A Storm’s Brewing

Asthma sucks. If you’ve been reading you’ll know that I have asthma. Getting my lungs to cooperate with me is an ongoing battle that results in some pretty bad runs. But, there are good days and ok days and lots of other days in between the bad ones.

Sometimes, usually in the summer, I can just feel the asthma attack coming. I wake in the morning with a little hitch in my breathing. “Tight” is what my doctor calls it. Things just aren’t working right and I know that sooner or later it’s going to result in an episode of some pretty bad breathing. It happened this week on race day. I regularly run in a local cross country race. It’s a great race with lots of friends and a fun course. Unfortunately, it’s also plagued by some pretty wicked weather. On this particular race day I woke up breathing slowly. My lungs just weren’t as motivated for the day as I was. I took my usual morning meds and things didn’t improve. All day, I knew an asthma attack was coming. Maybe not a proper, full-on attack, but I could feel something building.

I had a decision to make. In the past, I’ve had good luck triggering a mild first attack to get it out of my system and then running later. Usually, I can get a little wheezy, recover, and then run well. I’ve never had a two-attack day. It’s a strategy I used a lot to perform well in races when I was younger. I didn’t really care about the outcome of this race. I wasn’t planning to race race – just have a good time with friends. And there I was, ready to trigger an attack to run well in a casual, local race. The whole thing suddenly seemed silly. If I didn’t care about my time and was only running for fun, why would I need to run well – and why would I trigger an asthma attack to do it? I decided to take my chances in the race.

While I was running, feeling worse and worse, I had the sudden realization that I do the little trigger an attack routine mostly so other people don’t see it and worry. Sometimes I really care how I do and I want to run well. Mostly, I want to avoid the concern/pity I get when I am clearly struggling to breathe. Any time I have an episode of bad breathing, people engage in the concern/pity questions – even people who’ve seen me had multiple attacks and who know I have asthma. Did you bring your inhaler? (No – I never do. Ever. Never have.) Are you going to be ok? (Yes. Always am.) Did I remember to pre-treat? (Of course) And, the worst one – Bad day for you, huh? Sigh. I get it. Asthma is distressing. But it is what it is. Sure, sometimes I imagine what it might be like to just run, with no 30-minute nebulizer routine, but that isn’t going to happen. Mostly, I just want people to accept my poor breathing with minimum distress – the same as we all accept that one really sweaty guy in every group run. It’s just his way. I have a little trouble breathing sometimes. That’s my way. It always passes. I appreciate the concern, but I’m really ok. Really.

Cox Providence Half Marathon 2013 – updated

Updated! I added the elevation profile, by popular demand.

Today, I ran in the UnitedHealthcare Cox Providence Half Marathon. It was not a great day. It was one of those runs were nothing works – it’s just too bad it happened during a race.

The day was dark, cool, and rainy. At race start it was 60 degrees with 100% humidity. It was foggy, grey, and sprinkling off and on. I appreciated the cool temperatures and overcast sky, but wasn’t very excited about the rain. High humidity is asthmatic hell, so I knew it would be a tough race. I got to the parking area bright and early and headed for the “Exchange Terrace” area, a little street across from a park where they have an ice skating area in the winter. According to my pre-race email and attached instructions, packet pickup was on Exchange Terrace. I wandered around for a little while, totally lost. There were lots of people, but not a volunteer in sight. There was no one to ask for help and no sign of an obvious packet pick up area. Finally, I saw someone with a goody bag and asked. Packet pick up was in the ballroom of the Omni Hotel, a block away. I walked on over to the Omni and waited in line. Wrong line. I waited in a second line and got my bib. When I got to the t-shirt station, a not-that-friendly volunteer barked “Only larges left. You want one?” Resigned, I accepted my large, men’s shirt. Not quite the extra small I was hoping for. Everyone around me milled around in a state of confused disappointment. No one got the shirt they wanted and all of us were lost. There were no volunteers to help. I pinned my bib and followed the crowd, hoping they would lead me to the starting line. They did and I got there with 15 minutes to spare until the 8am race start. It’s definitely a post-Boston world. I noticed lots of security staff. Men with huge guns wandered in the crowd, police were stationed on rooftops.

Cox Providence Police

8:05 passed, then 8:10. There was no sign of an imminent race start. At 8:13 someone sang the national anthem. The crowd was getting restless. All of the pre-race materials had said 8am start. Thousands of people were standing in the rain. Finally, at 8:17 (?) the race was underway.

The first four miles went well. I was cruising along and feeling soggy, but fine. I’ve been having some trouble with my knee (the had-surgery one) and it began to stiffen up. It doesn’t like the rain, and really doesn’t like changes in atmospheric pressure. The front rolling through was not a friend to my knee. My poor knee was stuck in a half-bent state, totally stiff and not straightening well in the forward part of my stride. I didn’t think it was too much of a problem until mile 7, when my calf and hamstring started cramping. Not dehydrated cramping, but weird muscle spasm/charlie horse cramping. I resolved to slow down and start walking the water stops. A side note on water stops. What a mess! The pre-race guide said water stops would be every mile and a half. No such luck. There didn’t seem to be much of a pattern to the water stops, only that they were about 2+ miles apart. Most were understaffed, a volunteer or two per table, so runners were pouring their own water. There was no pattern to the Gatorade/water distribution. Sometimes Gatorade was first, sometimes not, and sometimes it was all mixed together with both in one area and in the same style cups. The cup styles weren’t even consistent so there was chaos at every water station. Runners were coming to a full stop to search for and find a cup that had the right liquid in it. It was a volunteer staffing and organizational problem.

I felt wheezy and asthmatic. The humidity was not kind to my asthma or my knee. The wheels fell off at mile 9. My leg muscles were firing at all the wrong times. I couldn’t seem to get them to coordinate with the bending of my knee. I felt like Phoebe from Friends when she runs in the park. I’m sure I looked normal, but I felt miserable. I trudged along. I’m sad to say there was a lot of walking while I tried to get things under control and avoid running with a limp. This race wasn’t worth an injury, or angering my funny IT band attachment point, so I slowed WAY down to avoid limping.

The course itself was well-marked, but poorly staffed. There were no medical tents or personnel along the course. The few volunteers I did see at points in the course other than the water stops were children. Children young enough that I began to wonder where their parents were and why their parents were letting them stand on a street corner on a race course in arguably questionable neighborhoods. There were plenty of police offices at major road crossings, but few volunteers. The course itself was winding, and passed through a few attractive, and a few unattractive areas of Providence and Pawtucket. Compared to the Rock N Roll Providence course, this course was more older neighborhoods with less gentrification.

Finally, mercifully, the race course curved past the river (there were swans!) and toward the finish line. I was grateful for the race to be over, but sorry to see the report from my Garmin (thank goodness I had my Garmin since the clocks were all set to the marathon time, not half). I was headed to a Personal Worst. Now, I’m always happy to run a slow race and pace a friend, or be sensible when I’m undertrained, but this PW hurt. I am fit. I tapered. I ate well. I got plenty of sleep. I don’t know what went wrong. Other than a perfect storm of bad weather + asthma + knee stiffness + muscle problems, I don’t have an explanation.

Cox Providence Start

I’m still a little sad about the race. I don’t know what went wrong. I’ll go back to my training log and look for a lesson, but this just might be one race in which the lesson is that sometimes running is random. Sometimes a run just doesn’t work. Today was one of those days.

The look of resignation. A PW.

The look of resignation. A PW.

Updated – here is the elevation profile.

Cox Providence Rhode Race Elevation Profile - Half Marathon

Cox Providence Rhode Race Elevation Profile – Half Marathon

 

It’s in the Manifesto

Stress is related to 99% of all illness.

It’s a line from the Lululemon Manifesto and it couldn’t be more true for me right now. If you’ve been following, I said yes and became a Lululemon Ambassador. I had been planning to blog about the many bits of wisdom in the Lululemon Manifesto, but sickness intervened. Then the idea came to me – I could write about being sick because Lululemon has that one covered. Stress is related to 99% of all illness.

The last few weeks have been stressful – work drama, challenges in my professional life, running injury, and a to do list a mile long. On top of that, I had work travel scheduled. Any time I so much as step foot on a plane, I get sick. There’s something about the whole process that triggers an immune system meltdown. Maybe it’s the stress of packing, or the rush at work just before the trip, or the thousands of people with exotic germs at the airport, or the canned air germ festival on the plane, but the whole thing just makes me instantly ill. Overall, the stress of travel is too much for my feeble immune system. Add in asthma, with lungs that attract every germ within a mile radius, and I’m sick. Again. Time for rest, recovery, and lots of water.

Airport

Fingers are crossed that this illness makes its way out of my life as quickly as it came.

Land of the Living

I think I have finally rejoined the land of the living. I can breathe most of the time and I almost have my voice back. Tomorrow I will even try running again. It’s going to be good to be back.

It all started out with the illness I mentioned a few posts ago. I felt generally crappy and asthmatic for about a week. I finally decided to go to the doctor when I completely lost my voice. It was gone gone – no scratchy voice, not even a squeak. For some unknown reason, whenever I can’t see my usual doctor, something ridiculous happens. This was no exception. I saw an APRN at my usual doctor’s office. She proclaimed that I did not have strep throat and, if I could just stop smoking, would be just fine. I don’t smoke and never have. Undeterred, she decreed that running was “too strenuous” and that it was certainly the smoking or the running that had made me sick. She seemed pretty convinced that if I were to stop smoking I would be cured. Never mind that I don’t smoke. All I got was a pamphlet and a lecture about smoking. Resigned, I headed home to rest and take some time of work. A few days later, my illness took a turn for the worse and it required another visit to the doctor. This time, I got my regular doctor. Turns out my blood oxygen level was dangerously low and I had bronchitis and a sinus infection. Since it had been almost a week since the last visit, and two weeks of sickness, my lungs were a mess. I got an immediate nebulizer treatment and a prescription for heavy duty antibiotics. She insisted that I get and use a nebulizer at home.

I headed on over to the medical pharmacy, a magical land with lift chairs and canes and shower stools, to get my new nebulizer and the juice that goes in it. My doctor must have been pretty serious about getting my lungs back on track because she prescribed 288 treatments.

That’s a lot of nebulizing! The helpful woman at the medical pharmacy offered me my choice of different tubes and off I went with her tube of choice.

It’s been a couple days and I’m feeling better. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will have a nice run tomorrow and will be back on track in time for the Colchester Half Marathon. Wish me luck!

A Note to My Younger (Asthmatic) Self

If you’ve been reading, you know that I have been sick. I get sick a lot. I have asthma, which, for me, means my lungs are pathetic wimps who take on any and all germs within a 10 mile radius. About one in every three bouts of sickness the germs migrate to my lungs, taking up residence, and necessitating steroids and/or a lengthy rest period to get things back on track. During this period of lung-failure I can’t regulate my breathing well at all. Running becomes nearly impossible and my heart rate gets erratic. I start to see black spots. I simply am not moving enough air to run and think at the same time. This isn’t new. It’s been happening for years, but every time it’s so discouraging.

Today, while on the treadmill, I got to thinking about this lung-failure phenomenon. Being a grown up and even a therapist who preaches acceptance, you’d think I would be ok with it. But every time, I feel the same way I did when I was younger – discouraged, defeated, like a failure. Turns out my younger, asthmatic self is hanging around inside me. So, I wrote the following note to her (yes, while on the treadmill, on the back of an old flyer for a fundraiser having to do with Zumba):

Self,

You have asthma. There’s no question about this, so it’s time to accept the uncomfortable realities that come with it. You will struggle to breathe at random times. You will get sick and take weeks to recover. Your lungs will revolt and will make it impossible for you to catch your breath. You’ll have bad races and bad training runs and bad games because your lungs just don’t want to cooperate. This happens. You didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this. You are no less of an athlete because of it. It is not an indicator that you are fat, out of shape, or lazy. Lying about how bad you feel and skipping that workout helps no one. Have patience with yourself and your breathing. It will come around eventually. You are not less of an athlete because you have asthma.

Hang in there,

Older (and wiser) self.

I like to think this note would have helped the younger me. I sure helped the older me – who turned off her Garmin and just ran because she could.

What do you wish you could tell your younger self?