One day, while having a conversation with a gentleman, he questioned, “You run in the winter? Don’t your lungs freeze?”
I shook my head and explained that it is okay to run in the winter. “You just dress for it, that’s all.” I left out what I wanted to tell him – that I have asthma.
For years, I wasn’t able to run in the winter because of my asthma. I’d go out and, within 20 minutes, my chest would start to tighten. Every time I stopped (because, living in the city, you have no choice but to stop at a traffic light), my chest would tighten and I’d start to cough. Often, I’d be wheezing. Yes, it was a struggle. I hated it. And I started to hate winter running. So for a few months each year, I would turn to cross-training indoors (but not the dreaded treadmill).
Fast forward to life after pregnancy. Both of my boys were born in the late fall and, like many new mamas, there were days when I just needed to get out. We lived in Toronto, where I could escape to the gym and park my babe at its child care for an hour. When we moved to Oakville, I became a home workout warrior; all of my fitness started and ended in my basement. This was fine until after I delivered my second child. I needed to physically leave the house. However, it was winter – and I couldn’t run in the winter. My lungs wouldn’t let me – until I woke up one morning and said, “That’s it. I’m going for a run.”
“Are you sure?” my husband asked.
“Yes! I have my puffer. I’ll take my time. I’ll only be gone for 20 minutes.” I pulled on my winter running gear that had been sitting in the closet for years and headed out the door. “I can do this,” I told myself. “I’ll be fine.”
And I was. My run was slower but I didn’t care. I was outside and running. I got back home feeling exhilarated and powerful. “I can do this! It’s time to take asthma by its horns and show it who’s in charge!”
For that and the next winter, I taught myself to run with asthma. I had to run a slower and longer warm up – to open up my lungs – in the same way that I have to warm up before a race. I learned to use my inhaler properly: one puff while getting dressed and another (about 10 minutes later) before I head out the door. Thanks to Running Skirts sub-zero skirts, I could comfortably carry my puffer in my side pocket (puffers in tights’ pockets just don’t work) in case I “got into trouble”. My running partners got use to my heavier winter breathing, the constant running nose and snot-covered gloves. Over those years, I built my winter running distance from 20 minutes to 30K. I was the boss of my asthma.
Last winter, due to my fall and broken jaw, I was forced off all exercise for weeks. This meant I escaped the woes of winter running and all of the laundry that came with it. I thought I was lucky but I was dreading the shock of readjusting to cold weather running. This past week was the first week of truly cold temperatures that southern Ontario runners have had to deal with this winter and I knew it was going to be a shock to my system. For the past few days, friends have posted pictures of themselves running with frozen beards, frozen eyelashes and steam circling their heads. Me? I wasn’t ready to face that kind of running yet and stayed on my windtrainer in the comfort of my warm basement. I was wimping out.
Until yesterday. Temperatures were climbing and now closer to -20C. I was ready. On came my layers and out I went. Within 10 minutes, I was quickly reminded that I have asthma. Yes, I used my puffer and, yes, I took my time warming up. But I could feel my chest tightening, resulting in that same feeling that I had many, many winters ago. “Wow, the air really is a lot thicker when it’s cold like this,” I thought. And I remembered that conversation many years ago. “You run in the winter? Don’t your lungs freeze?”
No, my lungs don’t freeze. But I have to be careful. I have to dress for it, that’s all. I have to use my puffer and I have to do a long warm-up before I run the way I want to. Yesterday, that is exactly what I did and guess what. I got home feeling exhilarated. Once again, I took asthma by its horns.