Well, the verdict is in. I have iron-deficiency anemia. My doctor called me with the results yesterday: my hemoglobin count is 6.5 when it should be between 12 and 16. That’s not too good. I had a chance to look at my results yesterday and virtually every red blood cell value is low. Hematocrit, MCV, MCH… (I’ll spare you the other ones). My doctor recommended that I take one ferrous gluconate pill twice a day and get blood work done again in a month. Needless to say, I went to CVS after work and picked up two bottles of iron tablets as prescribed (lucky me, they were buy-one-get-one-free…).
Unfortunately, because of the anemia, I won’t be able to continue my marathon training. My doctor told me that running puts too much stress on my cardiovascular system right now because my hemoglobin is so low. Plus, not only does it stress my heart too much, but running can actually make it harder to recover from the anemia.
For that reason, I decided to suspend all my training and running for the time being. It will take some time for my iron levels to go back up, so I may not be able to run for several weeks or a few months. This also means that I won’t be able to participate in the 13.1 Michelob Ultra Half Marathon 2 weeks from now or the Fort Lauderdale Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. And since I cannot train for the next few weeks/months, I certainly won’t be ready to do the Miami Marathon comes January. I’ll check with the race directors to see if I can defer my entries to next year and I plan on volunteering so I can at least BE in the race even if I can’t run it.
It’s disappointing news, but I felt more relief than anything else when my doctor called. If you read my previous my blog entries, you’ll notice that I complained a lot about being tired during my runs. I have to say that they felt pretty miserable 90% of the time. It’s hard to enjoy running when you’re fatigued, out of breath and forced to take multiple walking breaks. It’s pretty frustrating and depressing. In turn, I would blame myself for my lack of endurance and stamina when it wasn’t my fault at all.
I did suspect anemia as a possible cause so the results of my blood test are not surprising in the least. They explain everything I’ve experienced in the last few months, such as:
- Feeling really tired after running 2 miles.
- Taking frequent walking breaks during my runs because I’m out of breath. I kid you not, sometimes I couldn’t run more than a quarter mile or half mile before taking a break. This was especially true after running the first 2 miles – anything more felt like I was forcing myself to finish. I just felt like I couldn’t breathe sometimes.
- Heavy breathing while running, even at an easy pace, so talking while running was impossible no matter how slow I ran. My coach would ask me a question during our run and I didn’t even have the ability to answer “yes” or “no” without feeling like I would die.
- My comfortable running pace went from 9 min/mile (12 months ago) to 11 min/mile… no wait, 11:30… no wait, that’s still hard, maybe 12 min/mile… dammit, why am I still struggling to maintain that? Okay Garmin, I hate you and I don’t want to know how slow I’m going just to survive this run. By the way, there’s a reason why I left out my pace in my weekly training recaps… I was embarrassed about it!
- Fast heart beat at moderate/easy effort. One day I decided to wear a heart rate monitor to make sure I would keep an easy pace. My theory (and my coach’s) was that slowing down was preferable over walking breaks during training. I even wrote a blog post about it. But my heart rate monitor would indicate 160 or 170 even when I was running slow. Only walking seemed to keep it down.
- Feeling lightheaded when I get up too fast after sitting. I remember one incident in particular – I was in a client meeting which demands a lot of concentration on my part and – whoof! I felt like I was going to black out for a few seconds. It was the weirdest feeling.
- I get cold a lot… but I’ve always been like that so who knows if it’s due to anemia or not.
- A general feeling of having less energy on a day-to-day basis than I used to. I used to be hyperactive at times and now I’m more… shall we say, calm?
- Ice cravings. Oh. My. God. Just ask Gavin how much ice I’ve eaten in the last few months. I know it’s bad for teeth, but I wait until the ice cubes melt in my water bottle before chewing them so they’re not too hard. I have stopped the elliptical a few times because the ice in my water bottle was just the right size and I HAD to eat it before it melts completely and I couldn’t do it while moving. I ate the ice in my brother’s cooler when we went hiking in Utah and never left a restaurant without crunching all the ice in every water glass remaining on the table. I even considered buying an ice pick so I could break the huge ice block in my office fridge into little pieces that I could eat but… I said nah. I won’t go that far. Talk about desperate.
- This is not something I noticed myself but my doctor did… I am pale.
The reason why I’m listing all my symptoms is not to bore you to death (and if I did, I’m sorry) but so that if you recognize any of them in yourself, PLEASE get a complete blood count. I waited way too long before doing that and I wish I had taken care of it sooner. It’s so easy to blame other factors for why we’re tired: the heat/humidity, the altitude (I traveled to Utah last summer), loss of fitness, lack of sleep, etc. But if you are going through anything like I described above, you really owe it to yourself to ask your doctor for a blood test. No amount of sleep, healthy eating, training or anything else will make up for anemia, and continuing to run through it can make it worse. In people who have an underlying heart condition, it could even be dangerous, if not fatal. So get checked!
Anyway, moving on. Here is my plan for the next few weeks/months to treat my anemia:
- Take iron supplements religiously with a source of vitamin C and make sure I do not combine them with iron blockers like caffeine, dairy (calcium), wheat/fiber, red wine, etc.
- Boost my intake of red meat and seafood. Thankfully, I love all the iron-rich foods out there, especially the ones that would gross out most Americans. My favorite of all is oysters, followed by clams and mussels, but I also love liver and black pudding. Don’t be so quick to judge – did you know that liver is more nutrient dense than any vegetable out there? I picked up a package of chicken livers at the grocery store yesterday and I couldn’t believe the nutritional stats. For a little over $1 a pound, you get 19 grams of protein and 60% of your daily value of iron in a single serving. That’s a lot of nutrition for your buck if you ask me. And it’s also very tasty despite what you may think – I can’t wait to try this chicken livers and onions recipe.
- I also enjoy red meat. But like most women, I tend to choose a lot of non-meat protein options like fish, chicken and turkey or vegetarian sources like tofu, beans, etc. I like variety so I try to have a different type of protein at every meal, but this can come at the expense of red meat. I also got suckered into the “Meatless Monday” phenomenon. Poor Gavin. I promised him that steak and ground beef will make more frequent appearances at dinner.
- Stop running completely until my blood count is back in the normal range. In the meantime, I will only do low-intensity exercise so as to make sure not to raise my heart rate. I’ll do some walking, light biking (cruising) and light swimming. I will welcome yoga back in my life. I’m not sure whether it’s wise to continue weight lifting – lifting heavy weights is a no-no I’m sure, but maybe I can lift light weights. Again, it’s all about keeping my heart rate down. I’d like to avoid losing muscle mass but hey – my heart is the most important muscle right now.
- Get a complete blood count every month to see whether the iron pills are working and to track progress.
- Take my Humira medication as prescribed and do whatever I have to do to get the UC inflammation under control. The goal is also to stop the bleeding which is what caused the anemia in the first place.
- Get more sleep. Now that I won’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for my runs anymore, that should be a lot easier to do. Sleep, sleep, sleep.
So that’s my plan for the next few weeks. With all that self-care, I really hope that my hemoglobin will have climbed a bit by the time I get my next blood count. Let’s hope. There’s nothing I want more than to get my health back so I can return to the kind of running I did last winter.
But hey, folks, that does not mean that we won’t have any fun on this little new blog of mine. I may not be running for a while, but this will very much remain a running blog. In the meantime, we’ll still talk about running, fitness and life in general. The fact that I am not training for a marathon anymore may also mean that I’ll have more time to produce quality posts and to get more involved in the running/healthy living blog community.
Believe it or not, I see a lot of positives out of this. My next post will about exactly that – the positives I see in taking a running hiatus. Come on, we all know there are some!
Readers: Have you ever been diagnosed with anemia? What was the cause and how did you deal with it? Anyone else on a forced running break due to injury or illness? What were the pros of not running for a while? The cons?