Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Discoveries & Exercise Induced Asthma

I've been a runner for many years now. I've tried hard, trained hard, put in the miles, but have always felt a step behind others for some reason, especially in college against the other guys. Some of it is physiological, but some may not be. Running has never come easy for me, and I've always known that. I became a good middle distance runner, loving the 800m and 4x400m relay in college, but the longer stuff was especially difficult. I put in the work, and had to for that very reason. However, I never really looked into it much nor paid attention to any details to get to the next level, like nutrition, stretching, and paying very close attention to the body, such as how hard I was breathing and when breathing gets worse.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the past few weeks where I started to take a deeper look into these things, with the help of my coach Melissa Mantak. We first started to look at my run technique. I've been working on a few things, like increasing my cadence and slightly shortening my stride to avoid over-striding, but my form overall is pretty decent. Feedback in any athlete-coach relationship is crucial. If athletes don't give much feedback, they are limiting the ability for their coach to be of as much help. In my feedback to my coach in my training logs, I'd simply document how I felt after each workout. Many days, my legs are fine while running, but my breathing is always the thing slowing me down. This is especially true in cold weather. Now, I can still run 6:40s forever, which isn't fast. Sometimes I breath moderately hard, other times not. But when I drop down to the low 6 minute range, my breathing starts to really ramp up. In the swims, I'd comment on hard breathing certain days, like when the air quality in the pool was worse than others. I never really thought much of it, and just assumed this was part of the training cycle. Sometimes you feel great, other times you feel like crap.

Melissa is a coach who listens to her athletes. My past coaches, such as in college, would often tell me what I am feeling is all mental, and that I just needed to find the love for the sport again and race, and put other distractions aside. The breathing is mental, the achy legs is mental, the need for Breath Right Nasal Strips is mental, cramping is mental, etc. Running is mental, period. There is a huge mental aspect to the sport, but we train our bodies for a reason. It is our legs and lungs that get us to the finish line ultimately.

Over the past few years I found some things that helped me as a runner. And no, not EPO, though I'm sure that would have helped a ton. First, I noticed I hate wearing heart rate monitors. The tight chest strap seemed to restrict my breathing. I frequently asked others about this, and never really found anyone who shared similar experiences. Secondly, Breath Right nasal strips help me, and open up my airway. While working for a surgery center billing company in California, I asked a few Drs about an operation that could open up my nasal passage and airway. I knew I had trouble breathing, and thought for sure this was the main cause. It still may be part of it, I'm not sure yet. I was told it's a nasty surgery to have, and a rough recovery, so didn't look into this surgery any further. Plus, my athletic career was over, I thought, so it didn't make sense to get it, even if I could likely get a free surgery.

In the pool, I have a very hard time with breath sets, for example when I do sets with breathing every 3-5-or 7 strokes instead of every other stroke. With my Riptide team, we would occasionally do these sets, and they were some of the hardest sets I've ever done, even though the swimming wasn't really fast. I'd get to the wall gasping compared to my teammates. I knew then that my lung function was relatively poor, though was comparing it to finely tuned athletes, so still didn't think much of it.

Melissa encouraged me to get some lung function tests done, so thanks to my nurse practitioner sister I was able to get in her clinic for a few tests, including a peak flow test. My lung function numbers were about 20% lower than they should have been. Especially for someone who trains 2-3 workouts per day, I should have above average results, not below.

Long story short, after being diagnosed with exercise induced asthma I decided to try a sample inhaler before a run (after confirming this was legal and approved by USADA... which for 2011 it is without submitting a therapeutic use exemption (TUE), whereas in 2010 a TUE was needed.) I did a peak flow test before taking the inhaler, used it, then re-tested my peak flow about 20 minutes later. The numbers went up by 100 points after using the infaler! I went out for my run, and it felt great, like my lungs were literally 20% deeper. Breathing felt cold deep in the lungs too, which was an odd sensation. It was a hilly trail run at Matthews-Winters park where we used to run in high school, and I was ecstatic thinking of the breakthrough this could be. That's when I really knew I had exercise induced asthma. The past week and a half, I've done a bit more research on it, found out that many relatives on my mother's side, including my grandpa, have it as well, though I'm not yet sure if EIA is hereditary or not.

Looking back, it was pretty clear that I've had this for a number of years. I don't know why I never thought about it or looked into it. I simply thought that was how breathing is supposed to feel. Now, I know I could continue like I always have, without taking any medications. I've done it for years, it's just been limiting my performance.

There have been many cases looking back that show my struggles with asthma. Some days it's not too bad, others it is worse:

-I have a much harder time breathing on runs when very cold out
-I am bothered by wearing tight restricting tri tops, the reason why I always raced with only shorts on. Same with heart rate monitors. It affects my lung function since it's already restricted.
-Breathe Right nasal strips help. Don't know if this is related or not.
-One day last year the chlorine levels at the pool got all out of whack, and I had to get out and go outside, I could barely breathe. My teammates had a harder time breathing than normal, but I was by far the most affected by it. It actually messed up my lungs for 3 days and I wasn't able to swim.
-Track workouts this summer, when the pollen was high, 4 weeks in a row while doing 400s, I hit the 300 mark and my breathing literally was through the roof. I explained this to my roommate Todd who I've been running with for years. I assumed I was a bit overtrained. I now realize the first 200-250m are mostly anaerobic anyways, and once the aerobic system kicks in, I need full function of the lungs. I'm not sure if it was allergy-related or not, combined with the asthma, but something definitely keeping me from successful workouts. My legs were fresh, but my breathing was through the roof.
- There were 2 college cross country races, including 1 in Fresno my senior year, when I had a breathing attack after. It took 10-15 minutes to slow my breathing. I remember the medical crew surrounding me and checking my heart rate. They poured ice over me, which felt great. Again, I never looked into this any further.
-Last year I did a ton of house remodel work with my brother. The days I did sanding and drywall work, I was affected a lot. I remember running on the Highline Canal after sanding in the morning. I had to walk for a mile, since my lungs and breathing were out of control. I knew it was from the sanding, but never thought about EIA.
All this means, is that I need to be extra aware of things like chemicals, fumes, running in the cold, allergies, etc.

I've been training with this for years, so it's not like I have been completely affected by it by any means. I'm the first to admit that. However, when you are trying to get to the highest level of an aerobic sport, that extra 15-20% lung function is a must-have. I am very excited for this discovery, and view this as a positive thing, nothing negative. I'm still learning about exercise induced asthma, and will have to learn how I react best to proper medication. I am very eager to compete this year with a bit of deeper lungs. I will miss the funny looks though, running by people sounding like a horse during races :)

I'll now run by people like this:

Happy training and to a successful 2011,

1 comment:

Kyle Schaeffler said...

Hmmmmm.... Very interesting. I have trouble breathing in the pool and afterwards especially an indoor pool. My lungs feel like I suck in air but nothing is coming in, especially a few hours after. It only happens though when in the pool a few days a week.