Or, “Why This Blog is Called ‘Asthmarathon Man'”
Growing up, I would start and end my day with a pair of inhalers and occasionally a nasal spray in addition to having to have an emergency inhaler on me at all times. At the age of eight, I was attending a workshop for controlling asthma attacks and had my own peak-flow meter – with chart – at home. I had to blow into this plastic tube three times each sitting, morning and night, to keep an eye on my total lung capacity.
By high school, I had the joy of learning about a machine called the nebulizer, in which you put medicine and a saline solution and then breathe in the fumes. The point of the nebulizer is to deliver medicine when your lungs can’t hold breath long enough to get medicine from the inhaler to settle. For those who don’t know, it’s recommended you hold in the puff from an inhaler anywhere from a count of 10 to a count of 20, which at times can be a challenge if you’re in serious respiratory distress.
Upon going to college, my need for the nebulizer and the morning/evening inhalers passed, and I was left with the emergency inhaler. I distinctly recall a few times I attempted to run along with either my fraternity brothers or just in generally high spirits and had to grasp for the canister that would restore my breath.
Now, I’m a runner. Well, I’m a sort of runner. I know my PRs for a given distance, but I’m content running my own race at my own pace. Some might call me a Penguin. I enjoy signing up for races not to win but to push myself to my own limits and maybe make some new friends in the process. There’s something about running in a pack that makes me feel safer, more complete. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been in a crowded start line, who hasn’t toasted another finisher at the post-race beer tent, who hasn’t gone to a potluck with members of his/her local running group. Humans are, by nature, social animals, and running in a pack at my own pace makes me feel complete, as though maybe I’m not as restricted as I once feared I would be my entire life.
However, I’m still not completely out of the woods. Before every race, I still reach for that inhaler. Last fall in a half marathon, I left it in the car after a pre-race hit and found myself gasping for air during the race, not accounting for certain allergens during a half marathon that ran through a cemetery and a park. I seriously contemplated leaving the race course to get it or gasping my need to the police working the crosswalk. However, stubborn runner that I am, I pushed through it, coached myself to calm down, regained my breath and finished – albeit a bit more slowly than I’d hoped. This year, my goal is not to do that.
My first race of the year was the St. Patrick Society of Peoria Gaelic Gallop. While only a 5K, I was recovering from a chest cold – often more serious for me than I let on – and I found myself struggling for breath in the chilly winter air. The worst part is not struggling to the finish line, hoping you still get a decent time in spite of yourself. It’s not the fear that you could end up having to stop altogether and call a 5K a failure. It’s knowing that your body is going to punish you for your arrogance. That the lack of oxygen is translating to a buildup of lactic acid that wouldn’t otherwise be warranted at that distance. That the body is going to take longer to recover than conditioning would suggest.
All that being said, I run because I love to run. The half marathon has proven to be a distance I can (usually) conquer without requiring my inhaler on the course, and I find it to be a good way to push myself. This year I’m hoping to go sub-2 as a new PR (just missed it by less than 2 minutes last year in Louisville), but I’ve got a larger goal in mind too – to complete my first ever 26.2-mile marathon this May. You can be sure my inhaler will be on the course with me.
Take two puffs, a few deep breaths, and push it!