Paula Radcliffe, 45, is a formidable figure in the world of running, with her crowning achievements including winning the London Marathon and New York Marathon three times each, and previously holding the title of the fastest female marathoner of all time – a record she held for 16 years.
The athlete’s sporting achievements also bust harmful myths surrounding what can you can and can’t do with chronic conditions.
Paula was diagnosed with asthma when she was 14, but she was determined to not let this hold her back – conviction she credits to her family GP at the time.
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Speaking to Express.co.uk, she said: “I had a family GP who was really great and from the beginning underlined this wasn’t going to stop you from doing your sport, you are just going to have to learn to manage it, to recognise the triggers and symptoms and stay on top of it.”
According to the NHS, asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties.
It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults.
While the breathing difficulties associated with asthma understandably make some people with asthma anxious about exercising, vigorous activity can actually improve the condition.
Paula explained: “The stronger and healthier you get your lungs, the better and more equipped you are to cope with asthma. Your lungs can better cope with the attacks which are essentially inflammation in the lungs”
Precautionary measures must be taken to mitigate the risks, however, so it is important to learn what your triggers are to preempt going into a potentially risky situation, advised Paula.
As she explained: “You can pre-empt this by upping the dosage, having your preventative inhaler and reliever inhaler handy, and taking other preventative measures like getting the flu vaccine each winter to make sure that you are minimising the risks of your asthma putting you at a greater risk of complications of the flu virus in winter.”
Training outside in cold conditions can pose risks for people with living with asthma but Paula says the key preventative measure lies in warming up.
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She said: “Go out and warm up by running really easily for a mile or so and starting out with your mouth closed and gradually letting a bit more air instead of going straight out and running hard in the cold.”
As she explained, going hard from the outset can shock your lungs and it puts them in a bigger state of shock and inflammation, which then will make it much more likely that you will get an asthma attack during the run.
One of Paula’s triggers is pollution but she has developed strategies to get around this, such as running in less polluted areas, and if you are in a city, opt for running in a park, she said.
The time of day is also an important consideration for people with asthma, as Paula explained: “Picking the time of day to run as certain pollens are a big factor so look at the pollen count and time your runs around that.”
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She added: “For me not running through fields of oilseed grape was a no-brainer because I knew that would bring on an attack.”
Emphasising the importance of taking your triggers seriously, Paula divulged how interacting with her triggers can impact her performance.
She said: Pollution on the run might make me feel a bit more wheezy, a bit more tight across my chest and in my lungs but after there would also be other effects such as headaches and my voice will go a little more croaky through the day.”
The effects of pollen would be more pronounced and immediate, however: “If I ran into a field full yellow flowers and oilseed grape, by the time I came out the other side I would already be feeling like my lungs are tightening up.”
Fortunately, Paula’s athletic pursuits have helped her monitor the condition and avoid flare-ups.
She said: “As an athlete you become very attuned to your body and it got to the point where I no longer needed a peak flow monitor to tell me that my peak flow had dropped off, I could tell just by how I felt.”
As the NHS explains, a peak flow is a simple measurement of how quickly you can blow air out of your lungs. It’s often used to help diagnose and monitor asthma.
A peak flow test involves blowing as hard as you can into a small handheld device called a peak flow meter.
These are available on prescription or can be bought from most pharmacies.
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