iN fEbRUaRY 2010, StagNER CaUght a severe respiratory infection
that left her with exercise-induced asthma. “Initially, my doctor
hoped it would clear up in six months,” she says. “I felt a significant improvement over that summer, so I decided to try for a
Boston Qualifier (then 3: 45) at Denver.” In the final weeks before
her marathon, the seasons changed, and Stagner experienced head
colds, allergies, and congestion. On race morning, she took a
couple puffs from her inhaler and then left it in the hotel. A half
mile into the race, she felt pain under her ribs. By mile nine, she was short of breath,
and by mile 13 she began experiencing her most severe asthma attack to date. “I was
seeing spots. I got tunnel vision. I was wheezing and dizzy and thought I might pass
out.” She shuffled the remainder of the race and finished in 4: 22.
Jen Stagner, 37,
Years running: 23
Denver Rock ’n’
WHAT WENT WRONG
AND HOW TO PREVENT IT
> Hard breathing introduces
Runners inhale a huge volume of dry,
unfiltered air. A study in Medicine &
Science in Sports & Exercise suggests
they are more susceptible to allergies
than nonrunners simply because they
suck down more allergens.
Runners are also more likely to suffer
from exercise-induced bronchospasm,
(also called exercise-induced asthma).
“More than 90 percent of asthmatics
suffer from EIB, but about 20 percent of
the general population have EIB and no
symptoms of asthma,” says Jordan D.
Metzl, M.D. “And your risk of EIB is
higher if you have allergies.”
Exercising in cold, dry air can also
induce an asthma attack. When you’re
breathing through your mouth, cold air
hits your lungs. This sudden change in
temperature can cause the bronchial
tubes to spasm, says Dr. Maharam.
Whether it’s allergies or weather, the
following steps can help you catch your
breath—and prevent an attack.
SEE AN ALLERGIST “If you suffer seasonal
allergies—or suspect you do—an allergist
can help you control allergens that spark
asthma attacks,” says Dr. Maharam.
ADJUST YOUR CALENDAR Avoid racing
during peak pollen months if you suffer
allergies—or lower your expectations.
WARM I T UP On brisk days, hit the
treadmill or gym. Heading outdoors?
Breathe through your nose; if you must
go hard, wear a face mask. It will warm
the air before it hits your lungs.
KEEP I T SHORT “An exercise-induced
bronchospasm typically occurs about six
minutes into vigorous exercise,” says Dr.
Maharam. When you’re doing interval
workouts, keep reps under six minutes.
PROVOKE IT This sounds dubious, but Dr.
Maharam says you might try inducing a
spasm, then getting on with your run.
“After you have an asthma attack, you’re
immune to another one for roughly two
to three hours,” he says. Warm up, then
run hard enough for at least six minutes
to cause an attack. Treat it with an
inhaler (or by taking a break), then
continue with your workout or race.
“i WaS at thE aiRpORt LOOkiNg thROUgh MY papERWORk ON thE hOtEL, CaR, ExpO. bUt i
haD NO RaCE iNfO. I HAD FORGOTTEN TO REGISTER.” —Tish Hamilton, RW Executive Editor