Asthma: You Can Run, You Can Hide, but You Can’t Escape Its Grip (Guest Post)

While I have been battling asthma my entire life, I never really paid all that much attention to it until the late summer/early fall of 2013.  At that point in time, I had been invited to come join my boyfriend and two of his friends in a charity run that would occur at the beginning of October, 2013.  They informed me that they would be running, and that they hoped I could keep up with them.  I was incredibly nervous, as I had never run before in my life due to my asthma, but I was not going to decline this invitation.  My boyfriend and I were only a couple of months into our relationship, and I was determined to do whatever it took to become accepted into his social group.

Unsure of how to begin training for a charity run, I took the first step I could think of: running on a treadmill.  I always knew that running on a treadmill was different from running outside, but it seemed like a good place to start.  I took it very slowly, and only ran for five minutes at a relatively light jog.  When I mastered that, the next time I took it to ten, and then the next time at fifteen.  The next time after that, I decided I would just run for as long as I could at that jogging speed.  If I managed to make it to the full 5km (which was the distance of the charity run we were going to do), then excellent, but if not, I would still continue to train.  I managed to make it to the full 5km that time, and I decided that the next time I trained, I would try it on the indoor track at the gym.  I was so thrilled that I had managed to attain this goal and could not wait to tackle the charity run!

Unfortunately, this is where my problems began.  While I always knew that running on a treadmill was different from running on a track, I did not realize until then just how different they really were.  I had found the jogging on the treadmill to be a challenge, but it was not too hard on my asthmatic lungs.   But running on the track was much harder than I had ever anticipated.  I jogged at roughly the same speed as I had on the treadmill, but after a mere few laps, it felt like somebody had an iron grip on my lungs and I had to grasp for air.

Naturally, I was excruciatingly frustrated.  The run was less than a month away and I was clearly nowhere near as ready as I had thought I was.  If I had known that this would be the case, I probably would not have bothered with the treadmill and I would have started running on the track immediately to train.  Of course, running outside is also different from running on a track as the cement is harder on your joints (running on grass is much nicer, but not always an option), but not as different as a treadmill versus a track.

It also did not help that I was constantly hearing about how my boyfriend and his friends could run at 15 km/hour.  The thought of having to train to keep up with them at more than twice the speed I was capable of was unbearably overwhelming and frightening.  I could not decide if I should train for distance or speed first.  Should I start working my way up to 5 km and then work on running faster?  Or should I run as fast as I could for as long as I could and work on running longer?  With my pride in more agony than my lungs in the iron grip, I decided on the latter.

And just when I thought my training couldn’t possibly get any worse, I badly sprained my ankle.  No, not training for the run.  It was while I was at the Western Fair.  I was dizzy after riding a spinny ride, and when I was going down the stairs to get off the ride, I misjudged the amount of space there was between my foot and the ground, and I went over.  My ankle was in sheer agony, but despite how much physical pain I was in, I was more devastated by the fact that this meant I had to put my training for the run on hold.

About a week later, when my ankle was mostly HEELED (ha ha ha), I went out to start training for the run again.  Only I made sure to keep my ankle brace on just in case I went over again.  I was determined to not allow any further disruptions to my training, as I wanted so very badly to be able to keep up with my boyfriend and his friends.  Unfortunately, even though I have been taking medication to control my asthma for years, I could never get my speed up to 15km/hour for even just a little bit, nor could I get my distance up to 5km on the track even just at a light jog.  Not without feeling the extremely painful iron grip on my lungs.

After that, I just felt extremely depressed, and while I am never the type to give up easily, I knew I was licked.  I wanted to believe I could do it, but with the run a mere week and a half away, I knew it would take a miracle to give me the capability to run at 15km/hour for the full 5km in order to keep up with my boyfriend and his friends the entire time.  I really wished that one mutual friend in particular was joining us as he had just recently had surgery on his foot and was walking around with crutches.  Therefore, if he had been joining us, it would only have been a good excuse to walk along next to him and keep him company.  Then at least I would have had somebody to talk to after my boyfriend and the others would take off ahead of me.  But reality was that he was not joining us, and I knew that once the run started, my boyfriend and his friends would run off ahead of me and I would be walking or jogging the 5km alone.  It depressed me to no end that I would not be able to keep up with them, but I figured it was better than backing out of the run completely.  At least this way I could still say that I tried.

Many asthmatics need to accept the fact that they will never run as fast and/or as long as marathon runners do.  It does not matter how controlled our condition is with our medications.  If we push ourselves further than our lungs will allow, we will feel the iron grip on our lungs and will have to grasp for air.  Some asthmatics can run faster, but it does depend on how mild or severe their condition is in order to determine their limits.  Is it possible for me to be able to run a full 5 km one day?  Perhaps.  But will I be able to do it at a speed such as 15 km/hour?  Not likely.  But I know now that if I want to train myself to run, I need to start with a jog and aim for a distance goal, which I think 5 km is a reasonable one.  Once I attain that distance goal, then I can start to work on increasing my speed.  But I need to keep in mind that unfortunately it will be a gradual process and will not be attained in a mere few months.

Running may not be one of my strengths, but walking is.  I may not be able to run at 15 km/hour, but if I had comfortable shoes, I could probably walk for 15 km.

As long as it wasn’t too hot or too cold outside, that is 😛 .

My name is Shamila.  I am 25 years old and in my fourth (and hopefully final) year at Western University studying French.  I am not entirely sure what I will do next year yet, but I do have some ideas for possible career paths.  Some activities I enjoy are working out, writing, cooking, taking long walks, shopping, and reading. 

6 thoughts on “Asthma: You Can Run, You Can Hide, but You Can’t Escape Its Grip (Guest Post)

  1. natalieh says:

    I’m fortunate to have mild asthma that normally doesn’t impact my life, that is until I workout. It was pretty devastating to realize that if I train at 80-100% range I will have a very scary coughing wheezing fit that, even with medication, takes hours to abate.
    With some experimenting I found my workout zone, 60-70% effort. So I plod along on my bike, in the pool & running knowing my health & wellness improve and my speed a bit. Without max effort workouts I won’t see huge gains but I also know my lung capacity is improving so even when my breathing is crap I’m better off for having exercised.

    I think you did pretty awesome for your first go at a 5km. Maybe you would also like speed walking, easier on the joints and you get to wiggle your hips!

    Sounds like you have a zone that is comfortable to exercise in, walking, and one that doesn’t work as well. It might be interesting to explore where the edge is between the two. 🙂
    All that to say, way to go!

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  2. Penny says:

    Hi, I’m an asthmatic too and it does add many extra challenges to my fitness. Especially on days when I can’t find my inhaler which means I have to cancel my workout! I struggled with running for many years and ended up just plodding around the streets never really improving and every step was a struggle. I did some research and discovered that many asthmatics run using run:walk method they run 5:1 and build up maybe to 8:1 this allows your lungs to recover and get enough air in. Over long distances they stay at a constant speed and may actually improve their total time. I now include running in my workouts but am more likely to do “sprints” with rest periods or stair climbing with rests on downhill. Using running in this way focuses on cardio benefits but isn’t about distance, which was a huge mind shift for me.

    Good luck with your training and your asthma. I always think we deserve an extra gold star for exercising as an asthmatic, it’s definitely a harder hurdle to overcome.

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  3. I have exercise induced asthma. I’m fortunate that it does not impact my daily life, but I do have to deal with it when I run long distances. I hope you will continue to find ways to work through it because running can strengthen your lungs and actually improve your asthma symptoms.

    That being said, it is important to find the right medications, run at the pace that it right for you, and definitely not worry about keeping up with a fast boyfriend and his friends. He should understand and appreciate that you are taking a huge step just by running.

    I currently use a daily singulair and a rescue inhaler. It is not always enough, but it does help immensely. I have managed to finish 35 marathons (only dropping out of 2 because of the asthma) and countless races of other distances. There is hope.

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  4. shamwowladybug says:

    Thank you all for your words of encouragement 🙂 I guess the reason I had such high hopes that I could keep up with them (even though I had never run before), is because I can easily power walk for hours on end at a reasonable pace. Depending on where I am, sometimes I even walk up very high and steep hills, and all with little to no difficulty. Therefore, I thought since I could walk for great distances, I could take on running since it would not be as long.

    But what many people (I find) do not realize is that when you run, you breathe faster and for an asthmatic like me, my lungs do not have enough time to expand properly. That’s when it feels like somebody has an iron grip on my lungs.

    I have been taking medications to control my asthma for many years. It helps me with daily living and exercising at the 60-70% effort zone that Nataleigh was talking about. My asthma has shown great improvements with the medication over how bad it was for me as a child, but the medications can only help so much.

    Again, thank you all for your words of encouragement. I am not sure when I will restart my training to run, but I imagine it will be soon 🙂

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  5. Tentsmuir says:

    A nice blog! I have chronic asthma and have had since early childhood (I’m 50 this year). I started on the treadmill and thought outside running was beyond me. I now regularly run longer distances. I am on Symbicort twice a day and use a blue reliever inhaler about 20 mins before a run. I often need another puff in the first 20 mins. But my asthma is so much better controlled, so keep in there. Remember, Paula Radcliffe, the fastest female marathon runner ever, also has asthma! Stay strong and press forward: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/asthma/Pages/PaulaRadcliffe.aspx

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  6. Tentsmuir says:

    I have chronic asthma and have had since I was a child (I am 50 this year). When I started running I thought I could never run outside or run for longer than 20 minutes. But with correct training and control, running long distances and even at speed is not beyond us. http://tentsmuir.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/asthmatic-runners-are-like-stammerers-who-sing/

    And remember, the fastest female marathon runner in the world has asthma. Read Paula Radcliffe’s story here : http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/asthma/Pages/PaulaRadcliffe.aspx

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