let’s be real, I haven’t been looking forward to writing this. And right now, I’m studying for finals so I don’t have a ton of time. But I figure it’s time to make a post, and maybe I can (hopefully) help someone else if they ever face the situation I did.
I was supposed to run the Glass City Marathon last Sunday. Emphasis on supposed to. My training was going well, I was working with my coach and hitting great milestones. I ran 2 twenty milers, both of which were faster than my 20 in the Grand Rapids full last year. I was feeling good, confident, and well prepared.
Fast forward to about 4 weeks ago. I ran a half marathon as a training run- I was supposed to hit my marathon target pace for a few miles, then kick it up if I felt good. That didn’t happen. I started off immediately feeling tired, and assumed it was just because I had stayed up later than I should have the night before, and had a couple glasses of wine. Figuring I could push through it, I kept on. But I was still feeling pretty fatigued, and it caused me to not pay attention to the roads, which had tons of potholes. I mistakenly stepped in one and felt a muscle in my quad immediately seize. Not wanting to sabotage my training, I pulled out. My very first DNF. I wasn’t *too* upset about it because I knew it was just a training run and not my goal race. I knew another run was on its way to bounce me right back.
That better run never came. In fact, even after resting 2 days to allow my quad muscle to heal, I still felt tired while running. It felt like I was running with an open parachute behind me. It was my last week of hard training, so I figured my body just needed to get into taper. I struggled through those runs, even having to stop and catch my breath at times. I ran my last 20 miler, came home and took several naps and went to bed early (this never happens to me on long runs – I usually am full of adrenaline all night). I just figured it was because I never ran 2 twenty’s in a training cycle before.
The week leading into taper, I knew something was off. I was struggling on 3 mile runs. A couple of my friends have had issues with low iron so I finally decided to check mine out with my dr. I had a physical in February where everything was fine, so I was hoping to just re-confirm my iron numbers. Except, my iron was never tested in February. It rarely is unless you ask for it.
My dr wasn’t a great help (he asked if I was getting enough carbs/water/sleep/had realistic training goals etc) and I kept insisting on checking my ferritin levels. After speaking to my friends who struggled with anemia and iron deficiency, I knew that was test that would give me the proper answers. I got bloodwork done and they called me with the results the very next day. “Good news, you’re not anemic, everything’s fine!” the nurse told me over the phone. “What is my ferritin level specifically?” I asked. “Oh, it’s 11. The range is 10-80. You’re normal.” That still seemed odd to me, so I asked to have my results mailed to me and then began doing my research.
I won’t go into the ridiculous amounts of research and discussions I’ve had with running coaches and now my new running dr, but a ferritin level of 11 is very iron deficient for a female runner. Runners generally should strive to have ferritin levels of 60, and can have severe affects to their training when under 20 (check out here, here, here, here and here if you want more info). Women are at higher risk of iron depletion because we have periods, and lose blood every month. Also, the more you run, the more you lose iron in your feet from foot strike hemolysis, which essentially destroys red blood cells with every foot strike. Obviously, if you’re running or running high mileage, you can appreciate the irony (ha, a pun!) of losing more iron with every strike.
My mileage this year has been higher than any training cycle, maxing out at 224 miles in March (right around when this started happening) – nearly 50+ miles more than my max month for GR. I had no idea that I could deplete iron so quickly. If I had, I would have begun supplementing.
I started taking liquid iron a little over 2 weeks ago. I noticed marginal improvement but basically could only go for short, easy runs. I still felt tired and took more rest days than normal. A few days before Glass City, I started my period, which seemed to throw all my progress off (makes sense, low iron + losing more iron = not a great combination). I hated to make the decision that I did, but I didn’t want to put my body under more stress than it is. So I decided not to do Glass City. Who bails on a race during taper? *raises hand*.
I did go to the race with my friend Karly, who is also sadly benched from an injury. We walked the 5k and just enjoyed cheering people on. Our friend Amy ran a massive PR, after dealing with anemia early in the training cycle and getting those numbers boosted from supplementation. So proud of her!
I also got to see my friends Janet and Matt, who did the half, and I haven’t seen in forever. Sounds like they are right on track to begin training for their fall full 🙂
This past week I found a dr who is a Boston runner and deals with runners regularly. He told me the liquid iron was good, but due to my levels, I need to supplement even more. I’ve begun to take a pill along with the liquid iron, and seem to be feeling a little better. It should take about a month to notice a big improvement, so I’m not going to put more pressure on myself until then.
Am I bummed to miss the marathon? Of course. But I want to be able to keep running, and well, so I have to take care of myself now. Hopefully, I can find another race in the future to train for once I’m feeling like myself again.
If you are feeling exhausted a mile or two into runs, breathless, higher heart rate than normal, or just excessively tired that you don’t attribute to training, please go get your levels checked. Had I done that when I bombed that half, who knows? I maybe could’ve made it to GC. Hindsidght is always 20/20.
So, I better get back to studying now. Hopefully next time I update I’ll have more good news!