Liza Howard

Liza Howard

Liza Howard is a national champion runner with multiple records in distances ranging from marathons to 100 mile trail races.

April 2017
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Lake Sonoma 50: Liza 1 + Asthma 1= F11

LizaLiza

I went into this race with a bit of trepidation.
My bib # was 13.
This was my surprise seat mate on the plane.

The race has 10k of vertical gain and 1/2 mile hill that I trained on has just under 200… feet. (I though it was 1024 feet for a while, but then I realized I’d just been reading the altitude.)

This was my first 50-miler since asthma has become a problem for me.

But with my lucky hat and shirt, and my inhaler (Carl, I named the inhaler Carl) in the top pocket of my vest, I figured my luck was fairly balanced. And I’ve been working with David Roche. He is a wonderful coach and a perfect fit for me. (Of course coaches have coaches! Doctors have doctors. Psychologists have psychologists. Chefs go out to eat.
But why not work with Ian who is also a great coach — and one that I work for?
Because running performance and schedule adherence is impacted by life, and I’d just as soon keep the details of my daily chaos and ball dropping from my employer. No reason to shake his confidence in my sanity or judgment.
Summary: 1. Lots of talented coaches out there. 2. Find the one who is talented and “gets you.” 3. You don’t instill confidence with an employer by writing things like “Missed run because soul crushed after day with grumpy and heavy 3 year-old (Pick me up!!!)
and staying up all night working — and lack of clean sports bra.”)

Anyway! Sonoma.


The race was a test for the asthma regimen I’ve been on. I used 3 different inhalers before the race (!) and took a Singulair.

It worked for about 33 miles. Then my chest began to feel tight and I just couldn’t get a good deep breath in — which is a problem when you’re still facing a good 4000 feet of climbing.
I used Carl (the inhaler) a number of times, but I wasn’t relegated to sitting until mile 45. It’s a strange sensation not being able to catch your breath when you’re sitting and it panicked me — which didn’t help the situation. Things got better after four inhaler puffs and I covered the last five miles without problems — except the 1/2 mile hill training legs.
Beyond the “attacks,” I think the effects of the airway inflammation slowed me generally.
But it is progress. At JFK in November, I was on the ground covered in a pile of leaves due to the asthma. Yesterday, my finishing time was an hour or two faster than JFK (I could look it up) with 10k more of vertical gain. So progress. A stepping stone, if you will.
I need to find an asthma doc who is also an athlete. The specialist and pulmonologist I’ve seen are not excited by me as a project. The pulmonologist’s eyes actually glazed over when I told her I didn’t usually have real problems until three hours into a race.
I’ll probably have to go to Austin. That’s where athlete pulmonologists are most likely to congregate in Texas.

You should run Lake Sonoma if you haven’t. It’s a wonderful race and scenery is gorgeous. Thank you to John Medinger! And thank you to the superb volunteers. The sitting around afterwards and talking and drinking part was perfect.
Thank you so much to my friend Gwen who came out to volunteer and take care of me afterwards. And thank you to Meghan Hicks and Bryon Powell for being such friendly faces on the course. And thank you to all of you who sent me notes of encouragement. It meant a lot to me.
And, finally, congratulations to Soon who only missed his race goal due to a questionable decision to down an Ensure and a Red Bull simultaneously at mile 25.


Next stop? Coffee and donuts. And more blogging!

(PS.  Turns out I was only about 10 minutes faster than JFK, but still… 10 minutes and 10k of vert.)

Comments 2
  • Alli
    Posted on

    Alli Alli

    Reply Author

    Hi Liza, I really enjoy your blog. I have exercise induced asthma which I’ve had since I was a kid. I’ve always treated it by taking 2 puffs of an albuterol inhaler just before beginning exercise. This has worked for me for all sorts of sports for many years. I always carry my inhaler when I hike or run but I’ve only very rarely needed to use it once I was warmed up and then only in the presence of an obvious trigger (extreme cold, existing cold/flu symptoms, smoke, etc). However, I recently took up ultra running and started running distances beyond the marathon and I noticed that for each of the (5) 50ks I’ve run I’ve had to use my inhaler around mile 26-30. I couldn’t figure out an obvious trigger besides the mileage and I complained to my coach/dad. My dad also has asthma and was very surprised by my complaint. He was surprised because he thought I should have been taking another 2 puffs of the inhaler much earlier. He said that the regular inhaler is only supposed to last 4 hrs. At 26-30 miles into the race I am around hour 6 so it was obvious to him that I would be feeling discomfort and he recommended I try taking the inhaler at 4 hr intervals or ask my Dr. for one that he experimented with some years ago that was supposed to last for 8 hours. My dad isn’t a doctor and my doctor never told me that the medicine in my inhaler was only 4 hrs at a time but my doctor may not have realized that I was planning to be exercising at a high enough intensity to trigger asthma symptoms for longer than 4 hours. Your mileage may vary but it might be worth asking your doctor about! Asthma sucks! Good luck!


  • Jackie Lai
    Posted on

    Jackie Lai Jackie Lai

    Reply Author

    Allie’s advice sounds very good. On your comment that your breathing problem doesn’t excite your doctors- I had the same feeling about an ENT I saw for my chronically stuffy and runny nose. He seemed so bored with me and my complaints. I ended up taking 2 types of nasal sprays for 4 years! Then I saw another ENT who promptly diagnosed me with a deviated septum. I had the surgery 2.5 weeks ago and I already feel a lot better. So I encourage you to seek out medical professionals that will take a real interest in helping you, they are out there! Don’t give up, I’m sure it will be worth the effort.