Race-day disasters!

Yet too often disaster strikes on race day – we’re hobbled by cramp, gutted by stomach distress or hampered by unforeseen demons. To help you dodge all this, runners have shared their tales of race days gone bad. For the common horror stories, our experts provide invaluable advice to help you avoid the same fate. And as for dropping gels down the portaloo or getting taken away by the police… these things happen. So when things get tough, remember they could be far, far worse.

Disaster: asthma attack

Disaster victim:

Name: Emily Hannon

Age: 27
From:
Surrey

Disaster Race: Malta Marathon

“Before the race I felt fine, strong and ready to go for a PB. It was warm but windy, and dust  and pollution levels were  bad. I started to feel chest tightness at around four miles, but  took my  inhaler and tried to control my breathing. Like most runners with asthma, I tried to ignore it until I just couldn’t breathe. Then I stopped, took my inhaler, did some breathing exercises, had a drink and tried to get moving by walk/running. I was a little scared, but I tried not to get too worked up. Thinking, ‘Oh god, what am I going to do, I can’t breathe’, makes it even worse. I finished, but I ended up missing my target and wasn’t happy. “

Don’t let disaster strike you

Hard breathing introduces nasty invaders

Us runners inhale a lot of dry, unfiltered air. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found we’re more prone to allergies as we suck in more allergens. Runners are also more likely to suffer from exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB, or ‘exercise-induced asthma’). ‘More than 90 per cent of asthmatics will suffer from EIB, but 20 per cent of the population also have EIB yet have no symptoms of asthma,’ says Dr Jordan Metzl. ‘The risk of EIB is higher for allergy sufferers.’ Exercising in cold, dry air can induce an asthma attack. When you’re breathing through your mouth, cold air hits your lungs. This sudden temperature change can cause the bronchial tubes to spasm, explains Dr Lewis Maharam, author of Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running (£17, VeloPress).

Here are a few tips to help you catch your breath – and prevent an attack:

See an allergist ’A specialist can help you control allergens that spark asthma attacks,’ says Dr Maharam.

Adjust your calendar Avoid racing, or lower your expectations during peak pollen months if you suffer from allergies.

Warm it up Heading outdoors? Breathe through your nose; if you must go hard, wear an anti-pollution face mask (Respro Cinqro, £45.99, madison.co.uk). It warms the air before it hits your lungs.

Keep it 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 It sounds dubious, but Dr Maharam suggests inducing an asthma attack, then running on. ‘You’re immune to another one for up to three hours after,’ he says. Run hard for six minutes, treat it with an inhaler, then continue.