Results came back

My leg isn’t broken, but my ferritin is low. Ferritin?!!? I feel like such a dunce. That is distance running 101: keep your ferritin up.

In a sport where the gains are made by increasing oxygen-carrying capacity, increasing blood volume is one way to do that. We go to altitude camp at 8000 feet to get a natural boost, and we have to insure that our bodies are properly equipped to do their blood-building thing. Hemoglobin is the oxygen-transport protein in your red blood cells, and hemoglobin picks up oxygen molecules by having them stick to an iron ion. The process doesn’t work without iron, it’s a limiting factor in increasing blood volume.

Ferritin is another protein that carries iron. If your blood ferritin is low, it means low iron stores. We test ferritin every 3-6 months to keep ahead of any issues. They (exercise scientists) say it’s not even worth it to go to altitude if you’re under 35 ferritin. I’m 29. 🙄🙄

Have I defeated the purpose of those grueling six weeks in Mammoth? Jerry essentially says so. Or at least that I wasn’t optimizing my training. This is the 6th year since I’ve started this journey, since I verbalized my goal to go to the Olympics (at that time, I said I wanted to bring home a medal for my coach, Frank Gagliano), and dedicated my life to that pursuit. I’m a veteran, dammit. How could I fall in such a rookie trap. THIS IS YOUR ONE JOB.

I tell my parents and we have one of those conversations where I feel like I’m 12 again and they’re chastising me for procrastinating on the school assignment. Sheesh, people, can it be enough for me to be hard on myself? Mostly, I’m embarrassed, and I don’t like getting called out on that. I’m also confused. I’ve been supplementing with an iron pill every morning and night while in Mammoth. I follow protocol, I drink it with vitamin C, away from other food (as much as possible) and especially dairy products.

Anyway, let’s keep this in perspective. While it’s embarrassing, it’s probably the best possible thing to find wrong. Low iron is fixable, almost immediately. And it gives me a reason for some of the fatigue these past few months. As long as I have an explanation, I can convince myself it’s not just me, I’m not inadequate.

I do quickly identify a few things that could have gone wrong. A few months ago, on recommendation from a nutritionist, I stopped using the slow-release iron that has worked for me in the past and switched to a new supplement brand. I was taking it with Emergen-C packets for vitamin C (that helps with absorption), but those also contain calcium (which blocks absorption, hence the no dairy with iron rule). In trying to aid absorption, I may have been inadvertently blocking the supplement from doing its thing.

I switch to a Nature Made vitamin C, and back to the slow-release iron pill. Also, I do a deep dive on iron-rich food sources. Here is the list of food products and the amount of iron they contain. Some sources may not be as easily absorbed, I’m not sure how to distinguish those. (It would be nice if someone came up with a ranking for the amount of bioavailable iron per serving. That could be a one-day research project). Above all, I try to stay thankful. Last weekend, I was scared I may have a season-ending injury. Now, I’m already more optimistic about the US Champs and summer season. What a change a week makes.

Recovery champion

IMG_2588.JPG

After Prefontaine we did make an alteration. Jerry had me plan to return to sea level two weeks before US Champs. Altitude response is unique to individuals, and some athletes feel sluggish in the first few days down from a camp. Common knowledge is that it’s best to either race immediately, or two weeks after returning to sea level. For me, we are going with option #2, I’m staying in Portland from now until we head to Des Moines.

The plan was to run an 800m at Portland Track Festival. But my leg has been achy over the past few days, and we decide to pull out of the race and get some diagnostic tests. I’m freaked out that I’ve hurt myself, and I am exhausted. I fly home Friday, and stay in bed for the whole weekend. I read, and binge watch a new find on Netflix, Sneaky Pete. We are ten days from my prelim race at USAs.

Everything is so much better after the rest. I get an MRI to check the leg, and a blood test for low iron. A day or two after the low point, I’m scrolling Instagram and see an inspirational post about the importance of “process”. I have to give a cynical laugh as to how far off my process I am right now. A long weekend spent in bed watching Netflix, no running, and less than two weeks before the US Championships. I feel like a slob.

But I don’t actually think that’s a bad thing. Running has a “no days off” culture and I want to fit in. And process is important, heck, process is all I talk or think about 99% of the time. But the motivational quotes about process leave out a key point: results matter. In sport especially, all the pretty talk can’t hid that in the end there’s a race and there’s a winner. And sometimes talk of process goes awry when we obscure that point. Or worse, we hid our race anxiety by getting too fanatic about training. As if training were the goal. As if we turned in our training logs and they handed out the medals.

This year I’ve tried to average 70 miles a week. I try to the point of pulling silly stunts like going for a 10 minute evening run to hit an even number for the week. But there is no podium for perfect 70s. There is a podium next week. And in the end, I’ll do whatever is necessary to line up as ready as possible. My mileage is shot right now, and while I make self-deprecating jokes, I believe that between the injury scare and the exhaustion, this is exactly what I need to be doing. And I believe I’m about to beat all the people who would ignore their signs and do otherwise.

Photo by Talbot Cox

Where is the catch?

8E0A7735.jpg

If you couldn’t tell from last post… I was feeling myself. 🤣 Workouts have been going well, and that is especially satisfying because the opposite situation is still fresh in my mind. But whenever there are a few good weeks in a row, an uneasy question creeps in; when is something going to break?

Maybe that’s just my slightly anxious disposition, though I like to think of it as an awareness brought by years of training. ⠀ ⠀
The purpose of training is to push your edge. That’s how improvement happens. But always riding the edge is risky… it’s not hard to take a few wrong steps and fall over. (That could mean injury, illness, or just extreme fatigue). And there’s never more uncertainty than when you’re doing things you’ve never done before. How much is enough? How much is too much?

The signs that you’re getting out of range are not always straightforward. One I’ve learned to watch in myself is when I start neglecting close friends and family. Not that I have to be the social butterfly, but if I go AWOL, to the point where my mom is calling my sister to see if I’m alive, that might mean something (Thanks mom 😉). And that’s happened with a few people recently. ⠀ ⠀
So. If I’ve made a jump in fitness, the initial reaction might be, “this is great, let’s keep pushing.” But instead, I try to make sure other inputs remain the same as I’m used to (example: mileage, physio work, sleep, food). I’ll go to bed extra early and take recovery runs at an easier pace if I see signs of excessive fatigue.

The more I view this as a long game, the more confidence I have in those decisions. Improvements maybe happen in spurts, but the real progress comes when you’re able to maintain those spurts over years of healthy training. Nothing is perfect, but whatever method gets close to that goal is one I can live with.

Photo by Jordan Beckett

Waiting game

CP0A0191.jpg

It was the second week of no workouts, and I wasn’t too upset when I heard that. It’s a chance to get miles up, get all runs and core/lifting in, and hopefully feel strong and healthy and ready for the higher intensity efforts.
⠀ ⠀
I’ve been watching my heart rate on runs and trying to keep it in lower zones, avoid many big spikes. I want this time to really be about recovery and building, not getting in a hole. My easy runs (measured by HR) have gotten quicker throughout the week. That’s a good sign. And I’m getting antsy for workouts. Also a good sign; I was a bit worried last week when that wasn’t the case. More than anything, I’m tired of podcasts and remixes and I miss run friends… ready to start meeting the group!! (well, i hope i’m ready😬).

Photo by David Bracetty

Starting from the bottom

CP0A0303-2.jpg

😴🧘🏻‍♀️💉⠀ ⠀

This week was all about getting healthy. I cut my mileage, and didn’t do workouts. That actually timed really well with crappy weather in Portland. It snowed a bunch, so the team wasn’t meeting for workouts anyway.

Also, I made an appointment with my PCP as soon as I got back (*plug* I have a primary care physician now for the first time since childhood and it’s GREAT, so much better than the scattershot approach with visiting urgent cares. Thank you to Julia and Emma for suggesting that I establish a relationship😘❤️). We tested for pneumonia, which I guess is a worry this year if you have chest congestion after the flu. Thankfully nothing there. Other than that, blood-work shows high lymphocytes, which just indicates fighting a virus. Sucks that there’s not much to do in that case aside from rest. But I did rest!!

Runs over the weekend felt better. The altitude boost is in effect. My legs are kind of achy still, but I’m hoping that continues to improve. And I’m looking forward to getting back on a group schedule this week.

Photo by David Bracetty