Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Out of Miasma

My title today is a little bit of a pun; the definition of miasma includes "a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere," while the pronunciation sounds like "my asthma." (Both words comes from the Greek.) And ever since I was diagnosed with asthma back in my teens, it's often felt like my lungs were filled with a heavy vaporous atmosphere. When I have an attack, I struggle to get air in and out of my lungs; my breathing becomes shallow and it feels like the air I do take in doesn't have any of that tasty oxygen that we're all addicted to.

There are three things that can set off my asthma: heat, humidity, and exercise. The latter has always been a problem, especially because I was never very athletic as a child or teen, unless there was a pool involved. I also discovered in my twenties, thanks to a stress test that ended with me passing out, that I have a little quirk that leads to a huge drop in blood pressure whenever my heart rate gets really elevated. In other words, if my heart starts beating really fast, I pass out. This is an autonomic nervous system thing, unrelated to the asthma, because a really interesting medical test involving a tilt table and some adrenaline got the same result. I don't have to take any meds for this, but as a result I'm really aware of any light-headedness and haven't had any fainting episodes in the past 15 years or so.

You can see, though, that I've had plenty of reasons not to take up running. Exercise heavily, and I start wheezing. Exercise really heavily, and I could pass out. Add to that a history of wonky knees, and I just never wanted to go there, not while I could swim or bike or do tae kwon do instead. Still, I was frustrated by my lack of stamina, especially while fighting. Even when I take my wheezer (ie, asthma meds), I struggle with my breathing. I wasn't sure how I could change this.

A few months back, I found inspiration in an unlikely place. I was writing something new for National Novel Writing Month, involving a character who overcomes her shyness, in part by getting involved with a fundraising triathlon. While I was researching what might be appropriate times for teens to run a 5K, I came across a website whose title was interesting: the Couch to 5K Training Plan. I looked through it and it looked like something I could do. The first week of training only involved running for 60 seconds at a time. I thought I could do it, but did I want to? That's when things got a little weird. You know how some writers say their characters get away from them and do things they don't expect? Well, mine never really do that, but Annabel (my character) was posing me a challenge. As I kept writing her story, it was like she kept saying, "If I can get over my shyness to make friends, get involved at school, and even get a boyfriend, how come you can't try running?"

I decided I could try. I started the Couch to 5K program in December and took it slowly, a couple weeks on each level. I started out using a kitchen timer to track my intervals and eventually got a cool GPS watch to tell me my pace and distance. I ran two or three times a week throughout the winter—yes, even in cold and snow—and eventually managed to put together a three mile run. TSU and I registered for a 5K race that I knew would be on flat terrain, and on a cloudy Saturday morning we drove out to beautiful Belle Isle. And this is what happened:

Yeah, that's me running. Actually, that's the end of the 5K, past the 3-mile mark and heading into the home stretch. At this point I could see the finish line and the timer. I finished in 32:33 (well under my goal time of 35 minutes), but more important, I ran a steady pace the whole time, a constant 10:30 minute mile. I felt pretty good when I finished—more than good, pretty super awesome.

I'm still running a couple times a week, and will probably try another 5K soon. Am I a runner? I don't think so, because I don't really enjoy running and I'm not very good at it. It's helped my stamina a little bit, but I'm never going to attempt a marathon (my ankles ache to think about it). I'm just a person who runs and is stubborn enough not to give up. Thanks, Annabel.

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