(low) Ironwoman

After completing the Enduroman Double last month, I have been really struggling. Not so much mentally, as I was pleased with re-discovering my determination and pushing through what was a very tough (and very long) weekend. But my energy levels and general health hit an all time low. I had a strong feeling it was my Iron levels as I have suffered from Anaemia for many years on and off (or so I thought). I started taking some Iron tablets I had knocking about from last year and tried to get on with things.

'Things' did not improve and I finally decided to get some help. Before my doctor could do anything, he needed to see what was going on and so sent me for a complete blood test. The results that came back did not surprise us. My Iron level was 7 and that was after two weeks of taking 600mgs a day. My Haemoglobin level was also 7. A level of 7-11 is termed as moderate Anaemia and less than 7 as severe Anaemia.

The symptoms of Anaemia are:

Cognitive problems
Cold hands and feet
Light headedness
Pale skin
Fast or irregular heartbeat
Shortness of breath
Chest pain

I had all of the above. The really scary thing was that I had had those symptoms for a very, very long time and put them down to other factors, like stress, working very long hours, eating badly (not enough calories and too much sugar) and hitting the wine too frequently. Over the last 6 months I have started to clean up my diet and stopped drinking alcohol completely. I have been so frustrated when these (not easily made) changes have not transferred to my training. In fact nothing changed. I still felt weak and was so slow.

One of the biggest issues that kept cropping up, was that I became out of breath going up the stairs. Yes really! Here I was attempting to train for one of the hardest triathlons out there and I couldn't get up the stairs without puffing and panting. Seriously? But being the person I am...incredibly stubborn, determined, prone to ignoring my health issues... I just kept going, attempting ultra runs and triathlons and really struggling. My confidence took a battering and I fought with the desire to just quit. I am simply not good enough I thought.

After I got my blood test results and googled what an 'Iron Level of 7' actually meant, I almost cried. Finally there was a reason for why I had been feeling like this for so long and it wasn't just down to me being rubbish! I found a forum thread of female runners, all suffering from Anaemia and read it from start to finish. Afterwards, I couldn't help but feel angry, as although my doctor is brilliant, never have I been told how long to take Iron supplements for and have always used them for a couple of weeks and thought that was enough. The more I read, the more I realised that I would need to take them for 3 months and then get another blood test to see where I was at. It was also likely that due to the frequent reoccurrence of my Anaemia, I would need to take 200mgs a day for the rest of my life. Surely that is something I should have been told. My doctor did check me for the reason behind my Anaemia, but could not find one.

The more research I do though, the more I realise that Iron supplements are not a quick solution and getting my levels back to normal will take some time. I have decided that in this time of getting my health and fitness back, I am going to tweak a few other areas of my diet. It feels like a fresh start if you like. So after removing alcohol from my life, caffeine is the next poison to go and refined sugar is something I definitely have way too much of. I am going to spend the next month concentrating on making my diet as clean as possible. Last year I did a 7 day juice detox and suffered terrible caffeine and sugar withdrawals, so I don't expect it to be easy!

Recently I have been dreading going for a run as there is nowhere to hide when you are on the pavement or trails and most runs are just bloody hard work. I often return home, wondering what I am doing wrong. A few days ago though, after an hours kayaking in the harbour, I pulled my trainers on and began what I had planned on a slow 3 miler just because I had time on the parking ticket left. But what actually happened was a fast(ish), strong 5 mile run and I was absolutely thrilled! Fingers crossed this is the start of my health and training improving and next years Brutal Deca becoming a reality.