Thursday, July 24, 2014

Note to self: eat more steak

It’s been a whirlwind over the past few weeks. I fell in love with the UP, got a fair share of technical trail running in, and may have found the culprit to my leg issue. 

I ran the US Mountain Running Champs on July 6th and then Run the Keweenaw: A Festival of Trails on July 12th and 13th.

Loon Mountain was a tough race. The terrain became the main pitfall and I felt like I used up most my energy just navigating the terrain. At mile 4 I started feeling better, but unfortunately there was only .8 more to go. The steepest part was where I felt the best, go figure! Anyhow I made it to the top and that in and of itself felt like an accomplishment for the day. After the cool down I just started to cry. I have had this overwhelming frustration with my legs not feeling right, with training and races feeling harder than they should, and just wanting to throw in the towel. I let out the tears and moved on with my day.

After finishing the race in Lincoln, NH, Sam and I took a road trip to the UP for a stage race in Cooper Harbor, MI. The first day involved a morning 6K climb and an evening 12K (which was actually more like 8.5 miles). The next day involved a morning 25K run.  Leading up to the race I had my typical leg cramps/locking up on a handful of runs, but on Saturday I was feeling pretty loose and excited to explore the UP trails. The first 3-4 minutes of the climb I was doing okay and then wham there was the sensation and there I was walking. Close to 10 minutes later the tightness was easing off and I could do more than just walk/jog. I arrived at the top, took in the view, and then headed back down the hill with Sam who won! For the evening run I decided to experiment with a more intense warm-up to see if it helped. The race started and 5-6 minutes into the race this time wham there was that sensation and there I was walking. Part of me just wanted to turn around, throw up my arms, and just take a break from running, but I am stubborn. I waited until my legs settled down and then I did a progression run on those trails, took in my surroundings, and tried my best not to think about how frustrated that sensation that has stopped me in track workouts, easy runs, and races was.

When I finished there was Sam who had now also won the 12K. He knew I was frustrated. He knew I wasn’t running to my ability. He made a comment about how this was maybe iron related and that I looked pale. Next thing you know the woman that finished a few spots behind me who saw me walking at the start of race came over to chat with me. She asked me to describe this sensation in my legs and told me she had experienced the same exact thing. FINIALLY!!! I knew there had to have been another runner in the world. And you know what she said, iron depletion/deficiency! But my doctor had checked that in the blood work last year and the year before right? Actually neither time did the doctor check. She checked my overall blood panel, but that doesn’t show iron. So you know what Sam did that night, he made me eat a steak. You know what happened the next day in the 25K I ran like my normal self. And this time both Sam and I won! Placebo or not, maybe I am finding my solution.  

I’ve been eating more red meat and iron rich foods along with vitamin C. I am supplementing too. I have been feeling better even with some higher back-to-back mileage. My energy is better. My legs haven’t cramped up. I am hopeful and excited for the training and races ahead. Fingers crossed.

FYI I did get my iron levels checked. They aren’t awful, but they are definitely not great either. I highly recommend if you’re a runner (especially a female runner) and feeling out of sorts to get them checked.



John Nguyen said...

Yay! I'm glad you may have found the solution to your leg problems! I am a big fan of your running, even if you weren't our doula back in April, 2011! Good luck with everything!

Vern L said...

Iron was probably responsible for my own weird feeling about a year back. Just had no energy after 30 minutes. Never hurts to do complete blood levels every once in a while!

Good luck with your runs!

Scott Dunlap said...

Interesting! Thanks for sharing, on congrats to you and Sam.

M @readeatwriterun said...

Can you describe your symptoms in more detail?

Also, would you share (here or directly) your test results vs the "normal" and "runner" best values?

I had a test last yr where my ferrritin was low (for a runner but still normal-ish low), doc wasn't concerned (she doesn't get it). With her ok, I've been taking an iron supplement at a very low dose, but not sure I'm getting enough benefit. I do seem to notice when I miss a day or two.

Need to get tested again before I up the dose but would love to have an idea from your experiences if some of my current issues w leg heaviness, fatigue, everything being more effort, slower recovery could be related. I do eat red meat from time to time, but I guess I mostly eat white meats (chicken, pork, ostrich) and fish/eggs.

Thanks much and hope it's all better for you soon!

wcaitlin said...

M @readwriterun:

My main symptom was leg tightness/heaviness/cramping anywhere from 3-10 minutes into a run. It usually would get bad enough that I would have to stop and walk or walk/jog until subsided. I didn't think I was tired but since supplementing and concentrating on eating more iron I've noticed a big improvement in my overall energy. And I've also noticed better recovery after runs too.

My levels were in the normal range, but at the lower end of the spectrum (and I've been told low for a runner). There is various information out there, but ultimately it sounds like it's dependent on the person. If you normally have iron levels in the 100s when you're feeling good and then your levels are 30 and you feel crummy then it's very likely a potential low level for you. If you're an endurance runner and at the low end of a normal spectrum you could still be iron depleted.

I would also suggest getting Vitamin D levels checked as they can also have some similar symptoms!

Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

glad you made it to the UP!! So jealous. I ran in Copper Harbor last summer; it was gorgeous.

KateBannet said...

Wow! I always hated running! But in this case..well done!