Several months back, someone snapped a photo of a Nike running T-shirt with the phrase “Running Sucks” and sent it to me as a joke. I didn’t think it was funny at the time. As if I’d ever be seen wearing a shirt like that.
But today that’s exactly how I feel about running. It sucks. A lot.
Okay, I really do love to run. But my latest setback — this time, it’s anemia — makes it hard to love it. It’s like being in a bad relationship. I try to love it, but I get hurt in return. When I run, it’s almost like being at altitude. It’s harder to breathe. Sometimes I’m tired before, during and after workouts. I get winded. Ten miles feels closer to 20.
I saw the doctor about this fatigue two weeks ago. Leading up to my appointment, I had felt tired, weak and easily annoyed for about three weeks. I had headaches daily, and my body ached. Wiped out by the end of the week, I would go home on Friday to sleep for 12 or 13 hours, run the next morning and then nap — and I still lacked energy.
Running suffered. Every run, and I do mean every run, challenged me. I skipped a hill workout one Saturday because I didn’t think my body could endure a long run the following day, too. The day before I saw doc, I set out to run 17 miles. By mile 2, I was ready to turn home — and I doubted I’d make it without walking or having to call someone to drive me. I made it — but barely. The day after my appointment — and before I learned I was anemic — I showed up to my group’s three-mile time trial. I had napped for two hours before the run, and I wanted to go back to bed. But my husband encouraged me to go to the trial. So I did. After every lap (there were 8), I wanted to quit. My body was screaming at me to quit. But I pushed through. I finished the trial dead last. My time was three minutes slower than when I had run the trial about six weeks earlier. I sobbed in the bathroom afterward. Shit that sucked, I thought.
My doctor ran a series of blood tests, and she was convinced something would show up. And it did. My ferritin level was 4. Normal is 10 to 120. Ferritin stores iron for when the body needs it. My hemoglobin was 9.5. Normal is 11.7 to 15.7.
Endurance athletes — especially women — suffer from low iron. Pete Pfitzinger has a good post on “Running and Rusting.” Here’s why runners need iron, according to the report:
Iron is necessary for production of hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the muscles. If your hemoglobin level is low, less oxygen reaches your muscles, and your VO2 max and racing performances suffer. In addition, iron is a component of many other substances in the body, such as enzymes in your muscle cells for aerobic energy production.
With iron deficiency anemia, your iron stores are gone, and your hemoglobin level is reduced. With iron depletion, on the other hand, your iron stores are low but not gone, and your hemoglobin is still normal.
After getting my results, my doctor ordered me to take a three-week break from running and to start taking iron supplements three times a day. I asked my doctor to reconsider her temporary ban last week. She said I could give running a try. So after eight days off, I went out Sunday for my first double-digit run in three weeks. Not because I love it. Though I do. And not because I’m addicted. Though I am.
I ran and will continue training over the next six weeks — no matter how awful I might feel somedays – because I made a commitment to raise money and run the Big Sur Marathon for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. I made a commitment to honor my dad’s memory. And I made a commitment to myself to start and finish this race. I will honor these commitments, but I can’t do that sidelined.
So you’re going to see me on the trail again. I’m going to train the best I can. And I’m going to smile while I do it. Even if running sucks, I still love it.
Fundraising update: Since 2010, I’ve raised about $8,200 for the MMRF. During this latest campaign, I’ve raised $2,800. My goal is to raise $5,000 before Big Sur. Every dollar counts. My dad didn’t beat multiple myeloma, but with your help, others can.