Runner friends: a plea for help.

I set out with hope.

I set out trying not to dread it.

I set out trying not to be scared or nervous.

I focus on my route, my goal distance, and my breathing.

I try and relax.

I set out. One foot in front of the other.

At first, I do ok. The air feels thick and humid, but it’s (usually) early enough in the day where I can handle it.

About 2-3 miles in, I start to labor. There may be rolling hills or one big(ish) hill I am dreading. I climb up it, good form, chest forward, using my legs, pumping my arms.

I reach the top, and that’s when it happens.

I breathe faster. It becomes labored. I start to panic. It gets worse. I start to wheeze. I try and control it. My sister tries everything to try and help refocus me. Slow down. Breathe deep. In and out. Quiet the panic. Sometimes it works, but sometimes, it doesn’t. More often than not lately, it doesn’t. And once I have one panicky moment, it is extremely difficult to gain focus again and have a smooth remainder of my run. Sometimes I cry. Because I can’t breathe. Because I panic. Because I hate this feeling. Because I am frustrated. And hot. And mad. And just want to like running again.

But I can’t. Because I panic. And then I can’t breathe. And unless I can fix this…I can’t fathom being able to run a half marathon again. (yet when I wrote that post, I was feeling SO good. What changed? Is it the heat? Is it the humidity? Is it fear?)

I SO want to conquer this and run that half marathon. In so many ways and for so many reasons...the biggest being to prove to myself that I CAN. That I AM capable.

So this is my plea to my runner friends (or to anyone that has experienced this sort of panic attack): how do I fix this? How do I conquer it? Is it feasible? (the inhaler I am now using does help but I know now that my breathing problems are 80% panic, 20% asthma-related).

(historical side note on recent runs: The last three runs that I had were 6.8 (Sat), 5.5 (Mon) and 4.5 (yesterday) Yesterday’s run (4.5) was the only one that I wasn’t completely panicking in part because it was early AM and not too hot yet, but it makes me wonder if it’s distance, heat, humidity or literally just my own mind games.)

(thanks to Sparkly & Slimming for this perfect post-it to describe what I’m feeling at this moment).

67 thoughts on “Runner friends: a plea for help.

  1. I want to help you but girl, I’m having a hard time too. My chest hurt last night for HOURS after my only 1 mile run! The hills were awful. (my post today talks a little about the running)…do you listen to music? do you have a particular chant/saying that you can repeat to yourself when you start to panic? are you in a circle of heightened awareness of this so you’re waiting for it without even realizing it? If you can find *ANYTHING* that relaxes you try to incorporate it into the running–a photo of M. A recording of him telling you breathe in, breathe out…or whatever WILL work! And seriously…you can do it!

    1. Aw, thank you Soccer Mom! And I want to help you too! I used to listen to music but it doesn’t help me. I run WITH M and he is telling me to breathe, coaxing me through it (as is my sister), yet I still struggle, and I can’t get past it. I NEED to if I have any prayer of getting through 13.1 miles (again).

  2. Distance running is largely mental. Sure, you need to be in physical shape to do it, but it’s primarily about having the right outlook and mindset to do it.

    So what’s behind the panic? Why can’t you focus? What’s holding you back? What are you afraid of?

    Hang in there. I know it’s tough. But if you keep working, I really think you’ll get there…

    1. You’re right. Distance running IS mental. I just keep thinking about how much farther I have left to go when the going gets tough, and I completely lose my concentration. I just keep focusing on how hard it is to control my breathing and it just gets unbearable. I was doing so well too. I just need to crawl my way back to that any way I can. As for fear…I am not sure, fear of not being able to breathe? I don’t know. I’m completely at a loss.

  3. Running is just so mental, isn’t it?

    I don’t have any sage advice because I am kind of dealing with the same thing right now. And I know it’s all in my head, but until I get it out of my head I am kind of stuck.

    I realize that’s not much help, but I just wanted to say I know where you are coming from! Hang in there – we’ll get over this!

  4. Oh friend I want to hug you right now. I don’t really have any words of wisdom to make it all better. You need to figure out how to get yourself to relax – from the breathing to the muscles, everything. When I start to get really tense (especially shoulder area) that’s when thing start to get harder and hard. I actually drop my arms down, shake them out, roll my shoulders around. I sometimes even chant “relax” to myself as I try to take deeper breaths in through the nose, exhaling through the mouth.

    Of course, I can say this and more, but it’s something you’ve got to work through. And you know this I’m sure. Like Momma Sunshine said – it’s largely mental. I venture to say that running is probably 90% mental once you’re already in shape (and you totally are). It’s all about getting out of your head and trusting yourself rather than doubting yourself.

    1. Thank you friend. I will take the hug ๐Ÿ™‚ ((hug))
      And I know, it IS mental and I am falling into that again and I hate it. I was doing so well just a week or two ago and now, I feel like I am failing. And saying I am failing isn’t helping my mental game either. The breathing techniques I am using is helping, as it slowing down – realllllly slowing down – but then I start to panic again. Once I get to that point, it’s all over from there. I need to NOT get to that point to succeed at it. I think.

  5. I am not a runner, but I am prone to panicking during cardio – or during walks over briges (petrified of heights). When I feel myself starting to panic I do a few things that help – deep, deep breaths that come from as deep in my core as possible. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing, not anything around you. Just breathe!
    If that doesn’t work (I do this when I fly) – make an L with your left hand and pinch the section in between your thumb and first finger. Hold the pinch and see if that relaxes you (I have NO idea why this works, but it does!).
    Lastly, if you can run with music make a playlist called “Relaxation” or something similar. I can send you a list of songs I have on mine to help calm me down. Anything with ocean waves, quiet beats etc. usually helps!
    Good luck – you can totally conquer this fear, it will just take time!

    1. Aw, thank you!! I am TOTALLY going to try these things. I don’t usually listen to music but maybe I need to for a bit, just to have it help. Would love your playlist!! Thank you!!

  6. I think it’s a combination of the heat and humidity…. Which causes your panic. Having had an allergic reaction where my throat swelled almost completely shut, I can tell you that I’ve had many a meal where at the slightest sore throat tingling, I ran to the mirror to check my throat. (That was a run-on but you get my point.) It’s not just my allergies. It’s also the panic of feeling my throat close. I think if we can not manage the panic attacks, it might be best to manage the causes. Does this happen when you’re on the treadmill? If the answer is no, I think you have your answer on how to fix this. Temporarily. Completing a long run on the treadmill without panic a few times might be enough to help ease some of the panic when you’re out on the road. Also, I’m not sure you want to hear this but maybe it’s time to take a break. Try something different for a while and then maybe you can give your mind time to get over whatever is causing this panic. You don’t HAVE to run. I’m not saying give up, I’m just saying maybe take a breather from it. (No pun intended.)

    1. Definitely the heat and humidity is NOT helping. And the last week there has been lots of it. I think I definitely need to run early in the AM (not even past 7 am) no matter what, for starters. As for the dreadmill…I have NOT run more than 5 miles on the dreadmill as I HATE it, but I know that I probably would do okay, given the temperatures inside are much better. As for decreasing or stopping running…I have stepped back a bit and am only really doing 3 runs this week and may not even do a long one (wanted to do 7, but if my run tomorrow isn’t any better, I will NOT do it on Friday). I hope it helps. I just need my confidence back.

      1. To a non-runner (or an occasional runner like me) this still seems like A LOT. I worry that if you keep pushing yourself, it’s going to get worse not better. It needs to be managed on some level before the pushing starts.

        1. Really? Well, I actually feel better when I run more often and have been aiming for 3-4 per week. But maybe I need to pull it back just a little bit?

  7. LOVE all of the awesome advice so far on your post, sis. They are right – and you know I agree, that this is largely mental more than physical. you are SO SO SO strong. So able. SO fit. yet I can visibly see the shadow of doubt the second it glints in your eye. And I know. The panic is coming. What I don’t know? WHY the panic is coming. WHY you doubt that you can do this. Because you CAN. You are more than capable, you’ve earned this ability. You are lucky to have the ability and I know you have it in you to learn to let go. Because that is truly the key – letting go. TRULY letting go. Of all of it. And before you know it (even though you don’t believe me) you will be running without thinking, other than thinking “where the heck are all the bunnies hiding??” like I wondered to myself this morning. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m proud of you sis – you are facing the fear head-on. Show it whose boss, mmk? xoxo

    1. I don’t know why either. I think the heat is definitely part of it and fear. Since I have had the panic feeling a few times consistently, I just assume I will get to that point again. I do need to let go but how do I let go when all I am doing is trying my damnest to control my breathing and focus? That’s like, the opposite of letting go. I want to look for bunnies, talk, and even dare I say, laugh, when I run. And really enjoy it. I just hope I can get there.

      1. I think you are SO FOCUSED on breathing ‘right’ that you’re overthinking it (imagine, you? overthink? never!) and that could be where the panic comes in. I have an idea for our run tomorrow – we’re going to run without any distance in mind, no goals, just running to run, wherever our feet take us. see if that helps you to let go (especially since you won’t know where we’re going, I will, and you’ll just have to follow and trust your legs to do the work they are so strong and ready to do). Deal?

  8. I agree with Jess, I think you over-think it for sure. When I do long runs and there is an impending hill just ahead, I actually SLOW down, calm down and get my breath calm as I approach the hill, I take the hill slow (why rush?) so that when I get to the top, I am not overwhelmed and it only takes 10-15 seconds to refocus. SOmething to try: practice hill intervals. I used to do them on the dreadmill but they are more productive outside. I would just find a long hill, jog up, walk down, jog up, etc. It really does help and it should be short enough for you to recover and find out what works to calm you down as you do the downhill part. Are you actually panicking because you’re breathing hard or breathing hard so you panic about breathing hard? It should/will require more effort and oxygen when you are challenged on your run-you know this-so you’re never going to have a static heart rate for the entire run. You beat yourself up, friend.

    1. Hill intervals. My nightmare. BUT, you are right. I need to do them to help me through them better. I tend to go fast up them to get them over with, rather than slow and steady. And I definitely start breathing heavier leading into them BECAUSE I fear them so. Sometimes I panic because my breathing is heavy and sometimes I panic because I WORRY my breathing will get too heavy. I definitely need to just focus on NOT focusing too much and listen to my body, enjoy it a little more. Trick is actually doing it. XO.

  9. I would love to give you help, but since I’m not a runner friend…just know that I’m thinking of you. Wishing you the best. Just know that I believe in you. You make me want to be better.

    Big hugs!

  10. sometimes its half mental. I like to use zicam nasal spray before a run to open up airways. Maybe this will help relieve anxiety too! YOU CAN DO THIS!!

    1. That’s a good idea. I use Flonase anyway, so I could just start using it in the AM vs. the PM to help me more. Thank you for the encouragement!

  11. Hmmm…advice. Well, after running a 10k in 76 degrees plus a million percent humidity on Monday….I remember that, “OMG. HOT. Too hot.” feeling. It sucks.

    Like everyone said, it’s mental. You have to tell yourself you *can* do it. With distance running, it helps to A: turn off your brain because, for an extreme example, when you start out on a 20 mile run, you absolutely cannot think about how much farther you have to go. It’s running suicide. I set little goals – even as silly as running to the next tree or mailbox. I don’t think about the end until it’s there, staring me in the face. And Tim and I celebrate little goals along the way, like maybe the mile after the halfway point or one more mile to go.

    As weird as it sounds, the less you actually *think* about what you’re doing, the better off you’ll be.

    1. Once again, you come through with sage advice!! All of what you say is absolutely right-on and I know that I need to just tell myself I can do it and focus on little rocks, not like, omg, I am only one mile into 7?? or 8,9,10?? Otherwise, that IS running suicide. I need to think less. Definitely.

  12. I was taught a technique for stress. Picture a happy time in your mind, feel the place, remember the smells, live the moment. Whilst doing so pinch your middle finger and thumb on your right finger together. Re-visit the same place in your mind at least 5 times. Eventually, your brain associates the pinching together of your finger and thumb as a pleasurable experience and will release endorphins on this “trigger” only. It works for me and i hope it does for you. Hugs Spencer.

    1. Thank you! You are the second person to make that suggestion (or similar)..I definitely have to give it a go. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. eeek! I’ve only had a panic attack once when I got trapped under the pool covers in high school and I thought I was going to drown and imagined my parents finding my floating body days later. (silly me!)
    So I can’t imagine having one while running!!! Perhaps music as a distraction?? And maybe not so much pressure to run it? or less hills for a while?

    1. Yea, it’s not fun ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Music doesn’t help, I have tried…but I think part of it is just that I need to conquer the hillls and I have just been avoiding them TOO much, ya know?

  14. Ok, from someone who not only runs but doesn’t necessarily like running… and someone who has ridden 160 miles on a bicycle (and close to 16 hours)… let me talk to you from the standpoint of endurance.

    The first thing you need is PATIENCE. Which is tough. Trust me. Especially when it’s hot and miserable and the air is thick. Honestly, the best way that I’ve pushed through my impatience is by STAYING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. Again… not easy. All of this is a mental game.

    2 suggestions to help:

    1) Concentrated meditation or even more yoga – Yoga teaches patience (especially Hatha Yoga) as you hold poses and have to remain calm even in spite of the discomfort. Once you begin to “breathe into the discomfort” your muscles naturally relax. Perhaps you could even use the mantra “breathe into the discomfort” during your run? Or another visual of open clear lungs during the run?

    2) Meditation/Hypnosis – Someone turned me on to Darren Marks ( who has apps for the iPhone. He does 20 minuted guided meditations for everything from acing a job interview to (you guessed it) sport/fitness excellence. Try it. The app is only $3.

    Did you notice I mentioned meditation? ๐Ÿ™‚

    The point is, you do need to TRAIN YOUR MIND to relax and your body will follow.

    Also, make sure you’re hydrating a lot the day before you run. That will help. I’m assuming you’re carbing up before your run too? There are great nutritional supplements for endurance too. (I take L-glutamine and D-Ribose.)

    Big SQUEEZE hug from me!

    1. Oh also, I’m prone to anxiety and panic attacks so I feel you BIG time on that. Meditation has helped me a lot. And little goals, like Jessica suggested. You’re shutting your body down by dreading the distance. You almost have to take a mental vacation and allow your body to just do what it was trained to do.

    2. THANK YOU T! These are solid pieces of advice…meditation. I have never tried it but will look into that app for sure for starters. And those supplements…tell me more. I will email you ๐Ÿ™‚ XO! (and yes, I need patience, LIKE WHOA, on this too).

  15. Do you ever run by yourself? This sounds like performance anxiety to me–maybe you’re measuring yourself against your sister and your more than you realize? I would make a point to run alone at least once a week and just get lost in the scenery. Forget about pace and just enjoy moving your body, feeling the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, etc. My two cents!

    1. Thank you Emma! Coming from you, having been a running coach, this is helpful too. I only run with my sister once a week and the other days I run with M. I am honestly too afraid to run alone (though I used to do it all the time last year) because I am afraid I cannot get through it without someone helping me. I do need to forget about pace. That is also my problem.

  16. Oh, Jo! You are so not alone…I need to go above and read comments, because I know there’re some great ones.

    As I said, you’re not alone. I have moments when I run, too, and I’m a few miles behind you guys in my training. Having a big race to look forward to is exciting…but intimidating, too. Intimidating in the sense that you start fearing you can’t do it. You start psyching yourself out.

    My problem isn’t panic in the sense that I start losing my breath. I don’t even know if it’s panic…it’s focus. See, I have gotten SO good at my breathing while running. To be honest, I feel like I’ve perfected it. What gets me…is the mind trap of: “Your legs are weak. You’re getting tired. What mile are you on? You’re getting hot. Do you really think you can do this?”

    Heather and your sister have both mentioned to me the whole training your mind thing. I have a serious issue focusing, though. I’ve noticed that after incorporating 5000IU of Vitamin D and then a Super-B Complex supplement, my drive and focus have changed. And there’s one more thing:

    If I have to walk for 30 seconds to regain my focus, I will. You’re so lucky to have Jessica as a running partner. I only wish I could be so lucky. No one in my family lives nearby, let alone wants to even ATTEMPT running. Wait, I lie…my little asthmatic sister (well, not so little…she’s 26). She lives in GA though!!!! Anyways, keep reminding yourself of something…

    You’ve gotten this far. You’ve run miles more than most people. You’ve got strong, barre-trained legs and a lot of really great things to accomplish and experience ahead of you. Keep picturing this: you and Jess, at the finish line, high five-ing and crying (because I know that’ll happen…that’s what sisters do), and holding your medals together in pictures. Imagine the feeling of success. Imagine how great the final outcome will be. Imagine how it’ll feel to say, “I knew I could.”

    (Now…time for me to take my own advice. LOL!) XO

    1. Can I hug you? Like, seriously? You are so awesome. So right about being lucky to have my sis (and M, too) as helpful training/running partners. Without them, it would be so much harder (and there I go again, being negative!). The mind trap is the worst and I think that is what is happening to me too. I just expect to breathe poorly so I do. Self-fulfilling prophecy, much?? And you are also so right on the mileage…I have run so far, I can do this, so I need to stop doubting and just start DOING! And take your own advice too ok? You are doing AWESOME!

      1. What you expect, you will get. Remember that. Maybe that’s why it’s good to just set little goals… remember the little train that could? “I think I can… I think I can..”

        During my first 160 mile bike ride, my mantra was “I am healthy, fit and strong.” I panted through that mantra up some steep ass hills, my friend. You can do this! You already are!

        1. So SO true my friend. I mean, damn, you willed your way through 160 miles…least I can do is do the same with a half, right?? Today’s run – a short one – was actually pretty good, and I felt less fear, and more free. A start, right?

          1. Yay! Keep doing that! And expect that some days aren’t going to feel as strong as others. Just as we’ve talked about “allowing” in relationships, allow your body to have good days and bad days!

      2. Haha, ((virtual hug))! It would be harder without them…because you’re used to having them as a support system. If you started out without them, then it wouldn’t. So, no, it’s not negative! It’s real. Humans need support and encouragement! I understand completely the expectations to go into panic-breathing mode. They say that you can really sabotage your running if you mark miles with landmarks or think your way to where you “failed” or “gave up” last. You get to a point where you start doing the same thing…just tell yourself you can do it. And convince yourself. ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. EXACTLY what I did – I saw the spots that I panicked the last time and it got me going again, same thing. However, today’s run was AWESOME! I felt great, like a totally different person ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. I don’t really have any words of wisdom but some of the other commenters have really good advice.

    I honestly don’t run much in the summer. I do like 3 miles a few times a week on the treadmill, but that’s it. I just don’t like running outside in the GA heat and I don’t like running on the treadmill for longer than 30 minutes.

    1. The heat and humidity definitely hinder me. I just need to find a way around it, even if it means getting up at 5 am vs. 6.

  18. So sorry you are experiencing this! I used to have anxiety leading up to long runs, but once I was running, I could usually get into a rhythm, listen to music, PRAY!, or just zone out into the depths of my brain or the scenery. There were times when I just wanted the run to be OVER, and then maybe I’d have some anxiety, but I’d push through. The mix of the heat and humidity could definitely be adding to this panic problem. I hope you can overcome it – I really believe you can!! xo

    1. Dorry, I read your comment this morning just before my ‘test run’ and it REALLY helped me. THANK YOU for stopping by and commenting and giving me some hope (as well as everyone else that has commented – THANK YOU!), it definitely spurred me forward this morning and I am glad to say it was a good, short run, but not scary. Baby steps!

  19. Running is the one thing my heart does not allow me to do well. I wish I had words of wisdom for you. I know you can overcome all of this though! You are strong. You are tough. You will make it.

  20. You’ve gotten some great advice! I can only concur with what most have said. Maybe slow things down and do a run/walk method when you feel a panic attack coming? I think music is a great distractor *and* motivator. I listen to songs that give me a fighter’s mentality.

    1. Music distracts me in a bad way usually but I may give it a go if things don’t improve. Today’s mini run was good, confidence builder!

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