Can You Run a Marathon While Having Asthma?

Marathon medalist Paula Radcliffe doesn't let asthma keep her from running.
i Ian Walton/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Balancing asthma and running can be delicate at times. Increasing blood flow through running and other exercise can help reduce asthma symptoms and attacks. But sometimes running can cause an asthma attack because you're breathing large amounts of dry air that is unfiltered and sometimes contains allergens that aggravate asthma. If you dream of running in a marathon, don't lose hope. It's possible if your asthma is under control.

It's Doable

You haven't let asthma interfere with anything else in your life, so don't let it get the best of you when it comes to running a marathon. People with asthma accomplish many normal, everyday things as well as a few extraordinary ones. Two notable women who just happen to have asthma are Paula Radcliffe, who's won marathons and set a world record, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, an Olympic track and field gold medal winner.

Keep Medications Handy

If you're on asthma control medication, you typically take it once or twice a day and don't give much thought to it in between. If you're running a marathon, though, you'll be more likely to have an exercise-induced attack than during the course of a normal day. Take your control medication as usual, but carry your rescue inhaler with you when you train and when you actually run the race. You may never need to use it, but at least you'll have it handy if you do have an attack.

The Warm-Up Advantage

Runners warm up as a rule, but those who have asthma benefit from an extended warm-up period. In their 2011 marathon training book, David Levine and Paula Petrella advise people with asthma to start out walking, then spend five or 10 minutes jogging, followed by running a short distance. Some doctors and trainers even suggest doing a warm-up that is intense enough to trigger an attack because there is a two- to three-hour window after an attack when you are immune to having another one. In an article for "Runner's World," Selene Yaeger cites Dr. Lewis G. Maharam's advice to runners to warm up followed by about six minutes of hard running to cause an attack, then taking a break for treatment with a rescue inhaler. This should provide a couple of hours without having to worry about an asthma attack coming on in the middle of training or running the marathon.

Take Precautions

You already know what your triggers are, so use that knowledge to reduce the chances of an asthma attack interfering with running a marathon. If it's cold weather that irritates your bronchial tubes, then train indoors and avoid races during colder weather. The same goes for races during allergy season if seasonal allergies or warmer weather are your triggers. If you have allergies in addition to asthma, talk to an allergist. She can offer advice and prescribe medications that will control your reaction to allergens. The reduced oxygen levels at higher altitudes could be a problem, too, especially if you don't live and train at a similar altitude. Don't sign up for a race in a region that naturally won't have as much oxygen as you're used to breathing.

the nest