Saturday, July 13, 2013

Back But Not Quite There Yet

So I didn't listen to the doctor's orders and I resumed training a week after the surgery (which the patient booklet recommended), not the 3 weeks she recommended. I know my body and my ability to heal, and running did not cause any discomfort or worse side effects. 

The thing is, it's been really hard to get back. My tempos have been 15 seconds/km slower than usual even though they are much shorter than usual. My intervals even worse - this week's two x 2-mile intervals were 30 and 90 seconds slower than target respectively. It felt embarrassingly slow out there because I've worked so hard to get where I am and that was not a reflection of my work. Even my long slow runs have been a slog. I get them done, but they've not been easy. I've been short of breath, and really not having fun out there, except when in the company of friends. And the sluggishness has impacted me outside of running too - it's getting harder and harder to get out of bed.

I'd considered all the possible reasons for this. I thought maybe the surgery took more of a toll on me than I thought (which makes little sense as it was such a minor procedure). I wondered if recovering from the marathon had anything to do with it, you know, the 1 day/raced mile to recover rule, but my sluggishness lasted beyond a month. Then there's the summer heat. And while the heat should affect me and has affected my running friends, my progress seemed to me more inhibited than theirs and too drastic a difference to be explained only by the heat. I was starting to get really frustrated and worried about my performance at my upcoming races the next two weeks. My coach assured me not to let it get to me. We all have training plateaus and slumps before we see progress again. He also suggested I take my tempo this week without monitoring pace. I appreciated that as no matter how slow it was, I was none the wiser, and it didn't leave me frustrated at all.

That was until today. In recent weeks, I've heard many times about how common iron deficiency is among endurance athletes. A few of my friends have complained about this, got tested for it, and sure enough, required a supplement. I didn't think this should be an issue for me, although people have questioned me because I don't eat red meat and I donate blood. I thought I was one of the lucky ones who didn't have it be an issue. I mean, they test your hemoglobin before allowing you to donate blood, and it always came out fine. I have intentionally taken a break from it recently to prevent it from being a problem. But I've also heard of many endurance athletes who refuse to give blood because it impacts their training too much; iron is an important performance enhancer for athletes. It's sad that we have to make these choices, not to give blood, and perhaps it's a choice I'm going to have to make for myself too.

Apparently iron loss is very common in endurance athletes. Because of foot strike and heavy sweating, it's very common for runners. It's even more common for those who train at high mileage and high intensity like I do. And because I'm a woman, a runner with a high sweat rate, and I don't eat red meat, I'm even more at risk. I was talking about this while out on my 2nd run today, and two people suggest I do the "eyelid iron test". You pull down the bottom eyelid and look underneath. If it's whiter than normal (not as red), iron is low. I never thought this was an indicator of anything. So the moment I got to a mirror, I checked and yes, they were the whitest I've ever seen them. 

I spent some time at my computer doing some research on iron supplements OK for non-meat-eaters like me, and found one with high reviews that even severely anemic people recommended. It's gluten and yeast free and made from whole food sources too. I walked down to my local vitamin store, and without my prompting, they suggested the very same one. They gave me a sample in store to make sure I could handle the taste, and it was actually kinda yummy :) So I took home a bottle and am going to make an effort to choose higher iron-content foods going forward. Let's see if I start to gradually feel better. On my way to the vitamin store, I got a blood test done too which I'll get results from on Monday. I'm sure it'll confirm that I'm deficient. But I want to know how bad the deficiency is. Perhaps the supplement I have will be enough, perhaps it won't. But the doctor who filled in the lab requisition for me told me that even if the test doesn't have alarming results, I should be taking a supplement anyway as a preventative measure against anemia if I'm running marathons and not eating red meat. So at least I can take what I bought and start to feel better while I await the results.

I feel a lot better knowing that there is likely a logical and rectifiable solution for how I've been feeling. Let's just hope I'm correct and I can move forward. And move forward with the speed I know I am capable of.

1 comment:

  1. If you are iron-deficient, and it does sound like you are, your doctor will give you a prescription for the right kind of iron pills. They can take a couple of weeks to be fully effective. Yep, iron-deficiency is soooo common in young women runners. Been through this myself. Same as you I didn't eat much red meat. In fact I was vegetarian for over 10 years. One tip is to eat lots of dark greens like kale, chard, spinach, with lemon juice (helps absorption) and cook in cast iron pot. Good luck and don't worry. This is just a speed bump and you'll get over it. btw, beware of doing your long runs too fast if you run with others.