Monday, May 13, 2013

Fatigue, Ferritin and my First 5K

Today marks exactly four weeks since the Boston Marathon.  A lot has happened in the past four weeks and yet, if I close my eyes, I am right back there again.  The panic, confusion, terror, sadness and the gratitude, thankfulness and relief at being unharmed.  And then a lot of guilt that accompanies those feelings.

While some of the sharpness of those emotions has begun to fade, I will always carry a piece of that day in my heart.  Like a jagged rock that has water rushing over it for years on end, it eventually will become a smooth stone.  But it will never completely disappear.

[So many others carry permanent physical reminders of that day so, again, I know I am lucky in comparison.  And I am forever grateful for the many, many heroes  who did anything from save a life to loan a stranger their cell phone so that they could call loved ones.  Bostonians opened up their collective hearts and houses to all the displaced runners in a way that will never be forgotten.]

But life does march on, regardless of whether we are ready for it or not.  


For me, the past four weeks have been a balancing act of trying to recover from Boston while starting to train for another marathon.  A few months ago when we were feeling healthy, strong and invincible, Kate and I thought it would be a great idea to run the Newport Marathon just seven weeks after running Boston.  It was the first time running Boston for both of us and we had heard that it was a challenging course -- the downhills at the beginning were known to crush your quads and the hills from mile 17-21, culminating with Heartbreak Hill, were said to crush your spirit.  So our plan was to have fun at Boston but not run it too aggressively.  We were hoping to save ourselves a little for Newport, a very flat and fast marathon, where we both wanted to smash our old PR's.

What is it they say about the best laid plans?!  

For days after Boston, I cursed the fact that I lived in a four story house.  Getting from my bedroom on the third floor to the laundry room in the basement was pure torture.  I was convinced I had strained my quads because I had never experienced such pain almost a week after a marathon.  

After diligently taking a full week off from running, I had no choice but to start running again if I wanted to be in decent shape for Newport.  I took it easy that first week back and spent a lot of time pool running in order to minimize the pounding on my legs.  I slowly increased my training and even managed an 18 mile run just two weeks after the marathon but I couldn't seem to shake a lingering sense of deep fatigue.

this run felt much harder than it should have...

I was exhausted by early afternoon each day and ready to go to bed right after the kids each night.  Initially, I assumed it was due to jumping back into training so quickly after a marathon.  But then I remembered Amanda having similar feelings and it turned out her iron levels were low.  So I made an appointment to have my blood drawn to see if there was anything similar going on with my iron.  

Turns out I was suffering from the same thing as Amanda.  As a vegetarian and also a pre-menopausal woman, I am at increased risk of becoming anemic.  Add long-distance running to the mix and the risk goes up even more.  [The constant pounding of our feet against the pavement can cause the destruction of red blood cells.]  Although I am not technically anemic, my ferritin levels are very low, which basically means I am suffering from iron depletion.  If I were a couch potato, having low ferritin levels wouldn't necessarily be a problem.  But it can have a big impact on running performance.

I am now taking an iron supplement that will hopefully boost my iron stores, although it takes anywhere from six weeks to four months to really feel an impact.  I plan to get my blood tested again in six months to see where my levels are at and hopefully transition off the supplements if I can make enough dietary changes to compensate.  

In the meantime, the date of my next marathon is looming closer and closer.  I was able to complete another 20 mile training run last Thursday as well as an 8x800 track workout but my legs just feel constantly tired and sluggish, as does the rest of me.

So don't ask me why, in the middle of all this marathon training and constant fatigue, that I would then decide to sign up to run my very first 5K.  

Run Like A Mother

There are two main reasons I have never run a 5K.  First, it always has sounded like so much hassle -- registering, paying a race fee, driving somewhere, standing around at the start, etc. -- all for an event that will be over so (relatively) quickly.  Second, it just sounded so HARD.  Yes, marathons are hard, too.  But a 5K is a much different kind of pain and one that I am not used to feeling.

However, because it was on Mother's Day, I decided I could endure all the hassle involved and be able to run this 5K guilt-free while my husband took the kids to church.  We would meet at home afterwards and all head to brunch together.  

When I woke up early yesterday morning to head to the race, I immediately regretted my decision to register for the 5K.  My legs simply did not feel recovered from the 20 mile run I had completed three days earlier.  And when I looked at the weather app on my phone and saw that it was already 63 degrees out and 85 percent humidity, I knew it would be a tough day.  

my poor legs just can't catch a break...

I drove across town to the suburban high school where the race was being held and found myself surrounded by hundreds of moms and their families.  There was a kids 1 mile race that was held before the 5K and I couldn't help but smile when I watched them take off at a dead sprint for their race.  

I ran into some friends at the start and one of them mentioned that the top 3 finishers by gun time would receive prizes.  We both thought it was strange to use gun time when we all had timing chips on our bib but she wanted to start near the front in order to improve her chances at winning a prize.  She is a phenomenal runner and I had no doubt she would place in this race -- she had finished 4th woman overall in a half-marathon just the day before!  

I went ahead and started near the front with her and suddenly we were off and running.  My plan was just to run based on feel and not look at my watch.  The first 200 meters were on the track and then we headed out on the streets surrounding the high school.  The streets were nice, wide and empty and the runners quickly thinned out.  I was surprised to find myself in sixth place fairly early on and passed three runners in the first half of the race, putting myself in third place overall.  My speedy friend, Kelly, was in second place (where she ultimately finished) but still far ahead of me.  Amazing job, Kelly!!

The race seemed to go on forever.  I couldn't believe 3.1 miles could be so torturous.  My legs had felt dead from the start but it was my breathing that seemed out of control near the end.  I could feel my body screaming for oxygen but I couldn't get it in fast enough!  Thankfully, it was finally time to turn back into the stadium and finish the last 200 meters on the track.  The 4th place woman was a ways behind my at that point and I cruised to a 3rd place finish in 21:24.  Or so I thought.  

Long story short, despite what was on the website, the prizes went to the top 3 finishers by chip time not gun time.  Of course, that is the only fair way to award prizes and it is how it should have been from the beginning.  And it wasn't like I ever thought I had a chance of winning a prize in the first place.  But that gift basket did look amazing and it included 2 hours of free housecleaning -- what mom doesn't need that?!  Ha!

When I finally saw the results, it turned out another woman had taken almost 40 seconds to cross the start line and she beat me by 3 seconds.  Who knows if I had another 3 seconds in me but I am just happy to finally have a 5K time in my running book.  I will now have to run another one on fresh legs (and hopefully cooler temps) to see if I can improve on that time.  

As much as I didn't like that I-think-I'm-gonna-die feeling that I experienced around mile 2.5, I can see where these shorter races can be somewhat addicting.  You could train specifically for these shorter distances and run them much more often.  And if the race doesn't go as planned, at least you don't have the feeling that comes with knowing you put months and months of time and effort into such a long marathon training cycle and ended up disappointed.  

All that is merely speculation, though, as I still am focused on the marathon for now.  I'm hoping my last 20 mile run goes well this Wednesday and then I'm off to spend a relaxing, fun weekend with six of my best girlfriends before heading into taper once again.  

can't wait to see these ladies (plus one more) in just a few days!!

Anyone else suffer from low iron?  

Am I the only one who finds 5K's harder than marathons?  

- Kristen


  1. Nice post! I'm one of your new followers on FB from TodaysWordsofGlass.

    Glad I came across your site! I used to 'only' run 5K's and the moved up to 10k, then half and just finished my first Marathon this April.

    Good job on your race, and I look forward to your future posts!

    1. Hi Amy! Sounds like you did the "normal" progression of 5k to marathon...kind of funny that my first race was a marathon and now I finally have run a 5k! Congrats on your marathon finish!!

  2. we are such kindred spirits Kristen - next marathon on June 1st (only SIX weeks post-London - gulp!), low ferritin levels (I have been taking iron for months and I am sure it has helped!) and hmmmm - not a lot of 5K experience. Having said that - you're faster than I am (I don't think I could ever THINK of placing in a 5K) and you DO seem to be on track for this race. What are you looking for in terms of performance? You pushed it hard (and did SO well) in Boston - will you run for fun? On feel? And your girls trip sounds fun - this is a super long shot but where are you going for your trip? One of my US friends who lives in the Uk is headed back to the US this week for a girls trip is all... Unlikely to be her I know but ever since I met a great friend of my coach (who I have never actually met) on Bali this Christmas I believe coincidences are possible!

    Lots of love and stay strong - rest up!

    1. So you are doing the marathon on June 1st, Petra?! I think you mentioned you might do it -- that is the same day Kate and I are running Newport. (Fingers crossed that Kate is healthy enough to do it...)

      Oh, you could definitely place in a 5k if there was the right mix of people there. Trust me, I never expected to place at all and only got lucky that all the really fast people stayed home!!

      I won't run it for fun, although I hope that it IS fun. I am hoping to actually get that sub-3:30 this time as I missed it by 30 seconds in Boston. Ideally, I will go out at a 3:30 pace and then possibly pick it up a little after the halfway point if I am feeling good.

      All of the girls heading to my girls weekend are friends from high school so we have known each other FOREVER. One of them has been a friend of mine since I was 3 years-old! They all live throughout Oregon except for one who lives in none are living in the UK. That is a crazy story about meeting someone in Bali, though!!

      Oh, and I'm so glad to hear the iron has helped you. I haven't noticed a difference yet but it has only been a couple of weeks.

  3. What a great post! So excited to see how you do in Newport. No matter what, you are one talented girl in my book. I know you have such faster times to come your way and you're already running some GREAT times! 5ks are hard. so so hard. I'm so impressed with you here ....tired legs, low iron, marathon training and you still ran a great race. Hope your iron goes up way fast! I've been negligent about it again and I shouldn't be since I'm still running and haven't found a doctor yet. Really enjoyed reading this Kristin.

    1. Amanda, you always have the most encouraging words for me! I still remember when we were on that 15 mile run and you told me I could run a 3:20 marathon. Ha! Still a long ways from that but I hope to get closer to it in Newport.

      I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one that thinks 5K's are so, so hard! I almost couldn't believe how hard it felt and how long 3.1 miles felt, too. :)

      Miss you but know you are so happy in NC!

  4. I love your honesty, Kristen. I am no where the runner that you are, but I continually feel like I should be able to do what I've done in the past & I get extremely frustrated when I'm having an off day and every step feels like a major struggle. And inevitably, the off day passes & my running feels "normal" again. So, as hard as it is to acknowledge an off day, you would be ABNORMAL if you don't have them! (And you actually have an actual iron deficiency resulting in low energy). Give yourself a long break before Newport and allow yourself time to heal and recover. Take a long enough break that you are literally "itching" to run on June 1st. And I know you'll have a great run - PR or no PR!

    Maybe you could change your expectations for Newport. What if you plan for it to be a slower run - like a 4 hour pace. Then you won't be disappointed if you run a 3:40 instead of a 3:30! :)

    1. You are so right, Jamie, that we all have off days and we just have to acknowledge them. I am running my last long run (another 20) tomorrow and then have 17 days to rest and taper. I am definitely going to err on the side of too LITTLE running in the last couple of weeks as opposed to too MUCH running. I am hoping that I will be itching to run on June 1st!!

      Honestly, I think I want that sub-3:30 too much to change my expectations at this point. I know I can rest as much as I want after June 1st -- nothing on the schedule until HTC!! Even if I probably *should* change expectations, I pretty much know I won't do that. I'm way too stubborn. Character flaw of mine, for sure, just ask John! ;)

  5. I only have anecdotal experience (ie, my own) with anemia, but based on that:

    1. Ferritin matters. My doctor claimed it didn't, and although it hasn't been studied in depth, lots of people claim it does (I'm with them). I felt like crap. Hemoglobin was fine. Ferritin was rock-bottom (2).

    2. It takes awhile to replenish ALL your stores, but I started feeling better within 8-12 days. Of course, the improvement continued over time, but you may be able to recoup lots of your iron before your marathon. Obviously, be careful what you take it with, to maximize absorption (Calcium: No. Vitamin C: Yes.) Fingers crossed for you!

    Interestingly, here in Singapore, every race is totally packed (literally thousands of runners), but placing is always done by Gun Time. I think they like to keep it simple: First person over the line = winner. I've seen this used in races in the US, too, and I kind of understand it - but it still feels a bit weird, I agree.

    Congrats on your first 5K! 21:24 on tired, marathon-training, anemic legs is pretty stellar. :)

    1. It is interesting how many of us women runners have battled low ferritin levels. I suppose it is normal, considering all the risk factors. But so happy to know many people have had good results with just taking iron supplements. I am making sure to take mine with orange juice and to wait at least a couple hours after coffee before taking it, too.

      Hmmm, definitely interesting about using the gun time in Singapore. I always love reading your race reports and anything else related to the differences in culture between the US and Singapore. So interesting!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post :). You are an amazing runner! 20 milers followed 3 days later with a 5k race? Wow! 5k is so torturous. You just can't catch a break! No room for error. Just gotta pant your head off the WHOLE time! :).
    I hope you rebuild strength and stay healthy during these last few weeks. I look forward to reading about your experience at Newport :).

    1. Love that description of panting your head off the whole time -- that was exactly what I was doing! My breathing seemed so loud and laborious!

      I'm only running 3x/week while preparing for Newport so I'm doing my best to stay healthy. Supplementing with pool running and spinning but definitely trying to give my legs a break. Thanks for the encouragement!!

  7. I definitely think 5ks are the worst! I've been challenging myself to run a few this spring, but I'd take a long race over the short ones any day. Low iron is very common for vegetarian athletes- hope the supplements and diet changes do the trick!

    1. I feel so validated now that I know how many people think 5k's are so hard!! The race was spread out enough that I didn't have anyone near me so I couldn't tell if anyone was dying as much as I was. :)

  8. Reading your post, I couldn't help thinking about my 5K last weekend, 3 weeks after Boston! My lungs were on fire, while my legs were just fine! 5Ks are hard, no doubt! Glad you got your iron tested. Hopefully you'll get some relief from the tiredness soon. I'm doing a half ironman in two weeks and a half marathon this weekend and have been feeling super-tired this week with all the training. We just don't know when to stop, do we? 5Ks DO usually give awards to top 3 by gun time, and then age group awards by chip time. So generally if you want top 3 you need to stand near the front. I think that's fair because you're competing as much against each other as against the clock. What on earth was that woman doing taking 40 seconds to cross the start line? ;)

    1. I am just laughing reading about all that you are doing post-Boston. I thought running a 5k and then a marathon 7 weeks after Boston was plenty! Can't believe you have a 5k, a half ironman and a half marathon. Love that we are all equally insane. :)

      You are absolutely right about 5k's giving awards by gun time -- I know that now. The race director has since contacted me and let me know I should have been given the award after all (but she had already given it to the 4th place gun finisher by that point.) She was so sweet and put together another prize basket to give to me. Totally unnecessary but I love everything that she gave me, most of all a $40 gift certificate to a local running store!

  9. I had really really low iron when I was pregnant. ANd I had a terrible time keeping the iron tablets down! I started consuming tonnes of iron rich foods, with foods high in vit C as they help you absorb the iron. I saw my levels improve dramatically in 2 months and I definitely felt less tired. I was seriously napping twice a day at one point I felt so flat. Hang in there, I started feeling better almost immediately. :)

    1. I am so encouraged to read about others who had trouble with iron and subsequently saw dramatic improvement. I haven't noticed anything yet but it has only been two weeks...and I'm still deep in marathon training so I haven't been able to give my body a much-needed rest. I know it will likely bounce back after the marathon when I can eat well AND rest but I'd love to have the energy to run a good marathon, too! ;)

  10. I've always found 5ks to be more difficult than a half or full marathon, but considering how I've been feeling lately, I'd kill for June 1st to be a 5k. ;-)

    Congrats on a great race and yipee! You get to have a girls' trip! Have a ton of fun. I can't wait to see you, hang out, talk, drink coffee, drink beer, eat yummy veggie food, maybe hit up a yoga class, take walks, drink wine, etc. I am so looking forward to this!

    1. Kate, I am dying laughing at the picture you paint of us hanging out talking, drinking coffee, drinking beer, eating yummy veggie food, taking yoga, taking walks, drinking wine... You do remember that I have three kids, right?!!!! :) Ha! I do promise we will have fun and cram as many of those things as possible into next weekend -- we just may be dragging my little ones along to some of the activities. ;)


    2. Hahaha! My sisters have 3 kids a piece so I imagine it will be similar to when I visit them. :) I can't wait to hang out with your little ones. I always have BIG plans and quickly realize there is never enough time for it all.

  11. I just had to head over here and check out your blog, too! Love it! I am right there with you about 5k's! They are horrible, haha. I'd much rather run a marathon, how silly is that?!

    I love that your a running mom because we are starting our family and seeing you juggle everything gives me hope that I can do it too! You are such an inspiration :)

    You are probably running your 20 miler right now! Get it girl!!!

  12. You know post-Boston, I have been feeling a bit off. I feel same as you that time past and I can still feel the see the images and emotions of that day. Great Job on Newport! That is really awesome :-) Good for you for getting back out there and running a great marathon time. You'll feel even better once that iron really kicks in :-) Keep being so sweet and awesome.