Running with Asthma

I just found out I have a spot in the NYC Marathon on November 7 this year! It’s been five years since my last marathon…the Rock and Roll Arizona. I’ve done NYC three times, and have tried to get a spot through the lottery for the last three years, but until this year I wasn’t successful. I’ll be 50 in December, so this will be my last marathon before that milestone. This year might be a little more challenging than the eight previous marathons I’ve done.

About a year ago, I was in the middle of a 7-mile run that I did quite often, had done a couple of days before, actually, and suddenly I felt like I had been hit by a mac truck. My chest hurt, and I couldn’t get a breath. I actually had to stop, sit down, and put my head between my legs while I sucked air like a hoover vacuum cleaner for a few minutes. It was so weird. I had never had something hit me like that. I thought perhaps I was coming down with something. I sat there for a few minutes, caught my breath, and tried to start running again. I literally had to walk 3 1/2 miles home. The next day, I was on the stair machine and it happened again. We were planning a trip to Colorado the next week for spring break, and so I decided to check in with my doctor before we traveled to 14,000 feet altitude.

After hearing my symptoms…chest pain, shortness of breath, the doctor ordered a multitude of tests: chest xray, EKG, treadmill stress test, etc. One of the tests showed an abnormality that “could be a heart tumor” so I was admitted for a more invasive test, but all the results showed that my heart was fine. The cardiologist had no idea why I had shortness of breath, but sent me home.

The breathing issues cleared up for the most part, but once a week or so I would have an interrupted run or workout, and have to adjust the intensity. Finally, at the end of the summer I had such a strong attack while swimming in a race on Labor Day that I felt like I was going to drown. I jumped on the internet and plugged in my symptoms and out popped the diagnosis…Exercise Induced Asthma!

Now, the fact that both my internist and cardiologist didn’t suggest asthma is another story, but I called my doctor and went for another visit. I asked if it could be asthma, and he said that is what he was thinking! So, after getting it confirmed with a pulmonologist, I began my life as an asthmatic.

I’m taking symbicort (long acting inhaler), singulair, and use a “rescue” inhaler when needed. It seemed to be working (for the most part), until a couple of weeks ago, after I did an 18 miler with no problem. I had been training for the Country Music Marathon, and went out for a recovery run the day after my long run, and BAM…after 1/2 mile I couldn’t go any further! It was the worst I have ever had it. For the next week and a half, every time I went out for the run it was more of the same. I can WALK, but the minute I start to run, my lungs start to feel sticky and I can’t breathe. I was discussing it (whining about it) with a friend whose kids have asthma, and she said, “Well, of COURSE it’s bad now…the pollen is the worst it’s been in years!”

I had no idea, but when the air quality is bad due to allergens, asthma symptoms worsen. I haven’t been able to run outside more than a couple of miles in two weeks. But I found a cool website,, which gives a prediction of the air quality/asthma forecast for four days. It’s on a scale of 1-12, and Nashville has been almost an 8 over the last couple of weeks. This week it’s down to a 4.9, so I’m going to attempt to run this morning.

I have a couple of months to get my base back up before I ramp up the distance, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The good news is, we’ll be in North Carolina for most of the summer, and the asthma levels there are about half the levels here in Nashville. I’ll just have to deal with the hills there, and hope my plantar fasciitis doesn’t flare up.

30 weeks and counting…


Ran 7.6 miles today…VERY slowly. Had to walk up a few of the hills, and it didn’t feel easy, but it was the first time I’ve run over a couple of miles outside in two weeks.