Run down? You might be anemic.

by: Kelly Leighton
October 1, 2014

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.

tired runner source: http://www.123rf.com

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.

Categories: Fitness, Running

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