Distance Running

Just be diagnosed with asthma and it is as slowly been getting worse over the past few months. Problem I have is that I am a marathon runner and really starting to struggle with it and this is the last thing I want to slow down on. Think I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer do sprints, but any hills (and I live in an hilly area) I am wheezing and gasping for breathe, when a year ago they never used to bother me. Finding that I am gettting dizzy spells and headaches while I am running. I just want advice on how to control it better as a new comer to asthma. Just really been taking my inhaler at the beginning of a run, and then if I start to struggle to use it then.

9 Replies

  • Hi Ali,

    Welcome to Asthma UK; I hope you will get some useful support and answers to your questions here.

    Firstly, something which we say to all new board users - please do not be frightened by what you read on these boards. By the nature of this forum, it tends to attract people who are severely affected in disproportionate numbers - in fact, people at the severe end of the spectrum, with uncontrolled asthma, make up a tiny proportion of asthmatics. The vast majority (95 - 97%) of asthmatics can be completely or nearly completely controlled, with minimal or no effect on their day-to-day life, once the right combination of medication is found. The sort of accounts that you might read on here, of poor control, multiple medications, hospital and intensive care admissions, and so on, really are not typical of what asthma is to most people. Asthma should be taken seriously - in the worst cases, it can be fatal - but once it is treated it should not stop you leading a normal life.

    This is particularly relevent to you, since it seems that you are struggling with restrictions on your lifestyle and more particularly your ability to run because of your asthma. You don't mention what medication you are on, but if you are newly diagnosed, it is highly likely that there is potential to change or increase your medication and therefore improve your control. It can take a little while, after diagnosis, to get the right balance of medication, but for the vast majority of people, a combination is found that allows them to continue to live a normal life with a minimum of symptoms. Please do go back to your GP or asthma nurse and explain the sort of problems you are having, and ask that they review your treatment with a view to improving your exercise-induced symptoms. You are already doing the right thing by taking your inhaler before a run, and when you get symptoms, but there are other medications that can also be useful. For example, you may need an increase in your inhaled steroids, if you are on them, or the addition of another medication such as the tablet montelukast, which is particularly good in some people for exercise-induced asthma.

    We have quite a few runners on here, some with quite severe asthma, so it certainly is entirely possible that you will be able to keep on with your marathon running (Paula Radcliffe is, of course, one of the most famous sufferers of asthma in the sports world). Please do go back to your GP and get your treatment reviewed - you deserve better control than you currently have!

    Hope this helps

    Em H

    (forum moderator)

  • 'lo!I'm a bit of a runner although I wouldn't classify myself as being anywhere near your league. I used to do a fair bit of sport and running in my teens, but on trying to get back into it in my twenties found that my asthma put something of a cramp on things. Gradually I am getting things back under control and learning how to deal with the entire asthma thing during exercise. Montelukast, a tablet for asthma and allergies, has been a big help for me and is much-touted as a help for exercise-induced asthma. Sodium cromoglycate is also supposed to be good, although I haven't personally tried this. Asides from medication, a good long slow warm up is of importance, taking your inhaler before you start. I have found a gentle jog of about 10mins helps a lot in terms of preventing the ""dip"" at the 10-15min stage.As for the hills, well, me too - not found a solution for that one yet. Let's see if anyone else comes along with an answer!CathBear

  • I know that there are many asthmatics on here who run with few or no problems. Personally when my asthma is controlled I can run no problem (although by no means marathons!!) There are other treatments that can help with exercise induced asthma and if you go back to your GP they will be able to advise you on the treatments that are suitable for you. I'm sure someone medical will offer more help. But I am sure that with the right medication you will be able to sprint again!!Emxx

  • hallo Ali,


    I'm new to marathon running (doing my first on Sunday in London, thought I'd start with a nice lowkey event lol) but not to asthma and not to serious sport, so I am happy to share my experience with you, hope some of it might be helpful.

    I've had asthma since I was a toddler, the first thing my mum noticed when I was 2 was that I would run around then lie on my back wheezing! I always had a lot of trouble with running especially in the cold and especially in the morning and just gave up on being remotely sporty at school. However I was only treated, most of the time, with a steroid inhaler and ventolin, except when I was very ill when younger. By today's standards I was thus quite seriously undertreated (it was about 35 years ago!).

    At university I did a bit more sport and somehow ended up rowing, which I took to (but could never run to the boathouse in the early mornings, got special dispensation to cycle instead) and ended up doing at the highest club level - in my mid 20s my asthma was much better and also much better treated (thankyou Royal Brompton) with several additional medications including montelukast and theophylline and courses of oral steroids among other things. I did find in the end that at the seriously competitive level my asthma did hold me back - most races last 4-8 minutes so are well above lactate threshold and whatever I did I would sometimes get tight and have to slacken off midrace. Not good when racing in a pair (two people, one each side) in a national competition.... so when I also developed a back injury I gave up and retired, most ungraciously I'm afraid, from rowing. However I would never have dreamed that I could get to such a level, and get so much satisfaction, from any sport, so it was all a bonus really. On my occasional forays back into veteran crews, I've had significant problems with asthma, but was always in an eight and in non-serious competition so slacked off with impunity! I have pretty much given up on the whole idea now though.

    However, over the last couple of years I've taken up running, and slowly progressed to the marathon - I find, as you have, that sprinting, or anything up to 5k really, is out of the question as it has the same effect as competitive rowing. However I have found to my great joy that distance running is, for me, much more compatible with asthma as one is always below or at worst close to threshold.

    What I find helps, apart from taking my inhaler just before I start running, hiking, cycling, or whatever, is probably a version of what Cathbear does - I have found over the years that if I jog for 5-10 minutes then speed up to interval pace for a couple of minutes I can replicate that dip one gets at 10-15 minutes into a steady run - if I then stop, have a couple of puffs of inhaler, and walk around until my lungs open up again, that seems usually to protect me for an hour or so against getting tight, even when running. It seems that bringing on the dip on purpose, but then stopping and treating it stops it happening again for a while if that makes sense?

    I also personally find montelukast and theophylline very good, also I am on symbicort (containing formoterol which is like a longacting version of ventolin) - these work for me, and as pps have said there are a lot of options available for treatment, different ones work for different people and it takes some trial and error to get the best combination for you. It's very important that you tell your Dr and/or nurse how important running is to you so that they can work hard with you to find the best treatment that not only allows you to get on with ""ordinary life"" but to get on with your running as well.

    Hills are just like running at interval pace - a high aerobic load - so I suspect you are just getting up to a higher heart rate and breathing harder, as if you were running faster, and when your asthma is better controlled, hills will be less of a problem. My only solution is to shorten my stride and go slowly up them, as advised by the fellrunners of my acquaintance.

    I must say that there are still days when I can't run, and some when I can't crosstrain at all or even go for a walk, and sometimes even my special warmup self-induced bronchospasm doesn't stop me getting tight in a race and having to slow down, but I can certainly do far more than I ever thought possible, and my asthma is deemed to be in the ""severe"" category (though it doesn't seem that way to me most of the time my consultant is most insistent!)

    FInally, I also find that the fitter I get, the more I can do - it's a positive cycle - so do go back to the professionals, explain the situation, keep a diary of your training and your symptoms, and explore the many treatments that are out there.

    Hope this is helpful, do feel free to reply and/or PM me, let us know how you're doing, and think of Paula! And Haile Gebrseselassie (?sp), among many others.

    all the best


  • Hi Ali,

    I’m a runner, although not to marathon standards as around 5k is my limit. Not much to add as the previous posts contain lots of good advice, in particular to see your GP as there are many treatment options.

    Sodium cromoglycate (Intal) worked for me in the past when I was taking it as a preventer inhaler in my teens and late twenties, and my asthma was moderate and well controlled. This works by taking an extra dose about 15 minutes before exercise.

    The effect that EJ writes about is known as the refractory period in exercise induced asthma but not everyone experiences it. I have mild asthma at present and if I hit a dip during warm up (stretching and then jogging for 10-15 minutes) I find that taking my salbutamol inhaler and then resting for about 30 minutes seems to work. There is a period after that during which I can run or exercise without running into problems, so to speak.

    Best wishes,


    p.s. EJ - Good luck on Sunday!

  • Hi Ali,

    There is no way that ej's reply can be followed or bettered, but I can confirm with Ginny too that there is a 'dip' that occurs in the initial stage of excercise, and understand it to be the excerise trigger. It's like a hurdle or stitch and once you are successfully passed it excerise is then much easier again and you wonder what the problem was. Too fight on through is not the best option because the stress could take the asthma to another level, but to slow down and take a 'puff' and then gently build up again is one way through.

    Years ago I also use to take the 'Intal' before going on a jog, and found the dip would be much reduced. I never discovered the induced trick worked out by ej though!

    Interestingly I have to say that I have never had the dip problem with rowing. This is probably because I have only ever done this on the gym machine at a lazy pace (!), but it is a great aerobic excersie which you can do rythmically in time with breathing and help build up fitness for running too!

    I think it may be a case of trial and error, but eventually you will find coping tricks which will 'run' with or alongside your medications!


    PS One last thought, your dip may not come as early as others because your fitness level may be very high. It may be coming when you are upping your game, such as running up an incline, so you may have to gauge things accordingly!!

  • I know this is an old thread, but it's just what I am experienceing at the moment too. I am a runner with several halfs under my belt and this year was going to be marathon year, but I have been diagnosed with asthma, and was initially told not to run.

    I accept that it was sensible advice while the GP was making his diagnosis and he has now accepted that I am going to keep trying to run anyway so has told me it's okay, but I must not attempt the marathon and I must stop if I feel my chest tightening or I start to wheeze.

    I have Salbutamol and Clenil and I don't feel it is under control at the moment. I am having to withdraw from race after race, even 10k's because I just can't do it, and I am seriously considering the possibility that I may simply have to give up running.

    It breaks my heart to even consider it, it is who I am.

    I am told that asthma can be controlled and that I should be able to continue living my life normally, but running is normal for me.

    Think I just need someone to tell me that I WILL be able to run again... Is it just a question of getting the med right to gain control of it, or is it a real possibility that I may simply not be able to continue. I don't care if I come last in every event, I just want to be able to take part.


  • I would say definitely don't give up on running just yet. Particularly without trying more/different types of medication - there are loads more things you should try before giving up on running!

    Go back and see your GP/asthma nurse again. If there is a GP in the practice who is sporty that would be even better. I would also question why it is so bad to do the marathon- long very slow running might prove better than say 10 km/10 miles where you are pushing yourself much more.

    In the meantime make sure you are taking your blue inhaler 15-20 min before exercise and warm up really slowly and wear a scarf if it is cold. If you can't run, do you find other exercise like swimming easier?

    Hope you get it sorted soon.


  • Welcome to forums

    I can understand how you want to continue your running.

    Im probably gonna be mr unpopular for a bit, but gonna say this anyway.

    Perhaps it would be better for you to lay off running for a while.

    You are new to asthma & im assuming its been confirned it is asthma.

    You need to take some time out till docs work out how to control it.

    It wont be fixed overnight but, if you have bad attack whilst running, it aint gonna be pretty.

    Think of it this way, your lungs are not in peak condition at moment, resulting in breathlessness.

    Would you get on a plane if you were told

    Engines not too good at moment, but we cant be bothered waiting to sort them out.

    Be sensible, dont take risks, youre young enough to spare the time it takes to gain control.



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