How I Beat Exercise Induced Asthma

23 Sep

Just about a year ago I used my inhaler for the last time. But before I get to that, lets talk about last night’s run because it all comes full circle.

Yes, I ran.  4 days after a marathon, I ran.  I wasn’t planning on it, but my legs felt great and Mother Nature proved the meteorologists wrong by giving us sunshine yesterday afternoon. So, I begged asked Coachy if I could run. His answer? “Run, run, run.” AWESOME.

And run I did.  The first few steps felt weird – I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Here’s how it went:

The first mile felt a little stiff, but as my body warmed up, it also sped up.  I was flying along the ground like my legs weren’t even attached to my body by the end. That was so incredible.  I feel so strong and powerful. And today? I feel great. No residual soreness, no pain, even my foot feels better than it has all week.

The best part about it? Hills. What hills? my legs said.

I’m seriously still flying high off of this run. I’m so happy with it.
The reason this run made me remember that I have been meaning to write a post about how I beat exercise induced asthma is because, even in 90% humidity, my breathing was on.  I was panting by the end, but I wasn’t dying, I wasn’t gasping for air.  If I had tried this a year ago I’m sure I would’ve keeled over and dropped dead right there in the middle of the road.
So my story goes a little like this:
September 23, 2010 I ran the Ocean’s Run 5k. It was my 3rd 5k in as many weeks, and I was still trying to break 30 minutes.  I just couldn’t do it. I felt like I had the leg strength, but something was holding me back.
After the race I started thinking about it, like really thinking about it.  What is the one constant factor here? What was keeping me from breaking that 30 minute mark? 
Race day weather? Nope. All 3 races had different weather.
Pre-race food? Nope. First 5k ate too much. 2nd and 3rd did the right thing – ate light, but good combo of protein/carbs.
Size of running crowd? Definitely not. The 2nd 5k of the 3 was WICKED CROWDED, but I had my best time in that race. 
So what the heck is keeping me from breaking through?
Then it dawned on me. My inhaler. It was doing me more harm than good if you can believe that.
Symptoms I was having while using an inhaler and running: heart racing, practically choking on my own phlegm (the inhaler causes you to expectorate like a million times more than usual – gross), and dry mouth.  Well, that sucks now doesn’t it? YES. Absofreakinlutely. 
“What to do?” I asked myself. Try running without the inhaler? Sounded scary.
Well that’s exactly what I did. I was lucky enough that I had this idea in the fall, in New England, so the humidity levels were low. Over the past year I’ve had some struggles with breathing, but I feel like I’ve grown to be knowledgeable enough about breathing and running to share my tips.
Tips for Beating Exercise Induced Asthma

  1. Consult your doctor first – don’t do what I did and just say “To hell with this inhaler it’s holding me back.” I’ve had more intelligent days, I promise.
  2. Start slowly. You want to push yourself to a level where breathing while running is uncomfortable, but it’s not going to send you spiraling into an asthma attack. Know your limits.
  3. Run in the morning, outside. The humidity levels in the morning are much higher than they are in the afternoon, so running in humidity will test your lungs more, and strengthen them (is there such a thing as a strong lung? I think you know what I mean…). Then when the humidity levels are low, you can run faster because your lungs will feel clearer. (And pray for low humidity on race day)
  4. Do speed intervals. I started last fall implementing speed intervals once a week (Coachy taught me how to do them, I was clueless before). 
    • I started by strictly doing intervals with very slow jogs in between, I couldn’t handle tempo runs last year, they were too hard on my lungs. Warm up for a mile, then run 400m @ race pace followed with 400m @slow recovery pace.  Rinse and repeat for however long you want to go.  I use to do 3 miles – which is 6 speed repeats and 6 recovery.  Follow with a one mile slow cool down, even walk if you have to.
  5. Implement tempo runs when you feel ready.  You should be winded, but not gasping.
  6. Be patient. This process takes time. But it is worth it. I feel incredible about the fact that less than a year after giving up my inhaler I ran a marathon. 
Two months after giving up my inhaler I ran a 49:04 5-miler on Thanksgiving and then a 27:37 5k in December, and my times have continued to improve, and so have my lungs.  I’m to the point where 400m @ 7:30 pace is normal speedwork for me, and I’m hoping to push it even harder this fall.
Disclaimer: These tips are all what worked for ME.  I am not a doctor or a professional and these tips have not been proven to work for anyone but ME.  I can only hope they can help others.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear what others have to say on this topic. 

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3 Responses to “How I Beat Exercise Induced Asthma”

  1. Emz September 23, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    Love this.
    I'm a recovering EIA survivor too!! 🙂

    Awesome job on the run woman. !!
    “hills? What hills?” loved that.

  2. Jennifer - Somewhere In Between September 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    EIA has been plaguing me for the last year and a half, and I feel like the more I use my inhaler, the more I need it when I'm not exercising. Lately, I will try working out without taking the inhaler, and then going for it mid-workout. It seems to help (especially that extra does of energy mid way through from the racing heart!) but I like your tips. I'm hoping to get to that point where I don't need it period!

  3. Jolene September 26, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    Awesome tips!! Thanks for this. I am going to give it a go. Your story is beyond inspiring!!

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