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My First Marathon with Asthma

Reading time | 5 min

Running has and probably always will be a big part of my life and my identity.

When I was diagnosed with asthma, I had already started training for my first half marathon. I spent weeks logging my miles, but I felt terrible, which brought me to the doctor’s office.

Despite my new diagnosis, I knew I had to finish what I started. This wasn’t for anyone else but myself. I thought if I could run 13.1 miles with this chronic condition, I’d have control and everything would be fine.

I’ve now completed three full marathons, and I’m training for my fourth in October.

When I tell people that I’m running 26.2 miles, especially those who know me well, they’re often shocked and worried. They’re concerned that I’m pushing myself too far, that it’s unsafe, or that I’ll get hurt. Most of all, they wonder why I’d put myself through something like this again and again.

The answer to that question is simple to understand — at least for me — and after years I have come to peace with the fact that others don’t have to.

There’s beauty in the difficult. Pushing yourself physically and mentally can be freeing and inspiring. Some things in life are for you to enjoy, and you alone.

The beginning

I fell in love with running at an early age. I played soccer and ran track from middle school through intramurals in college. During the soccer off-season in high school, I did cross-country running to help train, and I was hooked.

How many high schoolers love waking up early to run seven miles before school? I’m not sure, but I was one of them.

I signed up to run my first Chicago Marathon during the second semester of my senior year at Arizona State University. I was terrified to graduate and move across the country with no job, very little savings, and few friends. Why not add marathon training into the already stressful mix?

I figured running could help clear my head and keep me in shape while I made the transition into the adult world.

It should come as no surprise that my training regimen turned out to be a little inconsistent. When I made it to Chicago, I had about a month to prepare myself for the 26.2 miles ahead before starting grad school. I ended up landing a stressful internship at a communications firm and was thrust into the full-time working world.

In addition to that, my relationship at the time was slowly collapsing under the pressure of distance. Running ended up being the last thing I wanted to do at the end of a stressful day. Plus, my asthma symptoms were only getting worse from living in the new Midwestern climate.

My first marathon

Despite all my setbacks and lack of training, I managed to wake up on race day with butterflies. I scarfed down my whole-wheat waffles with peanut butter and honey and tried to drink a full bottle of water before I made it to the starting corral. Packed together like cattle, I remember thinking the hundreds of people around me all looked like experts.

Everyone was excited and smiling, and making friendly chatter with the other runners. I stood there wide-eyed, clutching my inhaler in my hand and wondering if it was too late to run out and go home.

Every few minutes, we’d inch closer to the starting line. My anxiety was at an all-time high. What was I thinking?

Roughly six hours later, I finished my first marathon.

When I crossed the finish line, I couldn’t help but get emotional. My body was exhausted and I had been pushed to my absolute limit. I could barely lift my arms to celebrate while crossing because I couldn’t stop crying from joy, pride, and physical pain all at once.

My race and time were not beautiful by any means. The result of undertraining meant that I had to walk or run slowly for a good portion of the race. I had also overhydrated out of fear of becoming dehydrated.

I started off the race at a faster pace than I’d normally run. My endorphins were pumping, hundreds of people were cheering, and running with thousands of other people swept me up for the first five miles. This left me needing my rescue inhaler, and I slowed down for the last 21 miles.

After finishing, my coworkers, friends, and family all wanted to know my time, but I was embarrassed. I thought I should’ve done better. How could it have taken me six hours when I had run all my life?

But I quickly realized how much of a feat this was. Finishing was all that mattered. I walked away from the race with a medal and a huge sense of accomplishment.

I know that I’m not just any runner. Having asthma forces me to listen to my body and respect what my lungs need. I’ve learned not to push myself too hard, and for that, I’m grateful (and my doctors are, too).

You can do it, too

I’m now seven weeks out from my next marathon and have been adequately training for the past four months. I’ve logged hundreds of miles at this point and have learned so much about the “right” way to prepare for a race.

If you’ve ever considered running a full or half marathon, or even a 5K race, I’m here to tell you that it can be done.

Talk to your doctor about what you’d like to accomplish and come up with a treatment and preparation plan to do it safely. Consider joining a training group or find an individual trainer who will understand your unique needs. Take things slowly and listen to your body.

The beauty of running races is in the experience, not finishing with the fastest time. And if you ever want to run the Chicago Marathon, chances are you’ll find me in the back, clutching my inhaler and handing out high fives all the way through to the finish line.

For more information on how to manage asthma, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

RESP-US-NP-00090 DECEMBER 2018