Running from Asthma

puffer picOne 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.”

run over obstacles“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.  68b71-p1290294Thanks 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?”

Cold 2016
Yesterday, after 5K in -20C.  Feeling great.

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.


35 Replies to “Running from Asthma”

  1. Having recently been diagnosed with exercise induced asthma after an attack during an ironman distance race
    This post has helped me prepare for winter running & ridding My Doctor said to be careful but your post explains so much more of how to be careful & still run
    Thanks for posting

      1. Thank you 😊As well as warming up we’ll do you wear a scarf or neck warmer over your nose & mouth ? Does it take long to get used to wearing them I’d imagine it could feel like suffocating ?

        1. Hi Zoe, I missed this. When it is really cold (below -20), I wear a gator over my mouth while warming up (about 2-3K) and I pull it over my mouth at stop lights or any time I need to stop. It gets covered in saliva, but it lets me run when it is nasty out.

  2. I don’t mind the cold so much but I have Reynaulds so my hands and feet can get really numb, even in mildish temperatures.

    There are some people who have asthma in my running groups and they also take a puff before starting. I always thought the inhaler worked by helping to expand the airways so it makes sense to take it before running.

  3. What a great read! I have asthma too, luckily it’s not too bad but it was scary the first time I felt my chest tighten and getting a deep breath felt impossible!
    I can’t say that I love running in the cold-I will if I have to!! I seriously applaud you for kicking asthma’s butt!

  4. Good for you! I’m glad you’re able to manage your asthma and still run in the winter! I have a bad allergic reaction when I eat wheat and run within a few hours. I know now what I need to do and how long to wait until I can run in the same day. Sometimes I make mistakes and have to stop and take benedryl, but now I have it under control!

  5. I also have asthma and this was my first full winter of running. I seem to need my inhaler the most in the fall/winter when the weather is getting colder, and in the spring. I have defiantly tried to not let asthma control my workouts, but like you said, starting out slower does help tremendously. I purchased a cover for my face this year so that the air wouldn’t be quite as cold coming in. Thanks for the share!

    1. Glad that you are figuring out how to keep running twelve months a year too. Balaclavas help a lot too – and force your mouth closed when you are stopped or finished as that keeps your lungs warm so that you don’t end up in a coughing spasm.
      Good luck with your running and keep me posted in how it goes.

  6. I love winter running, probably more than running in the summer. I love that asthma hasn’t sidelined you! I hear the will your lungs freeze all the time. I live in Minnesota so it get cold here, last year I ran a race at 10 degrees below zero. NO my lungs do not freeze!

  7. Bravo for not letting asthma take control of you! Winter running is tough, and I have conceded to the treadmill more times than I should have (I don’t mind the cold, it’s the wind that gets me). And the coughing for hours after a run — I can only imagine what you go through! Pleasure to meet you!

    1. I’ll do anything to avoid the treadmill. My “heaviest layering” run was 5 in -30C temperatures. I was slow but I got it done. And I loved pulling off my snot-covered balaclava in a way only another winter runner can understand.
      Thanks for visiting.

  8. Ah! I needed this. I have asthma too and am very effected by running in the winter. My asthma came to me as an adult and used to be strictly allergy induced and I’d have trouble during certain seasonal changes, but now I’m not so sure. I think it’s fitness related and running outside in cold weather is hard! I have never taken my inhaler before running as you suggested, only during or after, (I’m not a huge runner anyways) but I’m going to try it!

    1. Do try it. I developed asthma when I was 28 (I’m 52 now). It took me a while to figure out how to work with it rather than try to fight it. When I coach cross-country and track at school, I get kids to use their puffers before we run; when they listen (they don’t believe me, at first), it makes a world of difference for them. And make sure your warm up is slow.
      Good luck with this and let me know how it goes.

  9. I love running in the cold. I mean it can get too cold but I would much prefer to run in the winter (I live in Minnesota) than the summer. I get the same question about my lungs freezing all the time. It is amazing that you are finding ways to enjoy running and not letting your asthma stop you from doing it!

    1. Thanks. I use to live in Winnipeg so I know what Minnesota winters can be like. I much prefer the heat of summer to the cold of winter. My laundry basket likes it better too:)
      Thanks for visiting.

  10. Awesome!! When we lived on the east coast of the US, running in the winter was tough. But like you said, if you dress for it, it can be dealt with. I had exercise-induced asthma and cold weather was not my friend. But making sure I kept my mouth, chest and neck covered, doing a proper warm up, and taking it slowly all helped. Glad to “meet” you through the blog hop!

    1. Oh, East Coast winters! Getting snowed in and snow days! So much fun. It’s amazing how much easier it is when you keep your mouth covered, isn’t it.
      Thanks for visiting.

  11. Way to kick your asthma’s butt! It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we truly want something. I fortunately don’t have bad asthma, but I do deal with some seasonal stuff in the winter colder weather. Being in Florida, it’s definitely not bad, but I have to have a puffer during the colder months.
    Loved reading this post, you are awesome for pushing through!

    1. Thanks. Do you have trouble when seasons change? When spring begins and the snow has melted, there is so much dirt blowing around that breathing can be tough. Oddly enough, running in the heat – when asthmatics are told to stay indoors – is never really an issue for me.

  12. I just love that you don’t let asthma take control of your life, you’ve got an incredible story to tell and definitely a great inspiring fighting attitude about it too!
    I actually don’t mind running in the cold. I’ve a couple times in past years gotten that freezer burn on the lungs, oh that is the worst and takes days to recover from. But generally when I am smart and keep my mouth and nose covered I rarely have a problem, and actually find winter running can be at times some of the most enjoyable miles.
    Thanks for joining us in the hop, hope your having a great time with it!!!

    1. I love being outside – even in the cold – too. Being stuck indoors through the winter leaves me with headaches. Making the effort to get out in the cold always ends with a powerful feeling.

  13. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing your story. Asthma isn’t easy, but taking control over it and showing it the boss while running is fantastic! I ran outside in the cold today and the only part of me that was feeling the cold was my face. Mainly my cheeks and tongue (kind of reminded me of Christmas Story tongue stuck the pole scene). Luckily my lungs held up and I surprisingly didn’t cough at the end of running. But it’s a struggle. And a necessity!

  14. Hi from the blog hop!

    you go girl!!!

    I am glad you have figured ou how to do what you love in a way that you can stay safe and healthy!

    -20C… go girl!!!

    I ran in ‘feels like 2F’ and it took me hours to unthaw-lol!

  15. Good for you for taking asthma by the horns ! I read the story of your broken jaw. Amazing. Too bad you had to start your winter running in such cold temps. Its forties here in France, cold is in the thirties !
    You rock for taking on those major challenges !

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