Run down? You might be anemic.
Feeling tired and burned out from running? Yeah, it happens to the best of us. However, if that fatigue is lingering and nothing is making a difference, it may be your iron levels. While I recognize this is certainly not something that effects every athlete, it is more common for those of us that are active.
Even though I am a vegetarian (and have been for more than half of my life), I have never had a problem with my iron before this year. When I began training for a spring marathon in January, I really was struggling. Although I had never stopped running, I suddenly realized how hard it felt.
For me, here are the warning signs that I ignored or blamed on “losing my mojo.” If any of these sound familiar, perhaps its more than just a burnout.
- Speedwork felt impossible. Paces that I should have been able to do with effort were not happening. I couldn’t turn my legs over fast enough, and more than one occasion, I was convinced I was going to fly off the treadmill (this was during the polar vortex). I remember emailing the coach I was working with during a run and writing, “I don’t know what’s wrong but I cannot hold this pace for the life of me.”
- I didn’t finish a single run without stopping to catch my breath. As someone who usually runs long distances, I suddenly wasn’t able to make it more than three miles without stopping to gasp for air … and it’s not like I was moving too quickly.
- My go-to normal pace felt really hard. I don’t run with a watch, but I could tell I was running very slowly. Sometimes, I use my phone to time myself for half miles or miles just to check my pace, and I realized I was running at least two minutes per mile slower than normal. And it felt hard.
- I developed leg cramps that sometimes were so bad, I couldn’t run. Because your cells don’t have enough oxygen, it’s possible for your legs or arms to cramp up. Sometimes, I’d have to quit a run after a quarter of a mile because my legs were locked up so badly.
- I was completely exhausted. “It’s marathon training, I should be tired!” I thought. Wrong. You most likely do not need to be going to bed before 8 p.m.
Despite having all these symptoms, I was shocked when I found out I was “severely anemic.” It never even crossed my mind that something was really wrong. I told people I just didn’t have it anymore.
I now take two iron pills a day and my levels are almost back to normal. Running feels much better, I (usually) bounce out of bed in the morning and overall, I feel like a new person.
So, if training isn’t going well, and hasn’t for months, maybe its time to get your iron levels checked. I wish I had.