Tag: running

Athlete with Asthma

Asthma Inhaler

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.

Unexpected Joys of Running

Monster Inc.
image courtesy of Pixar

Sully and Mike Wizowski were right.  There’s more energy in laughter.

This past Sunday, I ran the Ashland Half Marathon.  The plan was to leave the garmin at home and run in a tutu and fairy wings,  1. It was so close to Halloween and 2. To remind myself that I was doing this one for fun.  Somewhere, maybe 15 yards past the start line, I started making plans to ditch the wings which were flapping all around.

And then I ran past a group of spectators.  The youngest were toddlers.  I was unprepared for their un-containable excitement.  There were squeals and smiles and exclamations – “mom, look there’s a fairy!”  Wow!  You can’t get that from from two cups of coffee!  And it was contagious – I smiled.  All the runners around me smiled – and we kept running.

13.1 (hilly) miles.  It never stopped.  The squeals, the excitement, the smiles.  They came from toddlers most readily, but there were no shortages from parents and grandparents. Each and every time it happened – I smiled wider and felt a surge of energy.  The wings kept flapping and bumping my arms, but there was no way I could ditch them, anymore.  I was hooked on this and I was actually having a blast  – running a half marathon.

When the race was done, I waited in line for my complimentary massage. It was such a hilly course, my quads were burning and my hamstrings were tight, as expected.  But for the first time, I was aware of sore muscles where I’ve never felt sore.  My cheeks.  The muscles in my cheeks were actually tight and ached from smiling for 13.1 miles.

I accomplished my race goal for Sunday – “have fun.”  And as an added bonus, powered by laughter and joy, I also set a new half marathon PR.  Go figure.

I may re-examine my perspective on endurance and trying hard.

Alex running in a tutu
this is why my cheek muscles ached.

Up hill

InspirationI have one rule for running up hill.

I never ask myself how I’m feeling when I am running up a hill.  My answer is never positive.  And worse – listening to my answer creates an opening for more negative thoughts and almost always spirals right down into ” I don’t think I can do this – maybe I should quit.”   It’s so much harder to run up a hill when I’m telling myself I can’t do it.

Running up hills, like the one on Green Street in Ashland’s Half Marathon, is just hard.  The energy requirement creates enormous physical stress on the body.  This physical stress triggers our hormones and becomes mental stress or a negative perspective.  The fact is that the hill will always be easier to climb if you tell yourself that you can do it.  (think little engine that could – “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”)  The second fact is that there will always be hills – so it’s best to have a strategy before you are halfway up and thinking about quitting.

Here’s some good news.  If you happen to find yourself without a strategy tomorrow, while running up Green Street – we have added affirmations on the course for you.  So one step at a time – you can conquer the Green Street Monster.  If you find yourself running next to a woman dressed as a fairy muttering “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” – say hi.  That’s me!

Good luck tomorrow to all the runners!