Asthma: breathing properly while running

Can I learn not to get so out of breath?

15 messages
03/10/2013 at 15:43


There are a few threads on running with asthma here, which I read with interest. Particularly the mention of the Buteyko Method (, which I’ve never heard of before. Seems a bit dubious to me, but I'll try anything! Has anybody else used that method and found it helpful?

Those threads are a bit old, so I thought I’d pick your brains again today. I should point out that my asthma is chronic, not exercise-induced. I should also point out that I do not get asthma attacks, I just caugh caugh caugh and feel 'tight' in the chest. I use a steroid-based inhaler twice a day, another bronchodilator once a day, and two puffs of salbutamol before a run. I currently have 68% lungs capacity.

This has never prevented me from doing anything, including climbing Kilimanjaro a couple of years ago. However, in any kind of exercise or effort, I am out of breath from the word go. Being able to have a conversation on an easy run? You must be joking! I can concentrate on my breathing (particularly exhaling fully) for a while, but then the mere fact of swallowing saliva or – worse - taking a few sips of water throws me off course and I get even more breathless.

Any thought or suggestion? There might be advice websites that I am not aware of, so feel free to suggest even the most obvious ones. Thanks a lot.

03/10/2013 at 17:05

What is your breathing like when doing a brisk walk? Does that make you breathless?

Are you breathing through your mouth or trying to be cool and breath in through the nose and out through the mouth?

Practice walking fast and breathing slightly deeper than normal, if that fails get an asthma review and ask for help.
I am a cough, cough, cough and tight chest type asthmatic but on less than half your meds. I also found that learning to swim front crawl correctly with my head in the water meant I learnt breath control which has helped the running.

03/10/2013 at 17:09

Are you trying to run too fast?

I have asthma and EIA  and do get full blown attacks but mostly it's the cough, cough, cough when I stop running which I think is because I'm controlling my breathing so much whilst I run. For easy runs I work on three steps each in breath and three each exhale, when my breathing becomes quicker than this I'm running tempo.

03/10/2013 at 17:35

Thanks for your replies.

On a brisk walk I don't really get out of breath. I actually walk quite fast and I can trek all day - as long as the terrain is flat. The slightest gradient (therefore more effort) gets me out of breath. It won't prevent me from doing it; I'll just stop talking to people and breathe more heavily.

When I run, I breathe through my mouth and make a point of exhaling fully. I'd say inhale in 4 steps and exhale in 4 or 5.

Good point about the swimming. I'm a terrible crawl swimmer and can never manage more than 4 or 5 strides because I don't nail the breathing properly. I'll try practising that.

I could be wrong, but I don't think I'm trying to run too fast or faster than my abilities. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure how I will be able to go faster for the 'threshold runs' of marathon training.

I don't want to make it sound worse than it is. I CAN run! But it is a real effort right from the start (as in after 5 minutes, not after 1 hour) because of the breathing. Otherwise my body feels fine. Admittedly I haven't been running for that long (only a few months), so hopefully in time I can improve breathing (and speed). Or can I?

03/10/2013 at 17:39

As a matter of fact, I'm not sure how I will be able to go faster for the 'threshold runs' of marathon training.

I mean that I'm a very slow runner anyway (55 minutes for a 5 miles race in July), so slowing down even more for an easy run would have me practically walking whilst speeding up for a threshold run sounds very difficult right now.

03/10/2013 at 17:50

VV, I think Little miss happy has got a good point.

Try breathing in for 2 or 3 steps then out for 2-3, it is a known easy breathing pattern.

Plus yes as you get more experience you will find it easier, just beware of the winter if fog etc makes the asthma worse.

Make sure you do a warm up walk to get the breathing a bit deeper before starting to run.

03/10/2013 at 17:56

SteadyCJ: "Try breathing in for 2 or 3 steps then out for 2-3"

To me this sounds like 'fast' breathing that would give me a head rush, but maybe that's where I've been going wrong all along so I'll definitely try. Thanks.

03/10/2013 at 18:17

Valerie - trying to run too fast is very common when people first start to run. An easy pace is defined as one at which you can hold a conversation - most people without asthma will try to run at a pace that means that they can't do this when they begin running and the usual response is 'it's too slow' - but your pace will improve for the effort as you get fitter. Honestly, give it a try.

What marathon time are you aiming for and which schedule are you following? I didn't do any speed work for my first marathon and to be honest rarely do anything which may resemble speed work even now as I tend to break - but my marathon time has come down from 4.28 to 3.40 - admittedly over several years!

03/10/2013 at 18:38

This is interesting. For now I must admit that I've had just one running speed, between 10.30 and 11 min a mile, and there's no way I can hold a conversation at the same time. Come to think of it, as I said earlier I normally walk quite fast, but with hindsight I do get breathless if I talk at the same time. So basically, if I were to run slower than I do now, it would be a real slow jog.

Based on the above pace (and providing I can sustain it in the first place), it would take me 4.45 hours to do the marathon. I'm hoping to improve, even a little bit, before April!

As for training schedule, I was actually just looking into various ones and found one on based on the principle that most beginners are looking to finish the course and do not need all the speed work that experienced runners need to improve their time, they just need to build up the miles and the endurance. Sounds good to me on the breathing front. On the other hand, it also makes sense to me that if I train at a higher speed than marathon pace it will be beneficial to sustain marathon pace on the day (although I am not aiming to be sub-whatever; I'm aiming to run it at the pace that I think I will be comfortable at). Decision, decision.

03/10/2013 at 18:41

I said "So basically, if I were to run slower than I do now, it would be a real slow jog."

But I am not questioning your suggestion at all - you obviously know what you are talking about! I'll definitely try. And hope to improve steadily until April...

03/10/2013 at 19:39

Question away Valerie - it's your breathing, your asthma and your running!

Convention would have you doing your long runs at marathon pace plus 60 - 90 seconds.

10/11/2013 at 11:50

Hi Valerie, I second trying to run slower. I have mild asthma and having been running for a couple of months now. I had to practice running a lot slower (much slower than my fast walking pace) but it really helped with managing my breathing. It feels abit ridiculous and embarrasing to start with but really helped. I also worked on my form: looking ahead and imagining i am being pulled up from the top of my head as i run. This opened up my ribcage making it easier to breathe. I recommend trying to run really slowly, slower than you can walk for a couple of runs and see how they go. If it helps then do your next few runs at a slower pace and you will hopefully find your breathing gets better when you increase your speed again.

20/11/2013 at 15:35

Hi all,

I thought I would follow up on this thread, because I have had an absolute revelation. I was breathing incorrectly all along!

I always tried to make each breath as deep, long and regular as possible, basically trying to breathe normally while in full effort. SteadyCJ's advice to "Try breathing in for 2 or 3 steps then out for 2-3" made me think I would get a head rush and be even more out of breath, but lo and behold it totally worked. I'm not suggesting I'm now running without being short of breath - I still am. I still can't see myself holding a conversation. But at least I'm not 'fighting' it, I feel comfortable and I don't wish for the run to be over as soon as it's started (jeez I even ENJOYED my 4 miles in the rain today).

My speed has dramatically improved (without me trying to do so, just being more comfortable in the first place). Of course training comes into play, and my speed would probably have improved anyway. But I feel the breathing is 80% responsible.

Thank you very much to all of you for your comments and suggestions. I feel optimistic for all the training to come! And slightly stupid, as a 'seasoned asthmatic', to have gotten it so wrong to start with. In my defense, I have only been running for a few months...

(PS: I am no Katie Ledecky and have not yet managed more than a few strokes of front crawl (also advice from SteadyCJ) but I shall persevere, as I feel it could definitely be beneficial.)

20/11/2013 at 17:17

Good to hear that you have improved and are enjoying the running. Now you just have to keep it up.

20/11/2013 at 20:12

Excellent news Valerie - well done.

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