Friday, July 5, 2013

An Ironman with low iron?

Where to start on this one...I don't even know.  Maybe Ironman Texas?  Now, thankfully I may have my reason as to why I so badly crapped the bed at that race. What even prompted me to go get tested for iron?

Taking it back a few clicks, my sister had her thyroid out early in June and as it runs in the family, I went to kaiser to get mine checked out.  I thought, huh, I've been abnormally tired now for a needing to take a nap in the middle of the day, going to bed at 8PM kind of tired.  Not your regular Ironman training tired.  I've been training and racing for long enough that I know what that tired is supposed to feel like and this wasn't that.  And did I mention the cranky pants that have been on SO tight that I don't even know how to begin to take them off?  I just try to be quiet so that no one sees those pants. The jury is still out on the whole thyroid thing, and that could be adding to the fatigue I've been having so we'll see.  Can you say, "hot mess"?!!

So I ask the GP to test my ferritin levels and he gives me a "why would you do that" you're full of shit face.  I proceed to tell him that low iron is common in endurance athletes, especially females.  After telling me that this shouldn't be possible, he agrees to the test.  Three days later, I get an email stating that all looks good, with THE EXCEPTION of my iron levels.  I am at 10ng/ml vs the low end of 22 and the advice that athletes should be around 50.  I had my iron tested last year and was in the 40's. Cue my nah, nah, na, boo, boo face. I surely sent him a few links to studies detailing what happens to athletes and why we break our iron down. And I only went to a public college.  Turns out, we triathletes know our bodies pretty well. Now the stumper is WHY has my iron dropped?  I haven't had an radical dietary changes, and my run volume (something that really breaks iron down) is not higher than in past years. So no clue really why this happened other than 2 ironman races within 8 weeks...but other folks do this without the same consequences, so I am still at a loss.

The latest addition to the Ironman Club, Jenny!
So last week after running to a dinner to celebrate my first time ironman pal Jenny things really came to a halt.  I was running at a HR of 170 and only pulling off 8:00/mile....on a relatively flat run.  It was hot out but not that hot! This is not normal for me.  "Huh" I thought, we had better call in for reinforcements to see what is going on here and how we approach training.  Race this weekend?  Not a chance!

I am lucky enough to have some great resources available to me and it turns out that low iron is not just like being pregnant in terms of exercising through it.  I always think when I get pregnant that I will continue to train...I'm not going to be sick, just in a +1 situation and no harm will come of continuing to exercise.  Turns out this is not the case with low iron and if I continue to train hard through it, I will not recover quickly and will ruin my later season goals.

Time to celebrate the birthday boy!
So what does this mean for now?  It means that I have had to pull out of Vineman 70.3 next weekend in a wholly nonrefundable situation, adding insult to injury.  I am also on strict orders to take all workouts easy and am not allowed to go out for very long.  This is breaking my heart.  I know in the long run, this is inconsequential to my goals and life, but right now, ALL I want to do is go ride my bike for 5 hours with friends, get my blood pumping and run as the miles just click away under my feet.  I haven't' had that feeling since training for Los Cabos.

So maybe my iron started dropping after Los Cabos and Texas was just the icing on the cake that sealed the deal.  I'm supplementing and of course taking Vitamin C for absorption.  Hoping to turn this ship around so that come August I can get back on the horse and have a good build before Kona. I also have an appt with an actual sports Dr. next week so am looking forward to seeing what else I can do to impact my recovery time.

The back garden
What's been really depressing about this whole situation is that since this isn't an obvious "injury", it's hard to rationalize why you are going so slow in your new, but not improved lane at masters or when the yellow jackets are passing you on their bike ride that it isn't actually you that's slow, it's the current condition that is causing you to do this.  Convincing yourself that you're not a snail can prove to be the toughest part of this game. And forcing yourself to go slow means managing an ego that thrives on competition, but I am doing it so that come August, I can (by the grace of a larger being) get back to doing what I love, training.

Not that this is bad, BUT...where's my bike?!
I'm trying to keep it positive by working on my form while going slower and keeping it all in perspective. More time at home lounging by my pool and watching the Tour De France?!!  Turns out I can't be satisfied by lounging and TV watching, even if it is The TDF...there's only so much time in the day that I don't want to be out on my bike, running or swimming and right now that balance is way out of whack.  I get that there are other people out there in MUCH worse situations than I am currently in, so if this strikes you as a "woe is me" post, that is OK.  This post is half of me talking it out so that I feel better and half to see if anyone else there can offer up their story.  This little bout, however short is may be has definitely shown me how important triathlon is to me.  I miss it SO much and i'm not really even that removed, but being a spectator right now from the sidelines makes me sad...AND really excited that when I come back...I'll keep this nugget in my back pocket when motivation runs grateful that you get to get out there and do X.

How about you, anyone else have experience with iron issues?


GoBigGreen said...

Yup had it and usually have to fend it off mid season. Alot of women are Fe deficient and maybe your GP " should get a clue" or you can find a GP that knows women athletes. I Dont need to tell you anything new other than EAT MEAT ( if you can) its the most bioavailable HEME iron you can have, and Floravital was one liquid FE i could take that didnt make me totally sick or have the runs.
Lets see,,,,back off caffeine ( ie coffee) as often you are taking in enough FE but in times of stress ( training) we often just dont absorb enough. Foot strike hemolysis is another loss of blood cells as is our normal cycles.
I hope i didnt just recite a wiki entry, but i know its always something i fight and i eat meat:)
you will feel better but the high end stuff may take a hit till you get those iron stores up.
Ive done a ton of research on this in PT School feel free to drop me a note if you want more info.

mtanner said...

Good Luck with this. Totally frustrating I am sure. I am confident you will get it figured out. That is what I love about you. A real problem solver. Keep on keeping on and enjoy that POOL!
Take the time now to get it figured out so you can continue doing what we love!xoxo

MissFancyPants said...

First your doctor needs to get a clue- women, endurance training low iron - they should be synonymous!! I have had it before many years ago and had to back off the caffeine a little as the above person said. I also am not a big red meat lover and honestly red meat doesn't give you the most bang for the buck - soy (edamame, tofu), fortified oatmeal and cereal are great iron sources with the dark green veggies. This will help too with the supplements you are taking.I am sure this is very frustrating, I was worried that mine would get low again during pregnancy but have been really making sure my nutrition regimen is spot on, especially with continuing to exercise throughout preg. It only dipped by a couple numbers. Rest up and get better - you will probably see a nice gain once you get this back under control.

Cathleen Knutson said...

Hang in there! This is only a minor setback in what is and will continue to be a long, fruitful, FUN triathlon career (even if we only stay AG-ers). I had a similar situation last season, but my doctors couldn’t pinpoint it to any specific deficiency. For me it was just a lot of things that were off, coupled with several tough seasons in a row and some hard races that knocked the crap out of me. You are on the right track meeting with a sports medicine doctor. It might also be smart to meet with a nutritionist to make sure you’re getting enough calories and the proper calories. I met with one in February and it really helped my training this year.

Taking a rest is frustrating and it’s hard to miss the long workouts or thrill of pounding the pavement, but you WILL race again. Keep in mind that if you didn’t address this now, it would take an even bigger toll on your health down the road. You should be easier on yourself when you compare with others who can do “2 Ironman races within 8 weeks without the same consequence.” They have different lives, backgrounds, stresses, and medical histories. It’s important to focus on how YOU are feeling after a race.

Hopefully you can look at the bright side of a mid-season rest. Do some summer activities this month that you typically can’t do when you’re logging 20+ training weeks, spend more time with family and friends, read, nap, cook, find “Hailey” time that doesn’t involve spandex or gels. We’re lucky to compete in this sport and at high levels, but sometimes it is friggin hard! Take care of yourself, girl. We’re all cheering for you – in your recovery and at the races! -Cathleen

hailey said...

Thank you ladies!!! So appreciate the support. Gonna have the levels checked often and they have already come back up to human levels...will keep eating red meat like it's my job and keep my chin up!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Hailey, This sucks, but you'll bounce back with some Fe+C! I'm surprised how incredulous your doctor was. Low iron is super common among lady endurance types :) I faced this last year and learned a more about other micronutrients along the way: Best wishes for a speedy recovery! --Kendra

Anonymous said...

Resting, though, is less frustrating than racing and not knowing why you're no going fast. At least you have an idea where to start now.

Kieran ballard-tremeer said...

HI Hailey, I was relieved to read your comments re low iron because I recently did the Roth Challenge feeling the worst I have felt in my life. I was off all my time estimates and not once whilst I felt tired in all those months did any triathlete or coach say I should get blood tests for deficiencies. During the months build up I was very stressed with a long commute daily and trying to get in the training hours and eating poorly in the car. I was napping lots and feeling all the signs of iron deficiecny and had no idea what was wrong. I went for an iron test at home in South Africa now and like you was very very low. May I ask what levels your Dr said you should be maintaining? And how long it is estimated to get back to good levels and feel fabulous training again? Thanks for the post and wishing you a good recovery.