What running does not feel like.

I have shared what running often feels like to me: meditative, refreshing, calming, frustrating and rewarding.  What it shouldn't feel like is having a 2 ton elephant taking a nap on your chest.  There was a time in my life though when this is exactly what running felt like for me.  If this is what running feels like to you, maybe I can help shove off  that elephant!


I knew I had some allergies.  In my 20's I had the whole back-scratch testing done, and it showed I had outdoor allergies, like grass and some trees, mold and dust.  As long as I took an over-the-counter antihistamine, things remained pretty much in control.  Then I went through a body altering experience and everything changed.  Pregnancy:  not only did I lose a bunch of awesome shoes due to a full size increase in my foot, I gained some never-there-before-waves to my hair. In addition, I apparently gained some allergies to dogs and cats.  So it makes perfect sense why I live with 4 cats and a dog now, right??

When I began to run in 2008, my chest was always tight.  When it was windy, it was worse. I just thought this was what running felt like.  Even as I became more conditioned and trained, it just always felt hard to breathe.  I just muscled through it, and thought I was pretty tough for doing this sport that felt so horrible.  Those that could push through and ignore the inability to breathe where those mystical creatures called "runners."  I was feeling pretty badass about being one of those people.

It wasn't until an overnight stay in a home which housed several dogs that I finally started connecting the dots.  My animal allergy had always been an annoyance when I wasn't diligent in taking my antihistamines.  My eyes would itch and my nose would run, but it was annoying, not frightening.  That night as I laid in bed with the Good Doctor, I was mentally talking myself out of an ER visit.  I literally could.not.breathe.  My breaths sounded like a combination of a dying goose and a squeaking mouse.  There was an elephant on my chest who had no interest in removing itself.  I had to sit upright in bed to get any air in. The Good Doctor, never having witnessed this before, said I sounded asthmatic.   The episode eventually subsided, but it was with great clarity that we realized I must have excercise/allergy induced asthma.

As I mourned the loss of my perceived badassery, I was overjoyed that maybe running could feel something other than difficult.  After moving to Valley City, I decided to be officially tested for asthma.  Asthma testing requires a lot of deep breath taking, and then measuring those breaths.  Then they give you a little puff of stuff to breath in.  There is like 9 increasing doses. If you react to any of those increasing doses, you have a diagnosis of asthma.  Within about 45 seconds of the first dose of the magical irritant, the elephant, and about 3 of his friends were planted firmly on my chest.  The Respiratory Therapist bluntly said, "You look like crap" and I fully agreed.   He gave me inhalers to reverse the attack, and I left there with the knowledge that I had in fact been reacting to allergens and my sport.

Nowadays, 2 little puffs on my inhaler prior to a run has made a night and day difference in what running feels like.  It is enjoyable, restorative and not nearly as suffocating as it once was.  If exercise feels like elephants camping out on your chest, maybe you also have exercise induced asthma.  Keep track of when you find it difficult to breath, and if it coincides with allergies and/or exercise, it may be worth investigating with your physician.  While running isn't the exertion level of shuffleboard, and it does take some cardiovascular training, it should not feel horrible and asphyxiating. Happy Running!