Putting the FE in Iron: A Life and Running Update

Life Update

Aside from my physical injury history, extensive but most self-inflicted, I feel like I have led a mostly healthy life. 

The primary disorders I experience are typically mental in nature (ie. Anxiety and ADHD). However, I have always been very attuned to how the body works and functions. I have always tried to be inquisitive at the doctor to learn about how my body works, and especially how my body responds in connection to sports.

So, when I began to feel very fatigued on a regular basis, it hit a light switch in my brain that something was wrong. Even more so when that fatigue took away my desire to run, it really hit me hard.  

As many of you may know I hyperextended my knee earlier in the summer, and in my comeback have had many other issues just trying to get back to a regular running routine. I have had a couple of bouts of Achilles tendinitis, lingering pain in my knee, and then there is fatigue.

My wife had originally conveyed that perhaps it was my sleep (I do snore quite a bit and can be a restless sleeper). So, I talked to my doctor about doing a sleep study to see if I have sleep apnea. However, the cogs of the medical system move slowly so it might be a bit on that front. 

Then one Sunday all I did was sleep, I literally woke up, went to church, came home, took a 2.5-hour nap, went to dinner with my family, came home, and was immediately ready to go back to sleep on the couch. There were even days when I was fatigued during the day, wanting to nap, and having to push through. This fatigue even led to a lack of desire to run. I tried to push mentally but it would feel like my entire body was falling apart when I was doing it. 

This began to make me think something else was going on, so I asked my doctor for some blood work (I have blood work covered to an extent on my health care coverage as part of my yearly physical).

Looking at my previous year’s blood work I tried to identify areas we needed to key in on. With my education in run coaching, I had known that iron deficiency could lead to feelings of fatigue and lack of production. However, the trick with noticing iron deficiency in runners, as many competitive runners and run coaches know is that the normal metrics and tests for iron are not necessarily going to tell the whole story. 

As I scrolled through, I noticed that I had very steady hemoglobin levels (the metric normally used for the discovery of iron deficiency and anemia). However, those trained in high-level athletics will often know that you cannot just check hemoglobin to notice iron deficiencies, nor can you always trust your red blood cell count. You must go a step deeper and look at a person’s ferritin levels. This can tell a deeper story in a person’s iron production because ferritin is the protein that is essential in the storage of iron in the body so that it can be more readily used by the hemoglobin when it is needed. 

Does this explain everything I am experiencing?

I do not know the answer to this yet, as I am still discussing things with my doctor. However, seeing the low number that came up on my Ferritin Panel testing results, did give me a sense of relief that I possibly do have some direction to head in. This level was much lower than the levels and marks we learned about in my run coaching education. This has led me to begin to look into and begin iron supplementation to hopefully feel more like myself. 

As I continue to move forward, I don’t know how this will all play out, but I can definitely see how being able to understand things deeper can help us to learn more about ourselves. We need to be able to ask the hard questions in our lives to help us find answers for things to help us care for ourselves. 

The true lightbulb moment in all of this became the lack of desire to run. I remember one particular run on a Saturday, after I had already gotten the ferritin blood work approved and was awaiting to get my blood drawn for it, I had a terrible “run.” I went out for what was supposed to be a 6-mile run, but .25 mi in I felt so drained already and started walking. I was tired, but I wasn’t. I am pretty self-aware of my running abilities, and knew that 6 miles should not have been an overly taxing run (yes long in my progression from injury, but within my realm of abilities). When I began to walk I tried to mentally get myself to run and it wasn’t working. I wanted to run, but my body just couldn’t handle it. 

Again, I felt fine (like I could run), but I was not fine and couldn’t run. 

I commented to my coach how awful I felt and he encouraged me to continue to seek answers. Then, once I had some answer, I told him my next run felt like something was a bit lighter. All I had was a number attached to the iron storage in my body, but my mentality felt better. I still struggled on my run, but I felt better knowing because I felt like that struggle had a reason and I was getting answers and help for it. 

As a running coach (and if you are running or exerting yourself at a high level), I want to say make sure you are keeping an eye on your ferritin levels when you get your yearly physical done (also if you can get that yearly physical in). Body awareness can be a vital tool in our self-care ritual practices. We must know how we function, and when something is off we must be willing to work to find answers.

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