(First, I apologize for taking so long to write. I have become the editor of the fancy newsletter for our local running club and it takes up a lot of my wont to write.)
I have asthma.
Officially diagnosed I was about 13-14 years old, I had been an avid softball player yet after every game I was hacking up my lungs and finally my mom took me to the doctor. It took about six months to make the diagnosis, many a cough suppressant and antibiotic were prescribed in the meantime to rule out other issues, and finally, the pediatrician looked at me and said, “Asthma.”
Coughing used to happen fast and furious. I remember many a winter spent recovering from bronchitis. A handful of years ago I had pleurisy. The pneumonia shot is highly recommended for people with respiratory illnesses and diseases. Having not taken this whole asthma thing seriously, I’m paying for it today.
The thing is, you get used to not being able to breathe so you don’t realize it’s getting worse.
And then you get to the point where wheezing happens from the moment you wake up till you go to sleep each night.
Thinking back, I’m pretty sure the flare up began sometime in July but I kept attributing it to the heat. It was a super hot summer and the dew point was consistently in the high 60s to mid-70s. When the air is saturated, I can’t breathe anyway, so I didn’t think much about it.
On Christmas Day my sister’s across the street neighbor gifted me with a nebulizer and a whole bunch of albuterol sulfate to go with it. I did my first treatment shortly after she left and immediately felt relief. For the next month I treated myself twice a day while taking four puffs from the inhaler midday (it’s hard to do the nebulizer at work, it’s loud). Somewhere in the middle of that I started using the steroid inhaler again to help reduce the inflammation.
Asthma is a chronic disease of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. The bronchial area stays inflamed and over-produces mucus which in turns reduces the amount of air flow through the lungs. Due to the reduction in air flow, if feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest, and breathing becomes labored and often wheezing happens. An asthma attack occurs when the lungs get inflamed causing the use of a rescue inhaler to be necessary. A flare up is a prolonged asthma attack, usually triggered by something like allergies, roach poop, mold, food, etc.
Yet I digress.
It took about a month, but I finally began to feel lasting relief. There were some panicky moments where I thought I was going to need to visit the ED. Focusing on meditation, yoga and taking my mind off the state of our union became a priority. Knitting is quite relaxing so I did that more. I went back to making sure I read a real book before sleep. I downloaded an application on my phone that filters blue light.
Reducing my stress and anxiety was an absolute must.
About three weeks into treatment I noticed the mysterious exhaustion was disappearing. Then I had a light bulb moment. I told The Dude my thought: “Hey! Since I’ve been breathing better, I noticed my energy has been returning. That mysterious exhaustion is starting to go away.” His response: “So basically you’ve been operating at altitude these past several months. Now that your O2 levels are normalizing again, your VO2 isn’t stressed meaning you have more energy again.”
Yep. That’s an accurate analogy.
Now, almost 2 months after beginning the treatment, I am breathing better than I have in quite possibly years, maybe even a decade or two. I now only do a nebulizer treatment before bed and take two puffs from both inhalers in the morning. Last week I was able to stop the midday treatments. The goal is to not need any of the treatments at any point in the day and allow the rescue inhaler to be just that, my rescue.
I say all this as a means to introduce the impact this has had on my ability to run. Though I still went to the gym 3-5 days a week, running happened once maybe twice a week if I was lucky.
My running base has been shot to hell so I’ve had to start over again almost completely. I started off the New Year with a 5k and have been trying to run steady ever since. I ran 20-25 miles a week in January. Throughout February I have been attempting to run 30 miles a week. Not being able to breathe for so long severely impacted my endurance levels. Some days running is very hard simply because of the breathing; there is a lot more walking then I’d like. I had gotten to the point where I could run a uphill for a while mile and now that’s gone.
It’s nearing the end of February and I’m just now feeling comfortable with running 10 miles. This is a tough hit on my ultrarunning ego.
Everyday I’m learning to let go of what I was once capable of and learning about what I can do now. There are days this is very hard especially since I’ve gained about 15lbs.
I’ve switched my schedule so I am at the gym most weekday mornings. I have gone back to running four days a week versus five. Monday is a total rest day, Tuesday and Friday are active rest days. I have started facing the truth that I will be unable to safely complete a 50 mile trail race by September. But 30 miles is not off the table so I’m going to do a 50k instead. My focus right now is to get in marathon shape for Conquer the Cove in June.
My main focus is on my breath. The gym time is secondary. The running is tertiary, for now.
I’m going to start focusing more on heart rate because when my heart rate gets too high, I cannot breathe as well. So it’s kind of a no brainer for me. And I really need to get my Vitamin D levels tested, among others.
I am, unfortunately, of that age.