Disclaimer: what you’re about to read is my experience. I don’t recommend or encourage self-diagnosing and self-treating, so if you think you’re having a similar issue, go see a doctor!
During my run-every-day streak, I started heart rate training. Not in the classical sense of heart rate training, but according to this Maffetone Method that Ben described in our last post. In other words, we’re building endurance and strength by conditioning the “aerobic engine,” also known as the heart. Read: no runs over 80% of max heart rate. In doing so, it means the possibility of more miles because of lower intensity. I was easily running 40-, then 50-, then 70-, and 80-, (and even over 100!)-mile weeks and still feeling fresh!
Once I started consistently outrunning my previous lifetime maximum mileage PRs (anything over 50 miles), I started feeling really tired and run down. It was hard to get the energy to wake up and sit at my desk some days! Still, I assumed this was a nutrition issue. On advice from friends, I was clearly iron-deficient. I added iron supplements and started eating more red meat. I sucked down spinach like it was my job. I tried to get enough iron, but not iron poisoning!
I continued running, but as my high-iron weeks went on, I didn’t feel better and my 80% pace kept getting slower and slower. My mile times were getting slower (we had been doing mile time trials). An issue of too much mileage? I took a few lower-mileage weeks. One day, I tried running a time trial on the track and didn’t make it to a mile before I had to stop. I was really winded, I couldn’t catch my breath, and felt like I’d just completed a marathon (In reality, my watch indicated .7 miles). This was starting to become a trend– I couldn’t make it more than a half mile without feeling completely fatigued. My legs just couldn’t go. I felt so defeated.
Finally, I saw my friendly neighborhood doctor (a friend of ours!) and she recommended a blood test to get to the root of the problem. Eeek!
Fast forward a few days…
Iron levels? Just fine.
Just about everything else? Mostly fine. Except…
145 pg/ml might have put me into a possibly-ok range, but at 81 pg/ml, that’s still considered over 50% below normal levels by this guide.
- RBC: Red Blood Cell count.
- HGB: Hemoglobin levels. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues and transports carbon dioxide from your organs and tissues back to your lungs.
- HCT: Hematocrit. The proportion of your total blood volume that is composed of red blood cells. A hematocrit (Hct) test indicates whether you have too few or too many red blood cells — conditions that can occur as the result of certain diseases.
- Shortness of breath
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Swollen tongue that may appear dark red
- Weight loss
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
- Muscle weakness
- Unsteady movements
- Mental confusion or forgetfulness
I was fortunate that the B12 supplements worked. If it wasn’t absorbed well enough or if my body couldn’t process it properly, the only other alternative would have been B12 shots. Yeah – shots! The horror!
Oh, and did you know? B12 is the active ingredient in a lot of energy drinks. It’s the ingredient that gets you feeling amped!! So if your B12 levels are normal and you ingest 2,500 micrograms, I’ve heard you’ll feel like you drank 3 cups of coffee. (Perhaps a way to get your caffeine-free energy boost? The internet said high doses of B12 are considered safe so it must be true.)
Red blood cells usually take 3 months to fully regenerate and replenish, so these supplements were the short-term treatment. Getting B12 in my food was a part of the long-term treatment plan. Things eventually got back to normal, and I felt better after 1 week, 2 weeks, a month, and better after 2 months, and 3 months later I was completely fine and feeling strong!
Like a total goof, I quit taking the B12 supplements, thinking that I was probably getting enough (I mean, I only need 2.4 micrograms a day!) by eating fortified cereal and occasionally seafood. I’m not sure if that’s the case, because – a full year later – I feel like I’m experiencing the same symptoms, all over again. Same shortness of breath, same extremely fatigued feeling. I’m really glad to catch it early this time around.