Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pumping Iron

In recent weeks, especially during the month of July, I did not feel like myself at all.  Despite my best intentions I could not, for the life of me, stick to my training schedule.  Runs that were easy only a short time before seemed impossible.  Running at anything faster than a 10:00/mile pace seemed outrageously hard.  After a few days like this I started to take notice of a whole cluster of "symptoms", including:

1. Weakness (i.e. muscles felt tired, weak, powerless)
2. Tiredness (needing to take lots and lots of naps)
3. Dizziness (only on a couple of occasions, but still, it's not normal!)
4. Grumpiness (some might say this is not so much a symptom as a personality trait, but whatev)
5. Headaches
6. Paleness (especially my gums and the red part of my lower eyelids)
7.Shortness of breath (especially during workouts, but also climbing hills or stairs)
8. Trouble concentrating ("What was I going just doing?")
9. Loss of endurance (not feeling like I could finish a workout that was easy a couple of weeks prior)
10. High exercise heart rate (I mean, like running at a 13:00/mile pace with a HR of 153 bpm!)
13. Loss of interest in exercise (Do I HAVE to!?)
14. Poor appetite (this is SOOOO not normal for me!!)

A visit to my doctor, and a blood test or two later, and there you have it:  I was iron deficient!  Why, you might ask, would iron deficiency be such a big deal for a runner like me?

1.  Iron makes red blood cells.
2.  Red blood cells carry hemoglobin.
3.  Hemoglobin carries oxygen around to different parts of your body.
4.  If there is less oxygen transported through the body, your athletic performance drops.
Imagine the iron in your body is the steel that is used to build a ship. 
This ship is very important because it's carrying containers (hemoglobin) which are loaded with food (oxygen) to feed the city (your body).


If there isn't enough food (oxygen)  to go around, the the city (your body) will suffer from a famine (a drop in performance).
I'm not sure if this is a very good analolgy, but my point is, this explains why I've been feeling so rotten for the past several weeks!  Not enough oxygen! 
Once my diagnosis was confirmed, my doctor prescribed a course of iron therapy, which for me means taking a 300mg ferrus sulphate tablet once a day for 3 months. (Note:  Iron pills, if not needed,  can cause major issues like too much iron in your blood and irreversable damage to your body.  So don't take iron unless your doctor prescribes it!!)

I've been doing some reading up on iron deficiency, and it turns out that I was at particularly high-risk because of my low-fat, high carb, no red meat  diet, being a female of child-bearing age, and endurance training.
Here's what I am planning to do to prevent this from happening again:
1. The iron in red meat is more readily absorbed by the body than the iron found in plants, so I'll be eating it twice a week from now on.
2. Taking vitamin C with my iron pills or my iron-rich foods, which will help my body absorb it better.

3.  Tannins in red wine, coffee, and tea can allegedly make it harder to absorb iron, so I need to at least TRY to cut back on the wine with dinner and the caffeine.

4.  Use my cast-iron pots and pans more often. Iron in the cookware will leach into foods (especially acidic ones like spaghetti sauce).  Normally things "leaching into foods" is a cause for alarm, but in this case it's a good thing.

So far so good, I've been taking the iron for a few weeks now and am feeling way more like myself.  Hopefuly my NEXT race will be a raging success!  No more bad race reports!!!


Anonymous said...

Great post! The fascinating thing I'm discovering about vitamins and nutrients is how they seem to work best in groups, like vitamin D and calcium. Also, I like your cuts of beef diagram.

Mark said...

So glad you were able to find out what was going on, very good info!

Marlene said...

It must have been a relief to have an explanation for the way you'd been feeling. Hope you're feeling 100% with the iron therapy. I also like that you have an action plan to prevent this from happening again.

I've always heard that iron deficiency is a common issue for femal runners. Thanks for all the info. (And I think it was a great analogy!)

Alisa said...

Maybe this is my problem too. The last few weeks, the last two in particular, have been a major struggle to get out of bed and I know I've been getting plenty of sleep but I'm always tired.

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Susan said...

I'm so glad you were able to get a handle on this! What a smartie. Vegas, here you come!