Out There: Life’s A Wheeze

Susan Lacke has tried every asthma treatment known to man. Illustration: Matt Collins

Having asthma is not a reason to stop running, writes Susan Lacke.

“Hey, quick question…how am I supposed to breathe?”

When Coach Dude took me on as an athlete, he said we’d start with the fundamentals. It’s entirely possible I took that a little too literally.

Breathing is, quite simply, an automatic process. It’s so automatic that you probably don’t even think about it most of the time. Unless, of course, you’re a runner with asthma. In that case, the quest for a wheeze-free run can occupy a significant portion of your waking thoughts. Ask any asthmatic, and they’ll recite a laundry list of triggers, symptoms and treatments they’ve tried.

Over the years, I’ve inhaled, ingested and injected every asthma treatment known to man. I have nebulized and nasal-sprayed. I have Prednisone-d, Floradil-ed and Albuterol-ed like a movie star at Studio 54. I’ve consumed raw honey, oil of oregano and ginger. I had a fling with the gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nightshade-free (and joy-free) lifestyle. I’ve slept with a heating pad on my chest. I’ve been the recipient of a “bronchial drainage,” which is a fancy and expensive way of saying someone beat on my lungs like Matthew McConaughey with a bongo drum.

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Still, I’d pant. When I did tempo work, I’d wheeze. My post-race cough would linger, even after the sunburn and blisters of the day had faded.

I’m not alone. Observe a starting corral 15 minutes before a race, and you’ll see what I mean—it’s a veritable hookah lounge of aerosolized pharmaceuticals. According to experts, 25 million Americans are asthmatic, with 80 percent of those cases triggered by exercise. Almost all have been told by at least one doctor: “If you don’t want an asthma attack, don’t run.”

But runners are a stubborn bunch. For every short-winded story of struggle, there are dozens more of successfully managed asthma. The common thread? Perseverance. Though there are many treatments available for asthma, there’s no silver bullet that works for all. That’s why it’s worth a shot to try new doctors, listen to what’s worked for your training partner and pick the brains of people like Coach Dude to see if maybe you’re doing something wrong—even if that “something” is as simple as breathing.

Because one day, the stars align and the Endurance Gods smile. A few small changes—a new prescription, a different breathing pattern, a modified warm-up routine or even a tiny tweak in posture—can finally get your lungs on board with the rest of your body.

And when that happens, let me tell you, it’s a breath of fresh air.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she is a featured contributor to Triathlete and Women’s Running magazines. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with four animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, a pinscher and a freakishly tall triathlete named Neil. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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