Running with asthma

I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember. I can also remember as a child being told that it was likely that I’d just ‘grow out of it’. But I got older and older, and now here I am at 26, still an asthmatic.

Like most people, I have certain triggers that make asthma worse. The biggest trigger I have is cold weather. Asthma is a major problem for me in winter – the cold air coupled with spending more time indoors with central heating on full blast plays havoc with my ability to breathe comfortably. 

It makes training so much harder – the running in general is harder, with inhaler breaks mid run. Harder runs in turn lead to dreading runs, which in turn leads to missed runs. It’s a vicious cycle.

I remember once being at a BBQ, and getting out and using my inhaler. Bemused someone said to me “you’re a runner AND you’ve got asthma? Surely that just makes it worse.” Au contraire, mon ami. Running makes my asthma improve immeasurably. I found there was a certain point of fitness I had to get to first, but once I got past the few hard, painful runs, it got a lot easier.

As the temperature has quite a bit recently (although I’d say this is still a relatively mild winter so far), I thought I’d share a couple of tips I’ve found useful for being a runner with asthma…


I take my reliever inhaler (mine is blue and either called Ventolin or Salbutamol) about 10 minutes before I head out. This opens up my airways ready for the extra air I’ll be using. After someone suggested I try this, it was completely obvious. But before, I was waiting to get tight chested to use my inhaler. After all, that’s what it’s for – to relieve – but a couple of puffs beforehand works wonders for me.

Cover up

For me, breathing in the cold air is an instant kick to the chest. It’s also made worse when there’s damp hanging in the air. So, when it’s really chilly, I run wearing a scarf or snood that I pull up over my mouth. This warms up the air that I’m breathing in, making it less painful. I find this is only necessary for the first 5-10 minutes, but once I’m a little warmer it’s still good to keep my neck covered up on cold days.

Manage your condition

This (again) sounds really obvious, but for a while, I just ignored the fact I had asthma. I took the attitude that I’d had it so long, there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t take my brown (preventer) medicine properly and didn’t keep up with check ups. I even spent one Boxing Day in A&E hooked up to oxygen it had got so bad. A couple of years ago, I admitted to a nurse that I was “avoiding stairs” because they made me feel so out of breath. No fit and healthy person should speak these words! Hearing myself say this gave me the kick I needed to take my own condition seriously. Now, I keep to twice-yearly asthma check ups with a nurse (even if I don’t feel like I need one), get flu vaccinated every year (didn’t do this for years either) and always make sure I have enough back up medication.

These steps have worked for me – obviously this is just my experience and may not work for everyone. Please speak to a nurse or GP about your condition. All I would say it’s that it is important to take asthma seriously and not ignore it – work out what this means for you.

Another thing I’d like to look into more and experiment with is the relationship between food and asthma. It was very recently suggested to me that the two could be related, which I’d never even considered before.

What are your experiences with asthma? What works for you in managing it?


  1. 5th February 2014 / 10:05 AM

    Hi Lissy- great post! I’m also an asthma runner. Used to be really embarrassed about it but now I am proud to jog along the Thames and get my little blue friend out if I need it!

    The trick of a puff of inhaler 10 mins before a run always works wonders for me in the cold weather- good advice.

    • 5th February 2014 / 9:19 PM

      Me too, I can remember on a school trip once having to take my inhaler and spacer with me and feeling like the dorkiest person ever.

      I definitely think since I accepted it’s here to stay everything has got so much better.

  2. Robert
    5th February 2014 / 9:05 PM

    Im also an asthma sufferer who runs. The one time i didn’t carry my inhaler during a race was the one time i needed it and ended up with a chest infection. I knew it was a mistake the moment i left it in the car. Always carry it with you

    • 5th February 2014 / 9:17 PM

      Definitely very good advice!

      I always make sure I carry mine these days.

  3. 11th February 2014 / 11:54 AM

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge .

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