. I can’t believe how slow I am. This is so embarrassing. I wish I could keep up with my friends. I’m all alone. I have asthma, that’s my excuse. I just want to quit.”

Training shows you what you can do. A race shows you who you are. The ego is a powerful thing. It causes us to compare, to judge, to size-up, to inflate, to deny, and to rationalize the truth. There’s no better mirror into the soul than during competition. Our character is shaped in the heat of the battle. The pressure of rhythm and weight and time and speed during training comes out in the war of the race; who we are, who we have become, is the armor we have to fight with in that moment of fire.

I completed the 3.1 miles in 47 minutes; dead last. But I learned something.

I knew I didn’t want to be dead last ever again. I knew I wanted to run, even though I was advised against it. I knew I didn’t want asthma to rule my life. I knew I didn’t want to live in fear. I knew I wanted to run a better race, not just through the hills but in life.

Looking back I wish I could say there was an overnight transition, that I trained really hard and the next summer I blew away my previous PR by a landslide. I did not. I did train and there was improvement (several years later I ran a full marathon, 26.2 miles, med free and my PR in the COCCCS is 29:55) but it would take me the better part of twelve years and many hurdles to learn to run a race of character.

I needed to learn to breathe with my heart.

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, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram Spark.

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