How to run like a severe asthmatic, by Bill Swan

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Saw this blog post by Bill Swan and liked it so much I just had to re-post it here. Bill provides us with a step by step instruction guide on how to run like a severe asthmatic. ( I think the photo says it all, don’t you?)

Read more about Bill on his blog at Life with Asthma.

I have had a long on-again-off-again relationship with exercise and running.

Despite being told as a child that I would be better off collecting stamps or taking up some other sedentary hobby, my contrarian tendency was to do the things I was told precisely not to do – I played soccer, basketball, softball. After seeing a film about the effect of running on mental health in grade 8 gym class – and my Dad buying himself a pair of the first Nike™ waffle soles (that I promptly commandeered) – I also started running. OK, to be honest to characterize it as running would be a stretch. At least at first.

My lungs are pretty damaged. Without my drug regime, I doubt I would still be around. I’ve been through respiratory failure, awoke in the Cardiac Care Unit and have had more bouts of pneumonia than I care to remember. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 2, though I am sure that I always had asthma as my Mom tells me that once I was diagnosed and treated for asthma I stopped bawling all the time. When I was young, I remember spending a lot of time glaring at smokers wishing I could “trade” lungs, since they were hell-bent on damaging them on purpose – bastards.

To deal with my asthma, I take 2 inhalations of high-dose Symbicort™ (steroid and long-acting bronchodilator) twice a day, one inhalation of Asthmanex™ (steroid) twice a day, 4 snorts of Nasonex™ (steroid) at night, Singulair™ (anti-allergy) once a day. Before I run I often take a prophylactic dose of Bricanyl™ (short-acting bronchodilator). If I have an exacerbation I take a 5 day course of prednisone (broad-spectrum steroid), and with each bout of pneumonia I roll in expectorant and often a course of antibiotic. Moreover, I have anxiety, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal co-morbidities related to my asthma that I treat successfully as well. I have considered using the biologic Zolair™ and have investigated Bronchial Thermoplasty™ (where the bronchial muscles are “heated” to reduce muscle mass).

So, I am – as they say – heavily medicated (though not in the fun way). I am extremely careful with my triggers. I stay away from environments with pets, mold and mildews (which lead to some people thinking I’m snobbish). We have no carpets or household plants and few fabric drapes. I am fastidious when I travel, including keeping prednisone and antibiotics on hand should I take a turn for the worse when I am in places with iffy health care – like the US.

Yet, with all of this intervention and care I still only have just over 60% lung functionality compared to other people my age, weight, and asthma status. Compared to a healthy individual, I’m lucky if I have 50% functionality, on a good day and fully medicated.

I am sure this is why my Asthma Educator looks at me abashedly and asks “Bill, please don’t take this the wrong way, but are you SURE you run?”

Yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, when the stars align I run 30-50 kilometres a week (this includes dealing with all of the crap other 50 year olds deal with – plantar fasciitis, shin splints, aching knees, weight and ennui). I may not be the fastest runner, but I run dammit.

So, what’s it like to run when your lungs aren’t up to par?

Home-Made Recipe for 1 Severely Asthmatic Runner

1 healthy individual
1 roll medical tape (or duct tape if you are a masochist)
3 really narrow drink straws (not those big McDonald’s straws. A blue whale could breathe freely through those suckers)
A soupçon of gullibility

Apply tape “x’s” to each nostril and the mouth. Carefully insert a straw through each “x.” For the love of Pete, don’t jamb them all the way into your nasal cavity or your epiglottis; Gentle is the word. Carefully practice breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

This is important as a lot of people do not understand that one of the characteristics of asthma is that you often have more problems getting the air OUT than IN.

Put on your running gear, tell your partner your route and to come and find you in about 15 minutes.

*If you have actually followed the directions, PLEASE send me a picture. I promise not to post it on Facebook – much

The point here is that you do not have to be an elite athlete to be active (I make no illusions to being an elite athlete – elite regular schmo – but no athlete). No matter your level of infirmity you do have the capacity to – as we say in the Maritimes – Get off yer arse!

I have found a way to work through my limitation – a testament to mother nature over-engineering the human body – and so can you.

Shawn Strachan a severe asthmatic from Cochrane, Alberta with 52% lung capacity runs triathlons all over the world to draw attention to the need for asthmatics to keep active no matter the severity of their disease. He’s not the fastest, but he finishes.

The National Asthma Patient Alliance created Team Asthma to help encourage all asthmatics to get and stay active. We hope to support asthmatics who want to take up this challenge.

But this takes resources, with which you can help now!

Team Asthma will be running teams this year at the Scotiabank Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax, the Tamarack Ottawa Race, the Vancouver Half-Marathon and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

My 6-year old daughter Caelin (recently diagnosed with mild asthma) and I are leading Team Asthma for the Blue Nose Marathon Weekend. She will do the youth run and I will take on the 10K. Please sponsor either of us or support Team Asthma directly:

Donate to Caelin

Donate to Bill

Donate to Team Asthma

Keep on Breathing!

(Authored by Bill Swan and republished with permission)

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One Comments

  1. Zim says:

    I admire those people, who despite of lack health or despite of disability make sports.
    My only sport is… Running to tram or bus :)
    Greetings from sunny Cracow.

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Most frequently asked question

"Can you have an asthma attack with a normal sat reading"?
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While it's a little unusual to see a person with a perfect O2 sat of a 100% during a severe exacerbation, its pretty typical to see sats in the 94-97% range. The reason for this, is that asthma is a disease of the airways , not the alveoli where gas exchange takes place. Most asthmatics dont desaturate during the early stages of an attack,unless theres a secondary problem such as pneumonia. You have to be extremely ill with asthma if your sats are low.

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