Running with Spring Allergies

Running with Spring Allergies

Your eyes are watering, your breathing is labored, and your nose is dripping – and the cause simply isn’t that you are in the middle of a hard tempo run. Running with spring allergies can make running outdoors difficult and uncomfortable – just when you think running will be perfect because the snow is melted, then you have to contend with stuffy noses and itchy eyes.

I’m not about to tell you to stick to the treadmill. Part of the joy of running is being outside in the fresh air. After a long winter, you want to enjoy the sunshine and reap all the benefits of vitamin D, not stare at the gym wall for yet another hour run. These tips for running with allergies will keep you outside for your runs – and hopefully feeling good during those runs.

Running with Spring Allergies

Time Your Allergy Medicine

Many allergy medicines can cause temporary drowsiness. Needless to say, drowsiness is not a sensation you want to experience on a run. Part of the solution comes in finding the right medication for you. The other part of the solution emerges when you figure out the optimal time of day to take your allergy medication.

A morning runner may choose to take allergy medicine right before bed, so that the medicine is still in effect upon waking, but you won’t have the side effect of drowsiness. If you run in the afternoon, consider taking your allergy medicine a few hours prior in the morning and following it up with plenty of water and an energizing pre-run snack to combat the drowsiness.

Change and Shower Right Away

That same pollen that falls from the trees will stick to your clothing on a run. Grass will stick to your shoes and within the span of even a short three mile run, you will be covered in allergy-inducing pollen.

Being covered in pollen will make your allergies worse, so take preventative action. If you are driving far from a race or a run to home, change your top in a rest area or the car. As soon as you get home, place your clothes in the laundry and shower immediately to get any pollen off of you and to avoid tracking it into your house.

Running with Spring Allergies

Transition Slowly from the Treadmill to Outdoors

With warmer temperatures and snow-free terrain, you eagerly lace up your shoes to run outside – only to struggle with your breathing and feel discouraged. Transitioning from the treadmill to running outdoors is challenging enough, even for an experienced runner. After months of running either flat or uphill in a climate-controlled room, you have to acclimate to pacing yourself, running against the wind, running downhills, and running with pollen in the air.

The first few runs outdoors may leave you huffing and puffing as spring allergies hinder your breathing while you try to acclimate to the wind resistance and changing terrain. Even if you were running continuously on the treadmill, brief walk breaks may help you as you transition to running outdoors. Slowing down your pace to a truly easy effort (3 on a scale of 1-10) will keep your breathing slow and steady as well. Leave all pace expectations behind and focus on effort until you acclimate to running with spring allergies.

Wear a Hat

A brimmed hat is an indispensable part of my spring running wardrobe. A hat offers sun protection, a shield from the inevitable spring rains, and a barrier to pollen. Especially if you run in a wooded area, tree pollen can fall into your face during a run. A hat prevents the pollen from irritating your eyes and nose while you are running. My favorite all-season hat is the Trailhead Race Day Cap, which holds up to spring rains and summer suns. 

Running with Spring Allergies

Warm Up before your Run

A short warm-up before your run will prevent injury, activate your muscles, and alleviate the symptoms of allergies. The sharp spike in breathing from rest to running can cause you to inhale heavily and breathe in more pollen than if you gradually transition into exercise. A thorough dynamic warm up will slightly elevate your respiratory rate and warm up your lungs, so that you aren’t going from sitting to running in the pollen-filled air. If you have severe allergies, you may benefit from warming up inside before your run where there’s no pollen to inhale.

Extend your warm-up run before a speed workout, if time permits. Rather than running 5-10 minutes easy before your first interval, run at an easy effort for 15-20 minutes. The longer time spent warming up at an easy run pace will give your lungs more time to adapt to running and warm up – so that you can breathe easier once the harder running begins.

Stay Well Hydrated

A scratchy throat will only be exacerbated by thirst during a run. You should already be taking care to hydrate before, during, and after a run, but you may find that you need a little extra water to combat the symptoms of seasonal allergies. It’s a simple trick, but oftentimes the simplest of tweaks can make the biggest difference. 

Running with Spring Allergies

Adjust Your Training Schedule

Your training should fit your life – not the other way around. If your spring allergies are severe enough to make speed work a perpetual struggle and long runs miserable, considering adjusting your workouts for the season.

Runners with severe seasonal allergies may opt to treat the spring months as a base building season. Focusing on easy mileage and doing workouts by feel is much more manageable, especially since your respiratory rate is lower during a easy run. Hard workouts require you to breathe harder, so you might choose to skip them when you are already having a hard enough time breathing as it is.

You can also adjust your schedule on a week to week basis based on the pollen report or other trends. If, for example, you know that they mow the grass along your favorite loop for speed work every Wednesday, plan your weekly workouts accordingly. Do your speed work earlier in the week to avoid freshly mowed grass and then run another route on Wednesday.

Master the Snot Rocket (or Carry Tissues)

Snot rockets are disgusting – but like some other disgusting things that we runners do, they can be a necessary means for relief. The technique of a snot rocket is simple: turn your head slightly over your shoulder, plug one nostril with your finger, and blow to expel the snot out of your nose. If that’s too gross for you, carrying tissues so you can blow your nose on the run.

If you are running with a group or in a race, be courteous of others when you blow a snot rocket. Veer toward the very edge of the trail or the road, check behind you, and tilt your head to the side and toward the ground, so that you don’t ruin someone else’s run.

Linking up with Coaches’ Corner

Have you mastered the snot rocket?
How do you deal with spring allergies?

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15 Responses

  1. My allergies havent been too bad this year- yet. I have managed to make it through the last couple of years without taking meds, but each year is different. Wearing a hat is a great idea!

  2. I have terrible allergies this time of year and I do a lot of the things on your list to mitigate the symptoms. However, I never thought to do a longer warm-up but that makes SO much sense!! I always wear my sunglasses too, even if it’s cloudy, because that seems to help quite a bit as well. And, I’m the master of snot rockets…which I’m not sure I should be super proud of – LOL ?!

    1. Yes – sunglasses are a great idea also to keep allergens out of eyes! Lol I’m a master of snot rockets also…the skills we learn from running are funny!

  3. Thankfully I don’t have horrible spring allergies. I’m allergic to something but it doesn’t warrant me to use anything. I do know that I appreciate a light rain when pollen is covering everything. It’s like I can breathe again!

    1. Whoa Chicago must be different than the other side of Lake Michigan! Allergies seemed to linger forever in Valpo, although it was nowhere near as bad as Saint Louis or Dayton.

  4. Ugh, I dread this time of year for just this reason. I have horrid seasonal allergies as I am allergic to most trees so sometimes I do need to banish myself to the treadmill to survive. Great tips and hopefully the spring allergy season is short for all of us runners.

  5. I used to suffer from severe spring allergies. severe. like I couldn’t even go outside without sneezing and having my eyes burn so badly! since switching to a meatless diet though, my allergies are GONE. I swear this is the one reason I may never ever go back to eating meat. I never would have believed it was possible to lose my allergies but it’s always said that going vegetarian could “cure” it. and it did. I no longer take my daily allergy pill and I’m fine! that being said, I used to run super early in the morning to avoid the height of the pollen, avoid running under trees, shower immediately and definitely wear a hat (and wash it right away!).

    1. Oh gosh, I’m really bad about washing my hat! At least I leave in it my car and rarely bring it in the house. I didn’t experience the same relief from allergens when I didn’t eat meat, but that’s awesome that it helped you out!

  6. Thankfully I do not suffer from severe seasonal allergies, but this is all such great advice. Gradually transitioning from indoors to outdoors makes a lot of sense – especially with the extreme weather changes we’ve had this winter. I always underestimate how much pollen we’re actually exposed to out there!

    I’ve never done the snot rocket…but I’ve almost been hit!

    1. Oh my gosh that would be traumatizing to be hit by one! It is amazing how much pollen arrives seemingly out of nowhere – or how quickly the trees bloom! Our cherry blossoms just suddenly appeared out here.

  7. When I lived in Texas I always carried a stash of strong cough drops on spring runs – the menthol really helped clear out my sinuses so I could breathe. Thankfully I only need the cough drops on occasional bad allergy days here.

    And gross runner confession, I tend to use my shirt as a tissue – I figure it’s on par with all the other gross runner habits, and the shirt is going in the laundry as soon as I get home anyway.

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