Paula Radcliffe: the champion athlete with asthma
Asthma Paula Radcliffe became the fastest female marathon runner ever in 2003. Her time of 2:15:25 remains unbeaten – yet she was diagnosed with asthma aged 14.
“I started blacking out in training and was diagnosed with exercised-induced asthma. An attack reduces your lung capacity which can affect your performance unless it's treated and controlled,” says Paula. “Some people with asthma are afraid that taking part in sport could damage their lungs but exercise makes your lungs bigger, stronger and better able to cope,” says Paula.
She controls the condition by avoiding her triggers, forward thinking and inhalers. “My triggers are pollution, extremes of temperature, especially cold and damp conditions, cigarette smoke, some tree pollens and oil seed rape,” she says. “I use a preventer inhaler morning and night, to calm any lung inflammation, and only use a blue, ventolin inhaler if I'm likely to be faced with any of my triggers.
You have to think ahead and monitor your condition
“You have to think ahead and monitor your condition. If I was racing in a cold climate I would need to ensure I warm up properly to anticipate it; if in an area of high pollution, I'd ensure I was controlling my asthma well. When training, I used to carry a peak flow meter so I could measure my lung capacity and if it was dropping I could amend my inhaler dose as necessary.”
Only once did she have to stop during a race. “That was when I already had a chest infection,” she says. “One puff on an inhaler is effective for four hours so unless you had forgotten to do it, you shouldn’t need to carry it with you while running.”
Like Paula, many top athletes have exercise-induced asthma, which in some people is triggered by rapid and heavy breathing. It's not like the 'out of breath' feeling that unfit people experience when running, says Paula. “It involves wheezing and being unable to breathe properly,” she says.
Moreover it's a myth that someone suffering an attack should simply take deep breaths. “I've seen athletes advised to do this, but asthma is more about the lungs not being able to function properly and breathe in and out, so they should be advised to stop running, relax and breathe out slowly,” says Paula. “It's like an inflamed muscle. You stretch it to stop it spasming.”
It's like an inflamed muscle. You stretch it to stop it spasming
Paula advises: “We are seeing more people, especially youngsters, with asthma. Don't be afraid of it. Once diagnosed it can be controlled. I would not have achieved what I have without a diagnosis. If you have asthma of any kind, ensure you get the best support to control it and get on with your life. Kept under control my asthma has not held me back at all.”
And Paula has the records to prove it.