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.