Athlete with Asthma
I find it frustrating. As I head out for my long run this morning, I knew it was going to need to be an easy pace. Some days are better than others, and today was one of those “others”. My allergies this fall have been much worse than usual and it’s been almost 2 months of strained breathing. I’m ready for snow. not really, but I just want to have a full breath and be able to run up a hill without gasping. OK, I’m grouchy.
I’ve had allergy induced asthma most of my life. (which is better than chronic asthma, so it really could be worse) As a child it was terrifying to not be able to breathe. The tears and the anxiety would make the breathing worse and then the fear greater. Asthma is really awful for a child. Thankfully as an adult I can manage my breathing and my anxiety. Well, truth – I still struggle with guided meditations that ask you to relax and focus on your breath.
In my early 30’s I developed exercise induced asthma – which I consider to be the biggest insult in the breathing department. I know it could be worse, but come on! Seriously?! Exercise induced lung problems? 1. Exercise is good for my lungs and 2. I need them to exercise. What a terrible invention. Wouldn’t it make more sense if someone who didn’t exercise had this one?
So what does this really mean for me? (just me – everyone with asthma is different)
- It means I work very closely with my doctor to make sure I have an asthma management plan that supports my life and my goals. Some seasons it’s allergy meds and inhaled steroids. Sometimes I am fine with just a couple of puffs of albuterol before a run.
- It means that sometimes, I have to cut my runs short or run flat roads because even with management my breathing is too constricted to provide the oxygen my muscles need. It’s hard give in, but I have gotten better at it.
- It means that I need to remember to use my inhaler before races, even if my breathing feels OK. This is especially true for triathlons with open water swims. When I forget – my legs turn to lead and the only way to finish is usually flipping on to my back and backstroking in.
- It means that I need to warm up and cool down really well. An abrupt demand for oxygen is painful and futile for these lungs. And an abrupt stop, without cool down also creates painful constriction.
- It means that sometimes it’s too cold in the winter to run outside. It’s just too hard to warm up and get past the constriction.
I’ve kept exercising throughout my life with asthma. Despite the frustration, it really has strengthened my lungs. I’m sure my lungs wouldn’t be as strong as they are if I had opted to avoid the discomfort and the hassle. I imagine my lung capacity is probably stronger than a good deal of the population because I opted to keep at it. Just not as strong as an athlete who trains the same as I do who doesn’t have asthma. And other athletes have other challenges. And others have challenges that prevent them from training all together. I keep all of this in context.
I know I’m not alone. I had the pleasure of sharing a bike rack and an inhaler with a fellow triathlete this past September. Right before we both got into the water to warm-up long enough to get our lungs ready. We both had to swim the full course as our warm-up that day.