Breathing Troubles – Asthma flare up

Way back in around 1996 I was diagnosed with asthma. It wasn’t terribly bad, I used daily steroids for a while and the blue salbutamol inhaler occasionally. My reference point for how bad asthma could be was very high – a girl I was at junior school with would be regularly hospitalised because of her asthma. The effect on me was minor issue in comparison, it barely bothered me.

Over the last seven years I’ve been a regular runner, taken part in various races from 1.2 mile fell races through to marathons and 55km ultras. I can run pretty well, though I’m no trouble to the podium finishers. I love running for what I get from it and the freedom it gives me to explore the hills. In recent times my asthma had been so mild I forget to carry my blue inhaler and I came close to almost forgetting I had it.

That is until maybe the last 6-9 months. There hasn’t been any dramatic episode or attack. The last time that happened was years ago when I moved into a flat that was extremely dusty. Hoovering on that day almost had me calling 999.

It just seems that my breathing has got ‘rubbish’ lately. I feel I’ve been saying more and more when out running with friends that I’ll be going slow uphill because ‘I’m rubbish at hills’. Part of the joy of fell running for me is that there isn’t any pressure to run all the way up hills and just being out exploring is what makes me happy. I pushed the rubbish breathing out of mind.

But, more and more I’ve been puffing on the blue inhaler. Most runs over this winter have had me checking the inhaler is with me and fairly soon into a run taking a puff to stop me wheezing, relax the bronchioles and ensure I can continue.

In the past few months I’ve been wheezy when I’ve got into bed. A quick blast of salbutamol and by morning I forget. When out running with friends I’ve been feeling more and more ‘rubbish’. I know I should be able to run faster, not always be the one at the back. At parkrun a 30 minute 5km feels really hard when it shouldn’t.

So, I made an appointment with the nurse to get my lungs checked. What a shock I was in for. Not only is my peak flow well below where it should be, I did a FeNO test to check whether there was any inflammation in my bronchioles. The test is really simple – a long steady exhale into a tube where the exhaled nitric oxide levels are measured.

The nurse told me my level – 131ppb (parts per billion). ‘So what should it be?’ I ask – under 25ppb.


Well that explains why it’s been feeling really hard when I’m out running!!  What this means is my lungs are really inflamed and any exercise that puts stress on my cardiovascular system will be severely reduced in comparison to how I should be able to perform.

Since then, I’ve been prescribed a steroid inhaler – 2 puffs twice a day. In around 2-3 weeks I should see improvements in lung functioning. After 6 weeks I may be feeling a whole lot better and I have a check back with the nurse to do the tests again so we will see then.

So what’s the point of me explaining all this. Asthma isn’t a rare condition, it affects 1 in 12 people and many runners will have the condition.

I think for me it was the gradual onset then the severity which shocked me. As a personal trainer and someone who people describe as being ‘really fit’ I’m finding it hard to come to terms with struggling so badly. Admitting there is a problem has been hard and perhaps the last few months I’ve just wanted to ignore it, believing that maybe I’m not putting in enough training, not pushing myself hard enough in hard efforts. How wrong have I been.

Will this stop me running? Will it heck!!! What I am doing is being super diligent with taking the steroids, monitoring how I’m progressing and still going out running. But, my runs are very much at a pace I can manage with plenty of walk breaks. I am entered in the Trail Marathon Wales in mid June and still plan to be on the start line.

Fast-forward a few weeks and my breathing while running still doesn’t seem to have improved. It’s frustrating to say the least but I have not stopped exercising. I’ve done more cycling than ever and have discovered a love of open water swimming…running may be taking a back seat at the moment but just because I can’t do that with ease right now doesn’t mean I’m going to sulk in the corner.

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