Running with asthma

I’ve had asthma since I was around 10 years old. I still remember the first time I had it – just after my birthday at a friend’s party where people were smoking and I think I had a cold and I’m pretty sure there were cats in the house. I came home from the party feeling quite ill and my mum gave me paracetamol and sent me to bed. Shortly afterwards I made my way downstairs panting for breath saying “don’t’ you *wheeze* ever give me *wheeze* paracetamol again *wheeze*”

Cue a couple of nights in hospital on a nebulizer, and a diagnosis of asthma. I was sent home on Christmas Eve with a ventolin inhaler and instructed to use it when I needed to.


I’ve carried some sort of inhaler with me pretty much ever since. If you’re not familiar with what asthma is and what the symptoms are then there’s a great explanation here courtesy of Asthma UK

I have a number of allergies which can set my asthma off – pollen, cats and dust being the worst. It’s also worse when I have a cold and if I get a chest infection then things can get a bit nasty.

For a number of years, back in the lazy times, I used my asthma as an excuse not to exercise. I actually faked an attack while at school to get out of running 800meters! Given that Paula Radcliffe suffers with asthma and is the fastest woman marathoner in history, that was pretty lame behaviour looking back.

In the last couple of years since I’ve been getting fitter my asthma has without a doubt improved. Running has helped to increase my lung capacity which I am sure has made a difference. I rarely need to use my inhaler now at all. However, with winter definitely now here in the UK it’s the time of year when I need to be most careful and I thought I’d share a few of my tips with you.

Before I go on I should state that I am not a medical professional. These tips are just from my personal experience of running with asthma. If you’re thinking about starting running and you have asthma that you ought to discuss it with your doctor.

1) Never, ever leave home without your inhaler.

Even if you think you’re feeling OK, or just going for a quick run, you never know.  My experience is that it’s better to have your inhaler with you than not. I have rarely needed to use mine on a run but it’s very re-assuring for me, and my husband, that I’ve got it with me.

Lots of running tights and shorts have zip pockets that are big enough to fit an inhaler in. However my preferred way of carrying mine is in my Fleetfoot II from Workplay Bags

The perfect running bag ?

The bag is big enough to hold my inhaler, my smart phone and my keys and sits snugly on my waist without moving around when I run. I rarely run without it.

2) Be very careful about running with a cold.

My general rule of thumb is that if my symptoms are above my neck then I might venture out. But the minute there’s anything going on in my lungs then I will give running a miss until I’m better. Do some yoga, pilates, something less strenuous and less likely to trigger off an attack – or just rest!

3) Find a way to warm up the air before it reaches your lungs.  

One of the biggest problems I find at this time of year is that the freezing cold air makes my lungs contract as I breathe in. Breathing through my nose helps with this but running and breathing through your nose takes practice. When it’s really cold I like to run with a neck warmer up over my nose and mouth which really helps to warm the air and lessen the impact on my lungs. Mine is from Turtle Fur and is made of lovely soft fleece.


4) Stay out of the wind

This might not be so easy depending on where you live/run. I am fortunate enough to live really close to the River Thames in London. Most of the time it’s a beautiful place to run but it’s usually pretty windy. In the winter when that wind is icy cold one blast is enough to take my breath away and send my lungs into meltdown. I try to avoid running along the river on a cold windy winter day and stick to the streets further back.

5) If it’s really too cold for your lungs to cope with hit the treadmill

Now I am not a fan of gyms or dreadmills but sometimes needs must and if you’ve got a run planned and it’s really too cold or windy to get out then they are an alternative. Last winter I bought some cheap gym passes on Groupon just in case and made use of them when it snowed. I didn’t love it but it was better than not running at all.

6) Listen to your body

If you’re like me and have had asthma for a while you know your body and know best when it’s OK to run and when it’s not so wise. Listen to your body and don’t feel bad about dropping a run here and there if it’s sensible to do so. Cross train instead and wait until you feel better.

My asthma has rarely stopped me from running and running has without a doubt improved my lung capacity and decreased my reliance on inhalers.

Are any of you asthmatic – do you have any other tips for runners with asthma?

10 thoughts

  1. Hi, just wanted to say , what a great article. I have similar problems which all started with an awful chest infection. I got caught out on a run a few weeks ago and didnt have my inhaler with me. It was horrible as i hadnt had an attack in
    18 months, so thinking that a workplay might be a christmas pressie for myself.

  2. Great article, I have asthma and also ran the London marathon this in April. Some great tips here. As you mentioned my asthma massively improved as my lung capacity did. I have similar triggers to you and these tips are great for anyone with asthma thinking of trying something new. I also picked up pilates whilst training for the marathon not only did it improve my core but I found the breathing techniques and exercises really helpful.
    Thank you again for posting this great article/blog and well done on your achievements so far.

      1. I would love to do it again. I didn’t get a place on the ballot and not able to commit to the fundraising this year so I think I will try again the year after. How about you??

      2. I have been super lucky and got a place for next year through the ballot. I’m going to defer to 2014 though as it’s too soon for me to do all that training again – I want to lose some more weight and get better at running before I take it on again. Good luck with the ballot for next year. I know I’d find it hard to go the charity route again – it was almost as difficult raising the money as it was training!

  3. Good tips! I have asthma too and used to use it as an excuse not to exercise … but this year I ran my first 10K! And aside from running in the cold or during pollen seasons, running seems to help my asthma!

  4. I’m currently training for a 10k I find running so much easier in a gym than outside and I am struggling to run a mile outside with the 10k in 8 weeks time, I find I use my inhaler a lot. I’m a beginner and only known I had asthma since january so on a massive learning curve, please send some beginner’s tips! Also my doctor did my peak flow and it was 410, I’m 21 years old she said she felt my asthma was under control but running is one of my triggers? Can I do this is 8 weeks?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s