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.



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



Running With Asthma, Is It All In Your Head?

It really bugged me when he said it was all in my head. His credentials came with a therapist certification, but he wasn’t a runner and he didn’t have asthma.  So as far as I was concerned, he didn’t know what he was talking about. I immediately dismissed his assessment by rolling my eyes, pursing my lips and refusing to look him in the eye for the rest of our time; which wasn’t hard because there were only ten minutes left. Ten, way-too-long minutes. When I arrived at home, I paced for a long time. How could he say such a ridiculous thing? How could he dismiss my symptoms, the diagnosis, all the medication? How could he so carelessly invalidate me, and the Doctor, and basically accuse me of lying? I was pissed.

He made the comment during his explanation of the mind-body connection in relation to illness.  When our minds are not in the right place, when we stuff our pain instead of dealing with it, the body takes it in and turns it into disease: tumors, cancer, acid reflux, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma, you name it. We swallow a lot of pain from life through divorce, death, abandonment, rejection, etc. and if we don’t purge it out of us in a healthy way it will stay in our body and reek havoc.  This was all fine until he said the asthma was all in my head. He laughed and insisted that I did not have exercised-induced asthma.

I did what any good rebellious woman would do. I went into the hills and ran. The dirt is my thinking ground. I did three loops on the cross country track, up and over, around and around.  Five miles later I was pooped and my lungs were burning. I couldn’t stop thinking about something else he said:  You need to set some boundaries and stop letting other people run your life. THIS I believed. I resolved to make it happen. I made an appointment with my mom and set the ground rules: no more men. One dad and two step dads is enough for me, I do not want anything to do with number four. Keep it to yourself. For the next year I had to practice keeping that boundary each time she pushed it.

Next I set boundaries with my husband. No more being responsible for his guilt and insecurities. Again, practice makes perfect to keep everyone on their own side of the fence. Once successful, I was gaining some self confidence. The half marathon was coming up and I was determined to run this one med free.  I wanted to be done with the twice-a-day Advair, the once-a-day Singulair and Alegra, and the just-before-a-run Albuterol  for a total of $150 per month.  The thought of running 13.1 miles med free was frightening, but I was determined so I pushed harder.

In another run through the hills, I started thinking about my mom and the more I thought the angrier I became. I had never been given permission to grieve the divorce, now 20 years in the past, because my anger made her feel guilty; so it was banned.  Running up the hill I felt my body begin to give out, I was running out of steam.  My breathing was labored.  My inhaler was back in the car. I allowed the anger and began to scream in my head, “She’s not my mother! She’s not my mother!” To this day, I do not know what I meant by that, but at  the time it worked as a release. As I came down the other side of the hill I was overcome with grief. For the record: it is physically impossible to run and cry at the same time. The lungs cannot multi-task. I stopped running, bent over and sobbed. Tears and snot ran from my eyes and nose. I let it all pour out of me and into the dirt. I stopped running away.

Sometime later I was forced to acknowledge that my asthma was getting better. There was no denying the relationship between my mental health and physical health; as the mental got better, so did my physical and vice versa.  I slowly weaned myself off of all the medication and ran the ½ marathon completely med free.  Then I came across some sort of spiritual book, which I can’t remember the name of, that listed all types of medical problems, from bladder infections to eye diseases, to cancer, to you guessed it…asthma. Each diagnosis had a corresponding reason to go with it. I flipped to the only one I cared about. “Asthma:  comes from not having a voice, feeling trapped.”

So I guess that annoying therapist who doesn’t run and who’s never had a breathing problem had a good point, much as I hate to admit it. My symptoms were real. My diagnosis was real. I failed the breathing diagnostic test at the hospital with flying colors. My disease was real. But the problem wasn’t in my lungs; the problem was in my soul. My mind, being the control freak that it is, and not knowing what to do with a soul feeling of being trapped, a feeling of not having a voice, sent the problem to my lungs. It was too much for them to bear;  they began to shut down and I couldn’t breathe.

I’ve run five ½ marathons so far, two of them med free and one full marathon, without so much as an inhaler. I feel free when I run; the wind blowing my hair, the music in my ears.  And my soul is happy with every deep and relaxing breath.

-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



Asthma “Cured” with Long Distance Running
Showing off our medals after the Columbus 1/2 marathon

Showing off our medals after the Columbus 1/2 marathon

I recently ran (September, 2009) a 1/2 marathon in Columbus, Ohio with my childhood friend, without the use of Advair, Singulair, or Albuteral.  This was a first.  I had weaned myself off all the medication during this past summer, 2009, because I was feeling so much better from two things: First, all the running.  The key for me seems to be steady, long distance running that is providing the healing.  The more miles I log, the better my lungs function.  As a disclaimer, lest you think all I do is run, let me say that I log on average about 15-20 miles per week.  Not very much in the grand scheme of things.  When I run I try to do between 4 and 6 miles on weekdays and longer on the weekends.  Consistency is the key.

The second component is mental stability.  A mother of an 11 year old girl wrote to me recently about the medication her daughter is being prescribed during cross country and track season and wondered if I had any thoughts.  Here is my responses to her: “Again, I’m not a Dr., but I will share with you my experience with this. First, looking back at my childhood, I can see that I had EIA and did not know it. My ’symptoms’ began showing up in PE class in middle school. (Asthma is hereditary and my dad had regular allergy induced asthma as a child and grew out of it in his teen years. My asthma seems to be exercise induced.) While running the required 1/2 mile at the beginning of class, in the required time frame, I “couldn’t keep up” and thought I was just out of shape. Through high school, I wanted to be on the cross country team but when I practiced, I was immediately tired. Like, I had to stop and walk within the first two minutes of running. I walked and jogged the rest of the way but I mistakenly thought that I couldn’t do it; I wasn’t good enough. Interestingly enough, this is the same time frame when my parents began having problems with their marriage. I did not know it at the time, but, my 13 year old brain translated their problems into a self esteem issue for me: I’m not good enough. EIA is REAL. Please do not hear me as dismissing symptoms or that it is all in the head. But, what I am now exploring in my own story, is the possibility that my feelings of not being good enough shows up, to this day, in my running. Running is something I want to do, but it is a competitive sport that puts me in an arena where I am constantly comparing myself to other runners. Can I keep up? Can I do what my coach expects of me? Can I beat my time? Even this very second as I type, my lungs are tightening just thinking about it. I will be posting more on this topic in the near future so keep reading the posts. But, let me also answer a few questions for you. Encourage your daughter to run consistently all year long, not just during XC or track season. The reason is that once a person stops running for a few weeks or months, the body then needs to start over again with the new season. Any momentum is lost and needs to be regained.  If she wants to be competitive, she needs to be consistent throughout the year. She needs to keep her base miles, her foundation, really strong so that when she begins a new season of competition she will have a steady base to use as a spring board for improvement. There is a lot of mental stress that will occur if she has not been running and then all of the sudden begins a new season with the expectation of doing better than last year. Her lungs and her brain will go into shock with this new responsibility.  If you read through my posts, you will see that every year I participate in a 7 week 5K series. Each year I improve my PR by about 4 minutes or so but this is only because I run all year long. If I were to keep starting and stopping, I would not have this kind of improvement. If she is serious about wanting to run, and is having symptoms, you should take her to a pulmonary specialist who has patients who run. But, in my experience, two things have become the cornerstone for my improvement: consistency and mental strength. Self esteem, self image, value, self worth; these are all huge barriers to any sport if they are in the negative category. If your daughter keeps running, she will learn mental strength and mental toughness. Running has a way of putting these into perspective real quick. Again, thanks for writing and please keep reading as I work through this myself.”

2009 has been a year of upheaval and tremendous growth at the same time.  I don’t want to hear that my asthma is in my head rather than exercise-induced.  However, I also cannot ignore the fact the my mental strength is getting stronger and stronger and my asthma and my running are getting better and better.  I cannot ignore the evidence that physical and mental healing are happening at the same time.  They seem to be going hand-in-hand.  The reason I put the word “cured” in quotes is because I don’t know if I am.  I don’t know that a person can ever be “cured” of asthma.  Remission, maybe.  I will keep exploring and keep running and keep posting to let you know what I discover.  Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing. (Since this posting, I completed the LA Marathon in 2014, med free)

–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



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



Run Marathon with Asthma

The first words I associate with running are “I want to,” and the second set of words to come in rapid succession are “I can’t.”  It took me awhile to honestly recognize this. When I’m running my regular trail, I often look at the hill in front of me and say to myself, “okay, I’m going to run up today instead of walk,” and then the next thing I find myself saying is, “I can’t.”  I can’t because my lungs will close.  I can’t because I won’t be able to breathe.  I can’t because I have a disability.  I can’t because I’m not strong enough.  I can’t because I have exercise-induced asthma.  I can’t.

Some of the most recent comments left on the home page of this web site deal with “I can’t.”  The lady in the military says that her superiors think she is lazy and not trying hard enough.  Another lady runs with her husband and can’t keep up.  Another lady wants to run a full marathon but as soon as she hits a certain mileage, she’s suddenly symptomatic. The words “I can’t” are so powerful.  When others say we can’t, we mistakenly believe them.  I seriously doubt that the lady in the military is lazy.  She wouldn’t be there if she were. But we believe the lie, that we can’t.

Last month my husband and I ran a 10K in Santa Barbara, CA.  It was so, so gorgeous. It was 10 miles along the coastline; 5 out and 5 back. The weather was picture perfect: clear, 58-65 degrees, little breeze.  I had so much fun taking in the scenery, thanking God that my body could participate in the run…and then the unthinkable happened. I posted a PR. I would have to go back and look up my official time but I think it was about 1:48:21.  My average speed was a 10:46 mile (remember that when I started running my average speed was a 15 minute mile!). I remember feeling so good as I was running.  No anxiety, no pressure, just enjoying the run and taking it all in.  I can run well.

This past Sunday my husband and I ran to a historic park behind our neighborhood.  It is exactly 4 miles, out and back.  The 2 miles to get there are up a slight hill (I’m guessing a 2-4% incline). It is the first time I ran the whole way up the hill without stopping. Upon our arrival, my husband said, “let’s go another mile; I want to show you the canyon.”  “I can’t,” said the peanut gallery in my head. But we pressed on and I watched my Garmin like a hawk.  As soon as we hit the mile, and not a second after, I stopped and said, “That’s a mile.”  “The trail I want to show you is just up ahead, let’s keep going.” “I can’t,” said the peanut gallery but we kept going, at a walk.  Finally, the trail was close but there was a bigger hill to get there so I said no and we turned around. I believed the lie that I couldn’t.

We started running back toward the house, which was  now 3.5 miles away.  The chatter in my head was ridiculous:  I didn’t prepare for all these extra miles, I only prepared for a total of 4.  I didn’t eat enough, I didn’t drink enough; I can’t do this.  We ran the whole way back, except to say hi to a friend coming toward us on his bike.

I can run.  My body is stronger than I think.  I felt completely fine when we got back; great even. It is my mind that is weak.  It is my mind that tells me that I can’t “because I have asthma.”  Whenever someone asks me about my running, I usually start off with, “well, I have asthma…”  Translation: I can’t run as well as you because I have a defect. I can’t.

Yes, I can.  I just have to believe that.  I have to choose to believe that.

I did not pass out after the run on Sunday. I felt good. My mind is trying so hard to hold me back from running because the mind is a powerful thing; more powerful than the lungs.

–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



I Can Run With Asthma

Yes, I can run with exercise-induced asthma.  But not without a little bit of consequence.  On my last asthma post, I was gearing up for race #4 in the 7 week 5K series.  I posted a 31:45, a PR.  Last week, race #5, I posted a 31:31.  Not bad but I paid for it for 3 days.  Yesterday, for race #6, I came in at 32:25.  Ugh. It was very humid last night.  However, my lungs feel much better and not so stressed as compared to last week.

Why this obsession with times?  I keep asking myself why I can’t just relax and enjoy it.  The obvious answer is that time is a bench mark for success.  It is a tangible result of improvement.  But, so is being able to do the race in the first place.  I can’t loose sight of that.  Last week I spoke to a friend of my mom’s, who is also a cross country coach for one of the local high schools.  He asked if I did a 7 or 8 minute mile. I rolled my eyes and laughed and said no but that I was very proud of my accomplishments, which I explained to him that I had gone from a consistent 15 minute mile two years ago to a consistent 10:30 mile, and that my new PR was 31:31 for a 5K and that in the first mile I clocked 9 minutes.  He said, “Oh.”  He wasn’t impressed.  I was hurt.  For days.

Look, running with asthma is difficult but it can be done.  The improvements definately come if I am consistent but they come in baby steps.  I’ve gone from a 46:00 5K to a 31:31.  That’s improvement!  I can’t ignore it.  I’m not going to lie to you.  In order to improve you have to push and if you push you will pay for it.  Like, sitting still for two days.  If you can’t afford that (neithe can I so I am in constant battle with my ego), then don’t push as hard.  You still have to push to improve, and it will hurt, but the benefit is that my lungs are so, so, so much stronger than they used to be.  Now, they actually crave cardiovascular exercise.  I just need to find the balance between too little and too much.

If you want to run with asthma, just do it.  Start small, take baby steps, be consistent, and just do it.




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