This is a picture of a few of my friends after a trail race we did in Western Massachusetts this past fall. I put this up because this is how my friends felt after the race (dead tired), and although I am not in the picture, I felt like doing that for about a year before I realized I was seriously anemic. I feel like an expert for anyone else who has any questions about how to deal with it or if you suspect that you are.
Unfortunately, anemia can begin in subtle ways, and the symptoms are the same as 99.9% of any other illness or deficiency out there. Things like fatigue, heavy legs, rapid heart rate and trouble breathing. It EXHAUSTED me to walk up a hill and I found myself needed to take constant breaks as I forced myself to try and run. In retrospect, this was very dumb. Like most runners who are slightly obsessive about what they do, I wanted to simply continue my life and beat myself up mentally over what was wrong. I questioned my training specifically until I finally broke down and decided to pay up and go into the doctor.
Blood tests can be beautiful things. Really, they can open your eyes to whatever is going on inside your body that you would have had no other way to figure out. I felt oddly relieved despite how severe the anemia was, just because I finally had an answer and thus finally had a solution. It’s no fun to be on a supplement.. but I tried very hard to increase my iron levels through food to no avail. And it was necessary for a while regardless.
For anyone who suspects anemia at all, go see your doctor and get tested. You will probably have to supplement for a while, but then you can slowly change your diet so you get enough. One problem a lot of vegans/vegetarians have (including me) is that your body does not absorb the type of iron (non-heme) found in plants as well as it does in animals (heme iron). So when everyone tells you spinach is a wonderful source of iron, think again. I eat a hell of a lot of spinach, and it just didn’t cut it.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask or comment. I will soon post some food ideas for anemic runners, because a lot of times the answer is combining certain foods to make the iron as bioavailable as possible. For example, combining vitamin C with iron rich foods will help with absorption.