Asthma – not just an excuse

Asthma. As a kid, what better excuse to get out of school cross country? You don’t even need to have an attack, just a note! Bring on years of happy, cross country free school days and zero expectations on sports day. I couldn’t have picked a more convenient excuse. Plus, you get to grow out of it, so it’s no bother.

With no symptoms as a young adult (one that smoked too), i wondered if my childhood asthma had actually just been the odd case of hyperventilating, misdiagnosed and used wholly to my advantage.

I was comfortable with that conclusion right up until the age of 28, when i was rather reluctantly talked into giving running a go as a way to lose my post-baby #3 excess weight. Initially I put the constant breathlessness down to too many cigarettes over the past 13 years. I had given up by now but knew it would take a while for my lungs to start functioning better. Several months of training followed, gradually building up my fitness, but at a much slower rate than the friends I had taken up running with.

The first 5k I ever did was a Race for Life run in Bedford in July 2012. I had put some effort into training but was still very unfit. I got around without dying and instantly the running bug bit. I wanted more of this!

Several months of running very short distances went by, each run as hard as the last, lungs refusing to  join the party. I’m not sure why I didn’t think to talk to a doctor at this point. I think I was just so convinced that it was down to the fact that I wasn’t designed to run, it never occurred to me that it might be a medical issue. Until October of the same year – my running friends and I were taking on our first “proper” 5k race. This wasn’t for charity, this was for us because we were now real runners…..well, this real runner got to about 2 miles in and had to stop and walk. And cry. Why the heck couldn’t i breathe? Seriously, i was only trying to run a flat 3 miles. I’d done it before, several times, but in the cold my lungs just said no.

It was after that experience I gave in to my bestie’s nagging and visited the doctors. Turned out it wasn’t because I wasn’t built like a runner that I was struggling, but because i did indeed have asthma. The very thing I had used as an excuse to not exercise was now doing it’s best to stop me all over again – except this time I really didn’t want it too. Life likes it’s ironies.

 

So that was the initial diagnosis early on in my running journey.  Initially I didn’t think it would be too much of an issue. Asthma is no big deal right?  The doctor gives you inhalers and you feel better and your lungs get stronger with exercise and eventually you forget you’ve even got it. Well no, turns out I got that pretty wrong. It actually took more than 3 years and a change of asthma clinic to find a combination of medicines that keep my asthma at bay enough for me to run without sounding like Sammy the seal and collapsing at the end, completely exhausted and leaving me with chest pain for days after.

I’ve been lucky recently that alot more research has been done into asthma and there are new medicines available out there. Ironically my asthma is exercise induced, but also triggered by hay fever, allergens, temperature changes etc It can still be unpredictable and triggered by new things as yet inexperienced!  I take a great steroid inhaler that worked very well for exercise induced asthma, use a standard reliever when needed, i take a tablet every night to prevent too much mucus production, a steroid nasal spray every night and an antihistamine every morning to try to keep the allergies at bay.

Most of the time this combination works well enough to keep me plodding on although it takes a few weeks with every season change to get used to the new temp/allergens etc.

One thing I learnt early on was that I was never going to be able to run at speed. The drying out of the airways from the excessive breathing irritates the lungs quite quickly. This was one of the reasons I started looking into long distance running quite early on. In fact I’d decided to run an ultra before I had even experienced my first marathon!

Turns out ultra running suits my style. Slower running, walking up hills and eating lots of food. What’s not to love? I’ve had to adapt – summer running has never been great for me as I’m allergic to tree and grass pollen – but 2 seasons of July ultras has hardened me up to it a bit.

A hug from the bestie at the end of my 1st ultra

 

I look for lots of advice and experience from other sufferers and people in the know. I got quite excited last year when one of the regular running magazines advertised that it had a whole piece on how you can still run in the summer with hay fever.  I bought the copy and went straight to the article, just knowing I was about to have the meaning of life revealed to me…..

“….avoid running outside in areas where there is a high probability of coming across pollen….”

Genius.

I’ve tried several things – a face mask that filters out allergens and makes me look like Hannibal Lecter; smearing odd smelling balm under my nose; refusing to believe I have asthma and not taking my meds.

None of them work.

There have been many runs where I have been reduced to tears, turning the air blue with expletives aimed at my lungs. They function at more than 20% less capacity than they should and sometimes I could really do with that 20%!! A cold can very quickly become a chest infection, which can take quite a long time to recover from and the first few runs post infection always leave me exhausted, frustrated and with a very see chest.

Quite alot of people discover that they have exercise induced asthma when they take up sport as an adult. The best thing you can do is talk to your doctor, keep an open mind and accept the help offered. I resisted the idea of asthma for quite a while, it felt like such a naff excuse. When your muscles stop working because you haven’t got enough oxygen going around your body, you realise that it’s no excuse, it’s a pretty scary reality.

Running with asthma isn’t always fun but it is absolutely possible and should not be used as an excuse not to try.

If I can do it, I promise you that you most definitely can!!

 

What a month!

September seems to be a good month for SheCan… It started off with HQ receiving confirmation that SheCan… is now a registered Trademark. We’re quite excited by that and what it means for the future. That was swiftly followed by an amazing weekend at the Great North Run (read Jenn’s report here if you missed it). Later that week, we celebrated our first birthday with a really lovely evening at the Vines at Barton Hall.

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On the night I felt overcome with emotion, barely able to string two sentences together. SheCan… has brought about several changes for me, a real boost in positivity for all aspects of my life. It’s given me so much, a lot of which can’t easily be articulated, however I really do want to try to tell the world how fantastic all of the members of SheCan… are and what it means to me.

Back in the beginning, when we set out to host a beginners course, Emily and I really had no expectation that the group would evolve and grow, let alone so quickly. But it seems we stumbled on a group of women who not only embrace our slightly barmy ways but who also turn out come rain or shine, with niggles or in a bad mood and sometimes with big things going on at home. That in itself is humbling and spurs us on when we are weary or down in the dumps. One thing is for sure, you’re not glum for long with that lot around…Running is good as a therapy but running with friends is  like nothing else.

So our crazy bunch, who are resilient and funny and fabulously individual are steadily growing and welcoming new people with each new block. It’s so wonderful to see newbies being embraced as ‘one of us’ so quickly and joining in the banter and excitement each session.

It’s that warmth and slightly barmy sense of humour that makes SheCan… so awesome, so positive, so inspiring. And I’m so grateful to you all for turning up twice a week. The future is exciting and that is driven by the passion and friendship that is grown from within the group.

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And now I’m teary again. So on to the awards….

The wonderful Jennie was awarded our Member of the year for her amazing attitude towards running. She always brings a smile to any situation, even when we’re really struggling at the end of a long run. Jennie also completely blew us away when she posted from her holiday in France to say she’d done a long run- completely by herself in the French countryside. She’s one dedicated lady!

We also awarded 2 ‘Members Member of the year’ awards. Tracey received one and Ann the other. Both ladies received equal votes with a huge amount of love and positive comments for both ladies from the rest of the group. Both Ann and Tracey have shown such spirit in their running journeys, not always finding the sessions easy or comfortable but always coming back with a ‘can’t give up now’ attitude. Both have made such amazing progress and give so much to the group by way of PMA, support and sunny attitudes .

Well done you guys, you’re amazing.

But that isn’t the end of our good month here at SheCan…HQ.

We started a new beginners course at the start of the month. Week 3 beckons and this makes me happy. The first session of the week is a timed mile- our beginners set off on a flat out and back route to run a mile at their own pace. It’s always such a confidence boosting session and I LOVE to see that glint of realisation in their eyes at the end of the session…a glimpse of ‘yes, I can do this! I just ran a mile!’. It’s amazing to see.

Next up, a race report. Some of the SheCan…Run Kettering Ladies (our affiliated club members) took part in The Oundle Magnificent Ten today. A 10k off road race. The setting – Lyveden New Bield  was stunning in the early morning sun and spirits were high. It was a small event with a lovely atmosphere and only a short queue for the loo (bonus!). The route was scenic but tough under foot, especially for those new to off roading. A mix of farm tracks, long grass and woodland, it certainly made the ankles work!shecanoutlawbefore

Then we hit the hills. Oh the hills. But the course was peppered with humorous signs and lots of supportive marshals who really made the race. The end wasn’t really sprint finish material, due to the potted surface but we came in to a round of applause and lots of smiles. Thankfully due to the lovely sunshine we could recover with a cuppa and some flapjack on the grass. All in all, a really lovely morning spent with some of the SheCan… family. Lots of giggles, lots of support and a lovely warm glow (not just from the run…!)

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And lastly on the list of epic things to happen this month, we’ve had a few exciting letters through the post between us this week. Both SheCan… and a few of the ladies (including me, I’m beside myself!) have received nominations for categories at the Kettering Sports Awards which will be held in October. How fabulous is that? Biggest congratulations to Gemma and Tracey. If you fancy, please have a look here.

So on in to the autumn…another club race in November – a relay this time (should be fun!), our beginners will graduate with a bang by running 5k around Stanwick lakes in November. We’ve got a Christmas meal planned and a Christmas themed run all in the name of charity. It’s going to be a busy few months and I can’t wait!

Kate x