Ask A Marathon Mommy – Running with Asthma: Just Breathe


Last summer, I developed a respiratory illness that I couldn’t shake. It started with a cold that traveled into my chest, and it kept getting worse and worse. I had a tight cough that kept me awake at night. My chest hurt. And after about two weeks, I was struggling to take a deep breath. I had no energy. My friends told me that I looked pale and sickly. Everything felt off.

I was alarmed enough to visit a walk-in clinic on a Sunday afternoon. I’d had similar respiratory illnesses in the past (although none this severe), and I assumed that I’d be prescribed an antibiotic and an oral steroid and then be on my way. Much to my surprise, the clinic doctor was even more alarmed than I was. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, I had been having an asthma attack. Instead of just writing a prescription, he instructed the nurse to administer IV steroids. An IV? What the heck?! They ended up not having the proper supplies, so I was given steroids by injection (a shot in my booty, ouch) instead. I was also given an epinephrine injection, a breathing treatment, and instructions to see my primary care doctor the following morning.

Fast forward four months…and after multiple doctor visits, medical tests, and various medications, I was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. I worked closely with my primary care physician and various specialists to find the proper course of maintenance and treatment, and I was able to get my asthma under control.

But then I started running…

Would it even be possible to run successfully with asthma? Are running and asthma mutually exclusive? I wasn’t sure. But as it turns out, running with asthma can actually be great for your body, as long as your asthma is under good control. Running can strengthen your respiratory muscles, help you maintain a healthy weight, and lower your risk for heart disease. An asthmatic runner just needs to take a few extra steps before putting on her running shoes:

1. See your doctor first to ensure that your body and lungs can handle the high intensity of running. Your doctor can also help you come up with a treatment plan to control your asthma symptoms. And make sure that your asthma plan is working before you start running.

2. Carry your rescue inhaler with you at all times. Do not go on a run without it. If you don’t have pockets, wear a belt or a pouch (love my SPI belt!) that allows you to carry your inhaler. If you run into problems, your emergency inhaler can save your life.

3. Consider using your quick-relief asthma medications (such as Albuterol) as prophylactic or preventive medication. Runners with asthma can take a dose as directed a few minutes before a run to help manage symptoms. I do this  routinely, and have found it to be extremely helpful.

4. Start out slowly. You have to warm up properly in order to give your airways time to adjust to the demands of an intense cardiovascular workout. Starting suddenly will shock your lungs and can lead to an asthma attack. I almost always find that the first 1-2 miles are the most difficult for me. After that, my lungs become adjusted to the demands of my run, and I am able to breathe comfortably.

5. Avoid triggers, which can include both allergens and temperatures. Try to avoid running when pollen counts are high, and after a run, shower as soon as possible to get the pollen off your hair and skin, and toss your workout clothes directly into the hamper. Cold temperatures are also triggers for asthma attacks, because the body has a hard time heating up the air. Try to run later in the day or indoors on days when the temperatures are extremely cold.

6. Be smart. Pay attention during your run, and if you start to wheeze, cough, or have problems breathing, force yourself to take a break and use your emergency inhaler. Consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or tag that indicates that you have asthma; in an emergency, this can save first responders valuable time. Run with a friend and/or carry your cell phone. And perhaps most importantly, know your limits.

Have a great week, friends! I’ll be back next week with an update on my 18 mile training run.

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Sharon is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a background in mental health, substance abuse, and child welfare.

“I tried my hand at being a work at home mom, but in 2009 I decided that being a stay at home mom is what works best for me and my family, at least for now. As my kids like to say, I’m “The Boss” of the family, which includes my husband of 9 years, two daughters (ages 4 and 6), and a giant goldfish named Princess Leia. My girls are beautiful and curious and wild and exhausting, and life is never, ever dull! I love reading, traveling, trying new restaurants, and shopping for bargains. I’m also training to run my first marathon in February 2013.”

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