Lake Michigan at Sunrise

Lake Michigan at Sunrise

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Learning to Run with Asthma

Today on My American Life (Will you read this Ira Glass?)

Running with Asthma

Disclaimer: This post isn’t a study on runners with asthma or some science of running with asthma. This post is just my experience.

Upon being diagnosed with asthma in November 2013, I was under the impression I would only experience exercise induced asthma, specifically for my long runs. But my doctor cleared me up, telling me to use albuterol (the rescue inhaler) before every run and as needed. I also was put on a corticosteroid to help prevent asthma attacks.  After a couple weeks of use, I felt an improvement; I thought I was on the fast road to being normal. I’d wake up some days thinking I was cured, but it was more akin to falling asleep with your glasses/contacts on and thinking you no longer need vision assistance. Not so fast there slugger. How quickly I was reminded that I was human.

Running outside in the arctic temperatures is a challenge of will and want, but now also poses a health risk for me.  Typically, covering your mouth to keep the air warm as you run is more of an effort of comfort rather than necessity. I learned that when I’m told I now need to cover up… to do it. I had one run where the weather was around 0, and I uncovered my mouth for about 45 minutes due to feeling nauseous on my run and the cool air helped me feel better. Result? A few days of asthma kicking my ass, using my rescue inhaler as often as permitted, and calling my doctor to see if I should be worried. I was banned from running outside for a few days and was allowed to kick up my medicine temporarily… and reminded to keep my mouth covered in this rabidly cold winter.

In my efforts to keep my mouth covered during my runs for warmer air, I have had many times where I was challenged in getting enough air to feel comfortable at a faster pace through my balaclava. It becomes annoying; trying to constantly adjust the balaclava for your mouth, trying to loosen up my jacket, thinking it is too tight around my neck. In the end, I give up and just push through the run. Oddly enough this is not constant, I’ll go on to have a longer and faster run a few days later with my balaclava on and no issues at all with my breathing.  
Sometimes, I can take it off

I have done a few runs with my face uncovered for a few miles just to free up my body in a sense and gain a little speed and have felt fine. I don’t know what my temperature danger zone is yet, which is frustrating as it produces some anxiety whenever I breathe the freezing naked air.  

I have also learned that feeling normal in a respiratory sense will take a lot longer than I imagined. I’ll be on a high level of the corticosteroid until my symptoms calm the hell down, even when I am not exercising. At the workplace, people with intense and/or very chemically smelling perfume now cause me distress as well as gag. And sometimes stress can make it flare up as well.

Now you may be thinking, so your fitness sounds like it is crashing right? Well, not so much.

While I am not on a training plan for a race, I am trying to maintain a loose structure to my week.  A speed day, a day at my goal marathon pace, and a long run or two.  I’m trying to be as flexible and relaxed as possible with my running. Change my run to later in the day so it is a little warmer? Done. Run on the treadmill because it is a rough asthma day? Done.  And like right now, take a longer break due to a winter cold to avoid a combined attack of being sick and cold air on my lungs, done. 

I’m learning to be a little more patient. Some days I have to focus more on the effort I had to muster to do my run than just the raw stats. In the end, I have been able produce even stronger runs that I have in the last 6 months.

I’m running my intervals at a 6 minute mile pace and have yet to get hurt (last year I was doing them more around 6:05-6:10, and have lightly hurt myself doing them twice last year). I have been doing my long runs by feel, which has led to multiple runs from 14-16 miles in the pace of 6:58- 7:11 (and one near 8 minute mile, since I am human).

I feel happy with my progress. I’m getting back to how I felt before I got injured last July, just faster. Looking back at August to October training last year, the difference is night and day.  Maybe it is the reduction of pressure? Maybe asthma makes me better…

Next Episode:  Taking in the big city

Have a great one!


  1. Glad you are feeling better. There is something to be said about running without the pressure of a looming race. It make runs/life less stressful, which probably leads to better workouts. Figuring out the asthma thing sounds like a work-in-progress. Pretty soon you'll figure out the optimal workouts, mouth coverings and medicine. Then and all will be excellent.

  2. Michelle #movinitwithmichelleFebruary 11, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    Glad I found your blog! Hope the asthma eases up for you!

  3. Glad you're learning to be patient - November really wasn't that long ago, so it probably will take a little time before Kenny Loggins calls to tell you what temperatures are okay to run naked-faced in. Have you tried a neck gaiter? Kim just wrote a post about them yesterday, saying that she finds them easier to work with than balaclavas. Just a thought.

    There's someone in my office who has really bad asthma who has requested no one wear really overbearing perfume because it really bothers her too (ugh, and why does anyone anyway? to work?? really???). Would that be an option? I know who this person is, but technically it's anonymous as our admin just sent a note saying someone in our wing had a sensitivity to it.

  4. Glad you are feeling better and finding ways to deal. This weather just sucks in general so impressed that you have dealt with it so well

  5. I'm glad you're feeling better and able to cope with the asthma. It is so crazy you got diagnosed just a few months ago... The naked sub 15degree air kills me and within a few breaths upon stepping outside in the morning I feel like I'm suffocating. I might have to ask my doctor about that on Monday...

    So happy to hear you are killing your workouts and paces even though you don't have anything specific you're training for. And kudos to you for listening to your body and not killing yourself just to run outside.. {slow clap}

  6. I'm glad you're working with your doctor to figure things out. Winter running is brutal, especially trying to breathe in all that cold, dry air. You have a great perspective on how to cope with your asthma while still getting in as much running as you can. Kudos to you for being able to balance things so well!

  7. So I go away on vacation and that's when you post? Hope you aren't ducking my weak comments...
    I was disappointed that you referenced the Danger Zone without a Top Gun gif to accompany it. At least you attempted to make it up to us with a reminder that Alan Thicke is the greatest TV Dad ever.
    The running (results) are sounding great...I'm having problems with the breathing in the cold too, but it doesn't hit until after I get back inside. Feels the same as Athsma (I had childhood Athsma and just grew out of it), but it goes away after an hour or so. Don't remember it happening last winter though.

  8. Cold running is really brutal right now. I have the same issues where sometimes with a balaclava or even my gaiter I feel like I'm not getting enough oxygen, but if I run without them I have sneezing fits for 24-36 hours after a run. Not quite the same as asthma but it does mean I empathize with being forced to run like that - it's weird! And I am always jealous of people who don't have to!