Running with Asthma - Interview
Posted by Kevvyg on Friday, February 28, 2014
Challenges of Running with AsthmaI guess I would call myself a seasonal runner. During the winter, if I can’t get out to a trail or parkway, then I usually can find no reason for me to run on slick sidewalks surrounded by muddy snow. But now, in between the crazy snow/ice days we’ve been having here in Atlanta, I’ve been able to get out and enjoy a nice run in the sunshine.

On a more recent run, it occurred to me that there must be runners with asthma. But how do they manage it? What happens if they have an asthma attack? Could they run marathons and races or hit the trail for long distance runs?

Most of us are familiar with the common causes of asthma attacks, tobacco smoke, air pollution, dust mites, mold, cockroach allergens, or pets. However, exercise-induced asthma is triggered by physical exertion and is a common cause that might seem counterintuitive to some, particularly since severe asthma can often limit physical activity. The severity of exercise-induced asthma attacks can be affected by many factors including overall health, medication taken (or not taken), how long you are exercising, and the environment (temperature, pollution, etc.).

To better understand how asthma affects an active person’s lifestyle, I spoke to Ali McDonald, co-owner of, and Christina Kenney a current student at Kent State University and past cross country and track runner. Both are currently active runners with asthma.

Ali M.Ali McDonald - Asthma  & Running

How long have you been running?
I’ve been running since I was five. I’ve always loved running!

Do you run 5Ks, marathons, races?
No, I run for exercise- 3-5 miles, a few days a week.

What triggers your asthma attacks?
My asthma attacks are triggered by pollen, but mostly cold weather induced.

What happens when you start to have an asthma attack?
I can’t get a breath when it does happen. You can’t get a full breath in, it’s shortened… like when you exercise really hard, and you try to slow your heart beat down to catch your breath, but you can’t. That’s how I would explain it to people who don’t have asthma.

So do you just slow down, or try to relax yourself? How do you take care of it?
I use my inhaler. It’s the only way, basically.

What about when you’re not running? What do you do if, let’s say, you have an attack while walking around in the park?
Since I have exercise-induced asthma, I don’t generally have asthma attacks when I’m not running. But if I do feel a shortness of breath, or anything like that, I take my time, slow down and focus on slowing down my heart rate.

What’s the perfect run for you?-Perfect weather, inclines?
When the temperature gets below 32° C it becomes difficult to run, so between 50° and 60° is great, and without seasonal allergens. Inclines don’t affect me so much as temperature.

What sports did you do when you were younger?
I was a gymnast and I did cheerleading. I never had asthma attacks in gymnastics, and in cheerleading there were enough breaks in between that it really didn’t affect my asthma.

Do you have any advice for those with asthma who may want to start running?
Carry your inhaler. It can be scary to have it in your car a few miles away, while you’re having an attack. And avoid exercising in situations where you’ll be affected by triggers like ragweed and pollen.

Christina K.Christina K. - Asthma & Running

How long have you been running?
I’ve been running since freshman year of high school, so about 6 years ago.

Did you start running for sports?
I started with track then cross country.

Have you always had asthma?
Yeah, it was much more severe when I was little. I had to take treatments three times a day, breathing treatments with a nebulizer from the time I was a baby until I was old enough and switched over to a once-a-day preventative pill.

When did you decide to start running?
As I got older it wasn’t as severe, then one day in gym we had to run a mile. Everyone hated it, but I wanted to push myself so I ran as hard as I could and beat everyone. The gym coach said I should try out for track after that. She said that there were plenty of runners with asthma that could run.

What happens when you start to an asthma attack while running? How do you feel, what are the symptoms and how do you take care of it?
I slow down a lot, sometimes walk, with my hands on my head. It was really hard at first when I started running- I started as the slowest one. When the weather is cold, it stings a lot and burns. It’s a harsh feeling. In warmer weather, I can’t breathe and I have a heavy weight on my chest. When it is cold out, I take my inhaler before my run to try to prevent it, but if I don’t take it before I have to use it during and after my run.

Describe the perfect run for you- the weather, incline, no incline, etc.
I’d say like… 60°, 70° degree weather.

What advice do you have for running with asthma?
Definitely don’t get discouraged just because of asthma. I went from the slowest distance runner in freshman year to one of the fastest on varsity. Get used to it, and carry an inhaler. It’ll be hard at first, but as you go running gets easier. It’ll even improve your asthma.

Why do you think that?
Because it helps you out, makes your lungs get stronger. Running gets easier, you just have to get used to it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d also tell people wanting to distance run, with asthma, to be diligent. Try not to take a really long hiatus from running if they enjoy what they get out of it. It takes a good amount of time and perseverance to get back in shape as an asthmatic. Not only are you getting your muscles back in shape but you're also building your lung capacity.

Before interviewing Ali and Christina, I thought asthma was just a general respiratory ailment. But it was a nice surprise to see a contrast in exercise induced asthma and regular asthma. I learned that cold weather is not a good running partner while inhalers are, and as Theodore Roosevelt promoted, running could actually be beneficial for asthma. Thank you ladies!

Author: R. Power

Tags: Asthma
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