My Marathon Diary: Asthma, Motivation, and Rocky Balboa

My Marathon Diary: Asthma, Motivation, and Rocky Balboa

With his training set back by asthma, Gerard Westhoff searches for motivation

My marathon training had been going so well. I’d broken my record times over 5km, 10km, and half marathon distance; I’d upped my long runs to 15 miles, and had been running a cumulative total of over 50 km each week. But then my asthma got worse.

I’ve had asthma for as long as I can remember. In recent years, despite the occasional bad flare-up, it’s been pretty well managed by my prescribed inhalers, which I never leave the house without. My asthma isn’t normally affected by exercise, though I do tend to take my reliever inhaler before each run, and is instead usually triggered by house dust mites (which is the best excuse ever for avoiding cleaning).

Last week however, as temperatures dropped, my asthma symptoms rose. I found myself waking up in the morning breathless, struggling with the exertion of speeding up some stairs, and wheezing from my walk to university.

So out of the window went my training plan. I spent a few days ‘resting’, in the hope that my symptoms would die down to their usual controlled state, and when that didn’t work, took a trip to the doctors. Avoiding exercise in the cold, and increasing my inhaler dosage until I regain control of my symptoms were their suggestions, and so I was understandably left feeling a bit glum about my marathon chances. I was even considering dropping out, and deferring my entry till next year.

Instead of quitting, I decided to search for motivation online – and was inspired by what I found.

Countless top athletes have asthma. From retired basketballer (and pal of North Korea leader, Kim Jong-un) Dennis Rodman, to ex-footballer Paul Scholes, and most surprisingly – Paula Radcliffe. The women’s marathon world record holder, and three times winner of the London Marathon, has had exercised-induced asthma since the age of 14. In an interview with NHS Choices, she said:

I don’t think asthma has affected my career. If anything, it’s made me more determined to succeed and reach my maximum potential… If you learn to manage your asthma and take the correct medication, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the best.”

If one of history’s greatest ever marathon runners can run, and win, with the condition, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to at least give completing the distance a shot.

With my drive restored, I decided to take the plunge, and do what I, as a cheapskate, had avoided doing all year – buy a gym membership. My asthma may currently be stopping me from running outside, but I won’t let it stop me from doing some light cardio and core exercises inside a nice warm gym. After over a week without a long run, even a slow 30 minutes on a cross trainer felt serene.

Post-gym, I was feeling buzzed about exercise again, and what better way is there to capitalise on that mood than watching an uplifting sports film? I chose Rocky, a film that I’m amazed I hadn’t seen until now. The classic story of the underdog rising up to fight the world champion was the perfect motivation, and will definitely make me stick to my gym routine until I can run again. I do wish I could skip through my own marathon training in a Rocky-style montage though.

I originally entered the marathon as a challenge to myself. An incentive to keep running, reach peak fitness, and achieve something. However, this minor health blip has changed my perspective. The race is no longer a means to gloat. It’s now a battle against my own body to overcome the limitations of my condition. Crossing the London Marathon finish line on 24 April will mean I don’t let my asthma win.

As Rocky Balboa says before his big fight against Apollo Creed, “all I wanna do is go the distance.”

Featured image: Paula Radcliffe leading the 2007 Great North Run, Wikimedia Commons


  1. Avatar
    February 2, 2016 / 8:02 pm

    Good on you Ged. Great article to motivate others in the same position as you. You can do it !!!!

  2. Avatar
    Richard Friedel
    April 19, 2018 / 2:14 pm

    My method for asthma is to use a sympathetic nervous system reflex in lieu of an inhaler.
    1) Finger pressure on the face between the nose and the upper lip overcomes asthma by the reflex.
    2) Train nose inhales with compression of the upper lip to get this effect with reduction of wheezing. R.Friedel

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