Running for Asthma

Why am I Running for Asthma UK?
You may have seen my Just Giving page by now, and wondered what I'm up to.

When I was little, on a boating holiday in June, I had my first attack of asthma.

It started as a wheezing of breath when it was bed-time. I remember our parents telling us - quite late at night - to go to sleep, because we were whispering and giggling in our bunks, and Ewen, my brother  saying "I can't sleep: Alastair's doing a Darth Vader impression!"

I remember being quite unconcerned at the time, really. My breath was making a funny noise, and it wasn't distressing - yet.
Mum and/or Dad told me to stop it, of course. When I said that I couldn't, that was when moods on our little holiday boat changed.

I remember both Mum and Dad listened to my wheezes, and talked together in a urgent hush. I was brought out from the bunk to sit up in the cabin. Dad left to find help.
We were in the middle of Ireland's wide countryside, moored on the bank of a canal off the Shannon. I can only imagine how scary it must have been to have to go out in the middle of the night, miles from any town or village, looking for help.
He's told me since that he saw a houseboat along the canal earlier that day, and guessed they would know where to find a doctor, or a phone for an ambulance.

My breathing got worse while he was gone. Since then, Mum's told me that she was wondering if she knew how to do mouth to mouth breathing for me, and if it would help, or if it would make things worse. I was apparently going pale.

It's hard trying to remember it all - but I think Dad came back to say that he'd found a phone and called for a doctor to come out. Before too long - though again, I can only imagine how long it must have seemed for my worried parents - the doctor arrived along the towpath.

By the time the doctor had finished injecting the few mililitres of adrenalin into my arm, I was breathing normally again.

I'd had an anaphylactic shock to my respiratory system, apparently - probably caused by the sudden emergence of thousands of caddisflies from the water, whose moth-like scaled wings left fine dust wherever they fluttered. There were hundreds of them all over the boat, crawling and flying around...

Whatever it was that started it, that was my first attack - and the beginning of my allergic life. Before that, I'd not had any signs of allergies. After, I developed hayfever, and my instances of asthmatic reaction to the world in general became more common.

Hayfever has never left me. I hated summer - until the medication got better and now it actually works most of the time.
But through my teenage years, my asthma seemed to have a sort of cycle of coming and going. I was able to become a reasonably good runner at High School, at those short "long" distances they let teenagers run, the 800m, the 1500m. On the cross country race, I would finish in the top ten of my year. I cycled everywhere, on our hilly island. I hiked with the Scouts. I suppose I was quite a fit teenager.

As an adult my asthma came back.
It's never gone away since. But I suppose I've always refused to slow down my life.
I've had a couple of pneumothorax episodes, where the lung tissue bursts and air gets into the chest cavity. The worst it ever got was when I was hospitalised with a collapsed lung.

After that hospital spell - which hurt, really badly, worse than the broken bones I've had - I've been more careful managing my medication.

Millions of Sufferers

5.2 million people in the UK alone have asthma - and over a fifth of those are children.
Over a thousand people died in 2009 from asthma - 3 people each day, or 1 every 8 hours.
It's said that 90% of asthma deaths are preventable.

I'm lucky. Every day I take my medication, and I remember that I could have died as a child, and a few times as an adult.

Fitness through Medication
Preventer, peak flow meter, and reliever

I took up running because I wasn't getting much exercise - I used to cycle to work, but then I got a car; I used to dance nearly non-stop every weekend, but then I got too old and dignified for such silly displays. I was getting fat round the middle, and going up stairs was making me a little breathless.

But exercise triggers my asthma. It's always been one of the prime triggers - my lungs and airways react to the stress of exercise by swelling up. Very helpful.
So I've had to train slowly, to push back the point at which my airways are stressed. The fitter I am, the harder I can push before my lungs react badly.

Every day, I take a preventative inhaler, morning and night. The preventer keeps my lungs and airways  generally clear.
Preventer inhaler
I check this by taking my peak flow - a measure of how fast air can move out of (and thus also into) my lungs. Normally, I get a 600l/min result. I can just about cope with a 400l/min flow (that's a relatively normal flow for a healthy adult - but since my diaphragm muscle has been worked harder than average all my asthmatic life, I have a bigger peak flow) - but at that stage, an attack is more likely, and I run the risk of damaging my lung tissue again.
I have a reliever inhaler, too. This will dilate my airways during an attack, to let me get more air.

Without my medication, I can't run. Without my daily preventer inhaler, I start to wheeze and cough.

That's why I'm running for Asthma UK.

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