“My running used to be limited by my breathing – now it’s only my legs that hold me back!”

Being diagnosed with asthma at 54 was a huge relief for Karen Ward

“The nurse at my health check wasn’t the first to ask ‘How can you POSSIBLY run a marathon when you have asthma?’ – but hers was the comment that upset me the most. Thankfully my regular asthma nurse is a runner, and much more positive – she told me: ‘If Paula Radcliffe and Jo Pavey can do it, so can you.’”

Rewind a few years…

“I like to be active and I’ve played netball for most of my adult life, but I’ve always found running really difficult. When I ran a half-marathon in 2000, I was so far behind the pack that they reopened the road behind me - I just put it down to being unfit. A couple of weeks later, I tested my peak flow as part of a gym induction, and my score was so low that the instructor thought the meter was broken – but again, I didn’t think any more of it and no-one mentioned asthma.

“Years later, I had another medical which said I had the lungs of a 75-year-old – I was only 54, so that was a huge shock. Once I started monitoring my peak flow regularly it was obvious to me and my GP that it only really dipped after exercise, and I finally got my diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma.

Karen Ward“Getting a reliever inhaler to take before I started running really helped, but the following year I had another asthma attack on a half-marathon finish line and it became clear it wasn’t completely controlling my symptoms, so I called the Asthma UK Helpline. Once the nurse had talked me through some questions I might want to ask my asthma nurse, I felt much more confident. I went to my asthma review with the knowledge I needed to have a logical, informed conversation, not just trying to keep up with what I was being told.

“Now I have a preventer inhaler to take twice a day as well, and that seems to be keeping my symptoms under control. My running used to be limited by my breathing – now it’s only my legs that hold me back!”

Preparing for my first (and only) marathon

“I’m deep into training for the London Marathon now, and I find it very cathartic to cross each training run off the plan on my wall. In terms of support, I have a WhatsApp chat with two friends who are also running the marathon. Whenever one of us wants to back out, the other two use it to send support (or friendly abuse!) as needed.

“The Asthma UK Marathon Facebook group is really good too – it’s a mix of experienced marathoners and others like me who are only planning to do this once. When I’m feeling a bit unwell, or like I’m falling behind, it’s good to know that other people feel the same.

“I can’t afford to miss too many training runs, but I do make tweaks to it to avoid the worst of the cold and damp weather. I might go out later in the day, or move Saturday’s run to Sunday if it looks warmer. And if it gets too cold I’ll train indoors on a spin bike or rowing machine.”

Getting my diagnosis was an absolute relief

“Being diagnosed with asthma explained so much to me about my body and symptoms. I’d had ‘panic attacks’ in the past, which, with hindsight, were almost certainly asthma attacks. Now I understand what to do if my control isn’t as good as it should be, I don’t have the fear any more.

“I wish I’d known about my asthma earlier, and that those early warning signs had been taken more seriously. With a bit more time and knowledge, I could have competed in the Olympics!”