Running, Anaemia and I

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In 2015 I was diagnosed with anaemia, this was a bit of a shock as although I knew my symptoms matched this diagnosis I was also aware that it was reasonably uncommon in men of my age.

I don’t know when it started, it could have been as early as the previous summer but it was definitely having a negative impact over the Christmas period of 2014. In October and November I was feeling good about my training, I was feeling stronger than I had in a long time and was training consistently. This meant I felt that my plans to do a 70.3 triathlon in June 2015 were well on track, but then going into December things started to go awry.

Leading up to & over the holidays I was struggling with my shift patterns more than normal and was feeling inordinately tired. All of the time. I couldn’t seem to get enough sleep, I would spend 12 hours in bed & it wouldn’t be enough. My performance & attitude at work began to suffer and it was no great surprise that it soon began to affect my training. It became all too easy to make an excuse not to exercise, at first I didn’t even notice it was happening then before long making excuses became the routine.

I noticed that gentle inclines or even climbing a flight of stairs left me breathless and on the rare occasions I did gather the motivation to run it felt that I didn’t have anything in the tank even very early on, knowing I was losing fitness due to my lack of activity I put it down to this and got into a vicious circle of not training because it was more difficult and blaming my poor performance and obvious reduction in fitness on not training.

By April I felt that I couldn’t carry on & finally visited my GP, from the description I gave of my situation and symptoms they originally suspected that I was stressed or depressed but sent me for a blood test to eliminate any physical ailments… and it was a good thing they did too. Because I received a call a few days later to advise that I was anaemic.

I was taken aback, but relieved that it was a physical rather than psychological ailment and started researching what the impact could be, what I could do about it and how it would effect my running. I posted on Twitter about it and Dr Juliet McGratten responded with some great advice and she later wrote a great blog for UKRunChat inspired by my question.

So it turns out I’m anaemic- can anyone shed any light on how that will/does affect my fitness and running?

Effectively anaemia is an iron deficiency and symptoms include tiredness, lethargy & breathlessness. All things I was suffering from, it also commonly causes a pale complexion something else that had been pointed out at the time. This lack of iron causes a reduction in the red blood cells, these help store & carry oxygen in the blood so if you have less then oxygen is not transported to your organs & tissue as efficiently causing the above symptoms but read Juliet’s blog for more information.

I started taking Ferrous Sulphate supplements and within weeks started to feel the benefits and I also changed my diet, including more Iron rich foods such as spinach, watercress, red meat and nuts. I had to withdraw from the Ironman 70.3 as I hadn’t trained anywhere near enough for it… as proven by my last but one position in the Tallington Triathlon but by July I felt strong to get through Lakeland50 but it was a struggle, particularly on the long ascents and I knew I should be able to give much more.

I have never returned to the level I was at when diagnosed but also never identified the underlying cause, which is annoying as this means I don’t know how to avoid it happening again. I had several tests after it was originally diagnosed but all were normal so didn’t establish the reason.

Was it diet? NSAIDS? A medical issue?

I’m still in the dark so I have continued taking Iron supplements in some form or another since to avoid relapsing and again falling back in performance. It has taken me close to a year to finally get to a level close to my previous best so although anaemia doesn’t cause long term damage the impact can be relatively long-term to deal with but if you seek professional help earlier than I did and then follow their advice you’ll be good as new in much shorter time.

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