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 are Running with Asthma, You Might Need to Start Over
August 11, 2013, 6:52 pm
Filed under: Asthma | Tags: , , , ,

On April 29, 2013, I was told I had a five centimeter mass in my lower right lung.

Seriously? I had speed walked (we were talking)  a 5K charity event on Saturday morning and attended a formal gala charity event Saturday night with no problems. Sunday morning for church I was tired; but, I was up early and out late the day before so why wouldn’t I be tired? Sunday afternoon I was starting to ache and by early evening I had a fever of 102. It hurt to take a deep breath. I had abdominal pain. On Monday I went to the doctor, who sent me to the ER, and was told for the fifth time since January that my lung x-ray was completely clear, but, according to the CT Scan, I had a “ginormous” (doctor’s explanation) mass in my lung that was of “deep concern.” My white blood cell count was high.

They checked for cancer, valley fever, and 25 other diseases since I had been on a mission trip to Mexicali for Easter and our house had been under remodel construction since Thanksgiving.  I had been coughing since January and every x-ray had been clear, including that day in the ER.  I spent three days in the hospital and the entire month of May in bed and on antibiotics. Joy. My pulmonologist did not want me running after the month of bed-rest. “Wait a while.”

So, to re-cap, I did not run from Christmas to the middle of July.

My first attempt to run was by default and it HURT. My daughter announced she was going for a mile long jog so I decided to follow behind with the dog; we were going to walk. This was actually the first time I had walked the dog since the pneumonia. My daughter takes off and Ginger decides to take off after her! I had to keep pulling her to slow down, but Ginger was bound and determined to not lose my daughter. Ginger’s trot felt like a full out run to me. I had to keep stopping her but she wouldn’t stop for long. (Why is it that when I WANT to run, she feels the need to sniff every single blade of grass on the entire street but when I want to walk and let her sniff, the only thing she wants to do is run?!)

My second attempt was much like the first, minus the dog. I took a two mile walk, no jogging, and felt like I had run a marathon. I had to take more naps. The doctor started me back on Singulair at night, which I am still taking. I need it right now to get me back over the hump while I regain my base.

During these many months of being sick, and then really, really sick, I received many comments and questions from readers of this blog. Oh the guilt of not running and yet encouraging them to keep running! Last year, from August, 2012-June, 2013 was one of the worst years on record for stress for me and my family. A banner year of chaos. Which is probably why I ended up in the hospital. But this blog kept me going. The reader comments kept me going. My mental state was so low during all the sickness that I seriously considered stopping running. I had no interest whatsoever. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and not come out. That shows how sick I was; I am a firm believer that running clears out the cobwebs in your body, your brain, and your spirit. It’s the miracle cure for everything but I just wanted to give up.

But, as I began to recover and feel more myself, I also began to feel like a schlep. I need the exercise to stay healthy. I do not want to go back to a life of medication and sickness. I am starting over.

I am participating in the annual cross country 5K summer series at the local college and my first week time was 39:07, ten minutes off my PR; my second week was 38 something and my third week was 36:18.  Two more weeks to go in the series. I’m coming back but it is a slow process. I have to follow my own advice and be patient. I had to let go of my ego about being last again in the 5K race and just be grateful that I was on the course and not in the hospital or in bed. My words to all of the readers were coming back to haunt me: start slow, lose the ego, don’t be embarrassed about walking, just be easy on yourself while you build your speed and strength. Meh.  My goal is to run the LA Marathon in March of 2014.

Thank you for writing in, thank you for not quitting, thank you breathing with me.

–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 and Barnes and Noble

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.

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 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

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