Everyone assumes that their own experience is normal when they have no basis of comparison. Take seeing colors; what you see as blue, you assume everyone sees the same way. It seems universal, until you talk to someone who is colorblind and doesn’t see the same as you. I recently had one of those revelations and my running may never be the same again.
At the end of my first marathon I sprinted the finish, barely outsprinting a girl who wasn’t going to let me off easy. Immediately after I stopped, I couldn’t breathe. My lungs completely closed up. It was pretty damn scary and I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, 5-10 seconds later (although it felt like an eternity) my lungs relaxed and I was able to breathe again. Marathon #2, same deal, soon as I stopped my lungs closed up. At least I’d had the experience before so I didn’t panic. I just assumed it’s because I ran so hard at the end.
Fast forward to all of the half marathons I’ve run. I’ve always said I must be weak on aerobic endurance because my breathing has always been my limitation. I get to the end of a half and I just can’t get enough oxygen to support my legs. My legs feel great, but I’m breathing like I’m hyperventilating. On some of my training runs I feel the same way, but less dramatic since I’m not running at race pace. It’s the feeling that you just can’t fill your lungs or that sometimes you’re breathing but it’s just not doing it. On occasion I’ve felt like my airway has constricted. Fun stuff. In general these symptoms have been mild enough for me to think that’s just the way the body works. Then I started mentioning how I felt at the end of the half marathon to my training partners and none of them felt similarly. Even the guy who is fast like me, but is lacking the endurance, didn’t identify.
At some point last summer I mentioned all of this to my training partner and he suggested I try his inhaler. He got it before college and had a waiver for it. So before a track workout one day I used it. I felt like my lungs opened up, but I didn’t feel that big of a change. Then before Rock n Roll San Diego this year he used it and asked if I wanted it. I figured why not and took a shot of the inhaler. I learned a lot in that half marathon. My lungs never closed up. They never felt like they were leaking lung capacity and I never felt labored in breathing like I normally do. Instead, my legs and hips were begging for mercy. For the first time, I had enough oxygen to support my running to an equal level to my physical conditioning. I ran close to a minute faster than I anticipated that day. Ever since I’ve thought about going into the doctor and getting checked out for Exercise Induced Asthma.
So on Monday I did. I explained my experiences to the doctor and he told me it sounded exactly like Exercise Induced Asthma. He prescribed an inhaler of Ventolin (I asked to get something that wasn’t competitively illegal, although the pharmacist said I’d need an exemption if I was a competitive runner) and I was on my way. Tonight was the first time I used my inhaler. I plan to use it sparingly. I really only need it for running although I’m already seeing the benefits. I took a puff, stretched, and headed out on the warmup for my tempo run.
Immediately I didn’t feel any difference. I forgot it took about 20 minutes to kick in. At 2 miles I started my tempo, feeling pretty crappy. I just didn’t have it today and I knew it was going to be a shitty run. It didn’t help that I had two miles into the wind on Fiesta Island (remind me not to run tempos there anymore) but somewhere in the 4th mile of my tempo my lungs registered and opened up. Imagine going from 50% lung capacity to bottomless lung capacity. That’s what it feels like. You don’t realize that your normal isn’t actually normal to everyone else. I clicked off the last 2.5 miles about 4 seconds a mile under goal pace and didn’t feel like death at the end. I’m sitting here now 4 hours later and my lungs still feel open. It’s an amazing feeling and I had no idea I was missing out.
How wonderful it is to be able to breathe. Now perhaps my distance PRs will begin to match up with my short distance PRs.