Q: Anemia and Running.

A:

In anticipation of heading up to altitude for 4-5 weeks starting Jan 10th, I got some blood work done to check my iron stores and the health of my red blood cells.  It had been 3 months since I last checked, and my ferritin (the savings account of long-term iron stores) had dropped from a healthy 88 to an alarming 30 something.  That’s still not anemic, but in my experience, once I’m in the 20’s I start feeling like doo doo.  And I have been feeling a bit like doo doo lately, so the significant drop should not have come as a surprise.

The thing is, I’ve gotta bring my numbers up pronto because altitude is the bomb.  Short bursts of altitude training have historically had a great effect on my training and racing.  Oxygen is in shorter supply up there, making aerobic exercise extra challenging.  My body attempts to make more red blood cells so there are more vehicles to carry oxygen through my body tissues.  And what material does the body require to make hemoglobin-containing red blood cells?  Iron.  When the demands for iron are larger than what you are getting in your diet, then your body goes to the savings account: ferritin.

The long and short of it is, its hard enough to keep from becoming anemic at altitude when you start with a high ferretin level.  I’ve spent the past 10 days trying to boost mine back up, and will continue to do so until Jan 10th.  If my blood test doesn’t look much improved by the 9th, I won’t be going to Albuquerque.  There would be no point; there’s a good chance I’d be unable to recover properly from my training sessions, and I’d probably end up run down and anemic.  There’s a small chance I’d be just fine, but with 2011 being “the year of consistency at all costs,” I won’t take a big risk like that.

I’m very confident that I can get my numbers up.  I NEED to.  I want to get that training block in so badly!  I love Albuquerque and there is so much to be gained!  Luckily, iron supplements are perfectly legal, cheap, and readily available.  My approach to the mega boost is three-fold:

1. Eat iron rich foods (mostly red meat, clams, and oysters.  The vegetarian sources don’t do crap for me.)

2. Take an elemental iron supplement twice a day with O.J. on an empty stomach, 15 minutes before a meal.

3. Avoid iron inhibiting foods (there are many sources for this, but this is a basic one) and beverages with my iron rich foods or supplements.  Pair my steak and supplements with foods that encourage iron absorption.

One thing I haven’t done well in the first 10 days is avoid processed wheat.  With the holidays, there are way too many good cookies and pastries around, and my discipline has left something to be desired.  Had I been flat-out anemic, I would have sacrificed all that crap.  Hopefully the last 10 days of all-star eating will boost me up where I need to be.

Crossing my fingers…