Popeye wasn’t foolin’

Today’s Workout:
The Plan: Strength
The Actual: 45 Minutes Strength with Susan focused on loosening and strengthening my hips and moves that will make me unable to lift my arms to wash my hair later today

My dad was always and continues to be a big blood donor for the American Red Cross so, when I turned 18, I jumped at my chance to donate as well.  Between blood drives sponsored by my college and then by my employer, I was able to give pretty regularly.  If you haven’t given before, they do a few basic health tests i.e. temperature, blood pressure, etc. and then they do “the finger prick” to test your iron levels.  In the beginning I would pass with flying colors, then, after a few years, my ability to pass this test started to be hit or miss.  When I would miss, it would only be by a couple points and nothing major from a health standpoint since the Red Cross’ required levels were at the higher end of the spectrum for “healthy”.

Fast forward to this past winter, after a year of consistent running and the addition of strength training, and I started to notice that approximately every 28 days (yes, I’m talking about that) my run quality would take a nose dive and it wouldn’t be my legs that would be the cause.  Rather, I literally felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest stopping me from taking a big enough breath to bring in the oxygen.  In my day-to-day activities I would have what can only be described as an out-of-body experience sometimes feeling like I was floating above my body.  I hadn’t given, or attempted to give blood in awhile, but after about 6 months of this cycle happening it dawned on me that it all might be related.

Since my iron levels had never been dramatically low and I wasn’t feeling like this any other time than right before my “you know what”, I wasn’t ready to make a big stink for blood tests and went with a plan that simply increased my intake of high iron foods e.g. spinach, kale, parsley and chia seeds.  I started with a daily routine of a morning smoothie jam packed with high iron content.

My favorite “green” smoothie: 3 handfuls of baby spinach, fresh lemon juice from half a lemon, 1 small handful of parsley, 1/4 English cucumber, 1 C of water, 2 T chia seeds and 5 or 6 whole frozen strawberries.

It worked like a charm – for 2 months.  It’s a lot of work to make a smoothie EVERY DAY and buying them at the local smoothie shop is just not economical…$8 for a smoothie – no thanks.  I started slipping to just 3 or 4 smoothies a week but it wasn’t enough and I started to feel the same side effects of my low iron levels.  Sadly one of my “episodes” came right at Boston’s Run to Remember.  It wasn’t as severe as they had been before the smoothies but I definitely could feel the lack of energy and inability to breath.

Coincidentally I had my first appointment with a new family physician the week after the race and I explained to him everything I had been feeling for the last 9 months and my hesitance to take a supplement (didn’t want the plumbing to get backed-up….yes, I’m talking about THAT in this post too!).  He agreed that full blood work wasn’t necessary but it did sound like my iron levels were right on the cusp so they were easily depleted.  His recommendation was a low dosage of an iron supplement.  I’m on month 3 of the regimen.  It’s definitely a lot easier than the smoothies, I haven’t felt any real side effects, and my runs are consistently strong (at least from a breathing standpoint) and that’s with the humidity we’ve been having along the East coast.

Okay, Allison, good to know.  You have slight anemia and an iron supplement helped.  So what?  The “What” is that you should take a look at your own diet and its iron levels.  As runners we focus on carbohydrates and maybe protein levels for recovery after a strength workout, but I have never seen an article in a running magazine related to iron levels. (Although, I did find this article on the Runners World website and it’s worth a read.)  This seems kind of silly considering it’s our red blood cells that carry oxygen to our tissues and are therefore a pretty critical enabler or inhibitor to our run quality.  I’m not a physician and I don’t know your specific medical conditions so if you have questions you should OBVIOUSLY talk to your own doctor.  Although a little more spinach couldn’t hurt, right?!

Go get your Popeye on and pop some spinach!
Go get your Popeye on and pop some greens!

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