I run in Boulder

I do wish. But I’m down here at sea-level Maryland. My hematologist informed me the other day that essentially, that’s how my body feels/performs–like someone from Maryland who tries to race at altitude. In other words, even after four IV infusions of iron, my red cell counts and iron stores are still in the basement.

iron infusions

Even directly into the bloodstream didn’t help.

It was a frustrating visit with the doctor, I’m not going to lie. He has essentially thrown up his hands in terms of how to help me. We did six months of oral supplements with vitamin C for added absorption. No improvement. We did four rounds of iron infusions. No improvement. What he thinks happens to me is that my body destroys red cells as quickly as it produces them. Interestingly, it’s not all that uncommon in female runners, especially those, ahem, getting a bit older.

So what am I left with? Basically accepting that as long as I’m running, I’m not going to get into the normal range. Instead, my focus has to be on maintaining the numbers that I have through diet and supplementation. He did suggest taking a six-month running break if I wanted to get my numbers up, but we all know how well that suggestion went over!

Thankfully, I have some very smart friends in some very useful fields. One of my running partners is an RD, so she is helping me optimize the food and timing of supplementation. Another is an acupuncturist who is close to finishing up her studies in Chinese herbal medicine. She’s also going to give me some feedback and suggestions.

The other part of the equation I’ve got to work on is the mental side. I can’t let myself believe that this will affect future race performances because as soon as I think like that, it will. I haven’t known much differently in all the years I’ve been running based on past bloodwork, so this is just who I am/what my body is. I’ll keep on keeping on and do the best I can.

Anyone else have never-ending anemia? Suggestions? 

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  1. says

    How frustrating for you! I am sorry that nothing you have tried over the course of the last couple of months has helped you. I am anemic too, but not as severe as your case. I take prenatal vitamins because they have more iron in them. I also drink an “iron cocktail” which tastes pretty disgusting. Utilizing both of those seems to help me. If I stop taking them for even a week I can notice a negative effect. I really hope that making some changes in your diet will help you. Taking 6 months of running off is definitely not an option.
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..What was I thinking?! Holding myself accountableMy Profile

  2. says

    Ughh medical stuff! It’s so frustrating when doctors can’t really find the issue or can’t just give you a tablet to fix you. It’s great that you’ve got a friend who can help on the alternative medicine side. I firmly believe that acupuncture and Chinese medicine can give a great relief with symptoms even if it can’t cure the issue.
    Char recently posted..Looking For Love – My Little Foray into On-line DatingMy Profile

  3. says

    Man! So sorry to hear you’re still fighting this battle. Not cool!

    I know we’re corresponded about this in the past – he doesn’t think it has anything to do with any other blood-related health issues?? I’m not an MD, but that seems a bit weird to me. As you know (all too well, it seems), getting the body to absorb iron is tricky; glad an RD is helping you out. And I hope you have some luck with one of these routes – I know that dragged out anemia feeling, and it’s not all that fun… :(

  4. says

    Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear this! I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for you. I love your outlook on it though – it totally can affect your mental “game” so remaining positive is huge (although def easier said than done). Keep us updated on how things go with the feedback from your friends!!
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama recently posted..Hills Are My FriendMy Profile

  5. says

    What a mess. So sorry to hear. I am getting blood work done and I’m kind scared. Just want to make sure I’m normal… who knows!

    Maybe it’s a matter of finding the right doctor. I have a family member whose daughter has seizures constantly. They went to no less than a dozen doctors and no one could get to the root of it. Then when they were visiting in the Cleveland area the daughter had another one. She was taken to the Cleveland Clinic and some doctor there knew exactly what she had and they finally got a true diagnosis!

    Don’t lose heart.
    Holly recently posted..Book Review: The Willpower InstinctMy Profile

  6. says

    I can understand how frustrating this is and you definitely don’t want a 6 month running break! I don’t specifically deal with iron issues, but many of us have internal medical/health issues we have to tackle and can sympathize. I do like the idea of looking into the Eastern/Chinese medicine approach. It is vastly different than how Western medicine approaches things. As we get older, our bodies do change and we do have to adapt to it as much as we don’t want to. I don’t believe running could truly be what causes this – otherwise we’d all be having the situation. We’re all endowed with our own genetic code and each have different things going on with our physiology. I have a girlfriend who also deals with anemia and iron issues and she is still looking at solutions – and she doesn’t run. *hug*
    Christina recently posted..Midweek marathon training update and Korean TacosMy Profile

  7. says

    that is frustrating! I’m curios what oral supplement you used? Have you tried a different variety? I use the Raw Code Iron with the Bluebell Vitamin C with Bioflavanoids and felt a dramatic improvement with this combo after taking for 6 weeks. Also, are you getting enough sleep? Just a thought that might have something to do with it?
    Kristy (@KristyH5) recently posted..Let Me ElaborateMy Profile

  8. says

    On the positive side….you aren’t giving up. And as someone who does live in Boulder, I can tell you that WHEN you figure this out (and I do think you will–you aren’t a giver-upper), you’re going to feel great and run fast. So hang onto that and be nice to yourself. My fingers are crossed that the solution manifests itself sooner rather than later.
    Terzah recently posted..Introverts and Group RunsMy Profile

  9. says

    I am so sorry Amanda, you must have be so frustrated, I know you have dealt with this for quite some time. You have the right attitude. I don’t have low iron, but I have a few aliments that are chronic… Migraines and Factor IV Leiden (A genetic disorder/ severe thickening of the blood) After many Doctors telling me stop running, I finally found one that helps me manage my aliments in a way that we are both happy. Keep searching for that right doctor. Hugs
    LisaM@RunWiki recently posted..Kyle’s Krusade Virtual 5K, 10K and Half MarathonMy Profile

  10. says

    ack…dang! that is frustrating news. I’m hoping your friends input will help out. I was having issues with hair loss and my sister (a PA) had me take iron w/vit C and the helped a ton. so hopefully your friend’s expertise in supplementation timing and nutrition will help with your problem.

    Would being at altitude help kick start your iron production. If so, I have an amazing summer rental in Breckenridge (it sits at 10,400ft elevation) you are welcome to use.

    At 51 years old – i don’t like hearing that “aging” comes with problems. I’m choosing to ignore that fact of reality! 😉
    cynthia recently posted..not too shabby….My Profile

  11. says

    My niece has an issue like this (and isn’t a runner). I don’t think her doctors have ever been able to figure anything out. She was a vegetarian and decided to start eating more red meat and then was mad that it didn’t really improve the numbers. Many prayers for something to work out so that you can keep on keeping on.
    TriMOEngr (Christina) recently posted..Headlamp Tryout RunMy Profile

  12. says

    How frustrating!!
    I’m guessing that DR is not a runner – to suggest 6 months of no running!! Even then it’s not a guarantee that you won’t end up in the same boat when you pick it back up, is it?
    Wish there were an easy fix!!! Hang in there!!
    Kim recently posted..Friday = Funday!!!My Profile

  13. says

    That stinks that you haven’t found a solution yet. I have problems with iron too, but I haven’t been tested. I just know because when I started marathon training I had the same symptoms of pica that I had when I was pregnant with twins. Super weird, but taking a multivitamin helps me. Again, not tested so basing that on symptoms. I read somewhere that the pounding of feet against the ground destroys blood cells. True? The problem with taking six months off is that you know that you’ll be running again after that and have the same problem again, so a solution that includes running is a must. Hope you find something that helps!
    Yo Momma Runs recently posted..Clean eating and what not to do on a trail (the kid version)My Profile

  14. says

    When I was young, as in born through tween years, my body wasn’t able to “hold on to” minerals. That’s honestly the depth of my understanding of why I lived on nasty dark green coated iron pills and visited the hospital at least once a month for blood work. My sweat became tinted green. I eventually developed a series of infections (lung) that led to rheumatic fever which I dealt with for years.
    After hospital stays and years of limited physical activity I got over the rheumatic fever and it’s damage but I still don’t understand how I out grew my mineral/nurtient issues. I would have blood work done frequently when I was still at home and my last checks which were years ago were all good or at least in a healty range. I wish I had an answer as to way my body did that because I would dread having to live it again. I guess my drs threw their hands in the air and thanked God for allowing me to simply get better. fingers crossed you get answers!
    shelly recently posted..By the Seat of my PantsMy Profile

  15. says

    Ugh. That is very frustrating! I am sorry you didn’t get the answers you were hoping for. Don’t give up – maybe it will just take you a little longer or maybe there is something else out there that will work better for you. Don’t let it be a mental handicap or reason to doubt yourself. You are strong, fast and tough. :)
    Erin recently posted..Brooks PureFlow 2 Review!My Profile

  16. says

    Ugg so frustrating! I’m sorry you are dealing with that. I hate when Docs don’t have the answer, it isn’t very comforting. I pray that they find a solution and you start feeling better. There has got to be some answers out there.
    Keep up the great attitude and hang in there.
    Missy recently posted..Don’t climb the pedestalMy Profile

  17. says

    Get thee to a naturopath. My guess is that our age does weird shit to our bodies. It’s all about the hormone dance. My regular doctor was only helpful to a point. The issues were more systemic and required greater coordination than conventional Western medicine is willing to accommodate. Good luck with this. Answers are out there. I know.
    MILF Runner recently posted..So where’s all my free shit?My Profile

  18. says

    Does stopping running cold-turkey really bring your red cell count back up? I’m no doc, but that seems surprising to me. I never knew. Huh. Dang, I’m really sorry to hear this. What if you just ate, like, 10 steaks a day? (Ew, that sounds awful to me).
    Efo recently posted..Friday FavoritesMy Profile

  19. says

    Wow! I hope that one of these friends and treatments works for you! what a pita…

    I don’t have anything like that now, but growing up I had an odd case of fainting/syncope that the Dr’s were baffled over. I went from being very active in my younger years to more sedentary style during high school – If I stood still too long my brain shut off and I’d hit the floor like a ton of bricks. (this is a normal symptom – and I could make it happen on demand). About a minute later I’d pop back up like nothing ever happened. Hasn’t happened again in a few years thankfully!
    beka @ rebecca roams recently posted..A Return to Friday LettersMy Profile

  20. says

    I’m so sorry that you haven’t experienced any improvement. I can imagine how frustrating that must be. I’m glad to hear that you are going to explore some other options and the mental side IS definitely the hardest part I think. Our minds can often be our own worst enemy, right? Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are definitely worth exploring (just had acupuncture done today). Good luck and keep us posted.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Friday Round-Up: How did I get here?My Profile

  21. says

    Wow, how frustrating… Have you ever gone to a kinesiologist? They seem a little quacky, but if you find a good one it can be life changing. I’ve had great luck with the woman I see and I can honestly say she’s helped me solve some long term health issues that the Drs. were stumped by.

  22. says

    Well, my initial response was: find another doctor! Actually, I think that’s still my response. 😉 I can understand how frustrating this must be for you! Perhaps start eating liver every day? Ugh. Whole bags of spinach knocked down with gallons of OJ? I know, entire bottles of molasses? So sorry you’re going through this. It’s not fair. I hope you can find an answer, and until then, like you said, don’t dwell on it. Just get out there and do what you know how to do. 6 month running break – for the birds!
    Alison @ racingtales recently posted..I Feel it in my Fingers, I Feel it in my Toes…Raynaud’s DiseaseMy Profile

  23. says

    Rather than just topping up your iron levels, has it been investigated where it is being lost?
    Apparently our red blood cells get damaged pounding the pavement – I wonder if minimalist shoes might exacerbate this? I’m no expert, just a thought!
    Another consideration that may/may not be applicable is that IUCD’s can cause heavier blood loss.
    And maybe he is right – a break from running could allow your RBC’s to elevate to a level that they can then sustain whatever loss that is happening. Not what you want to hear I know!
    Whatever it is I hope you find a solution soon!
    Sherry recently posted..Next Up – The Tussock TraverseMy Profile

  24. says

    Hi Miss Zippy! Not sure if I’ve ever commented here before, but whenever I read about anemia, my ears perk up. I have SO MUCH to say, and my problems aren’t nearly as serious as yours. Mine are mostly pregnancy related- but with six children and probably more in the future, that’s a consistent problem. I had pica really badly – turning to ice and wanting, craving dirt. My mom recently told me she’s eating 4-5 lemons a day, rind and all, and my first thought was – pica. I assume you know what pica is, with the internet around and with your terrible anemia, but just in case you don’t – it’s when you crave non-food items in great quantities and is a sign of severe iron deficiencies. She came to visit recently and got a horrible bruise from my 5-month old baby pinching her arm. Sleeping about twelve hours a day, too. Sure enough, she was tested and was low enough to get a shot of iron at the doctor right away and is trying to recover. Anyway, like I said, my problem is nowhere near as bad as yours – but if you would read my blog post on Iron deficiency I think you might find it really interesting. It could be full of stuff you already know, but based on the things I have read on here about your troubles with iron, I think that it may have a few new things to say. I certainly hope so!! Here it is: http://whosrunningthisplaceanyway.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/the-iron-age-and-pregnancy/

    Hope you read it!!

  25. says

    It can be frustrating and discouraging when you think about the potential limitation that you may face the rest of your life, ie “this might be as good as it gets”. I know that feeling in trying to come back from Graves Disease. But don’t give up and “settle” yet. Sometimes it just takes time – lots of it – and you will get it figured out and be back on the comeback trail. I have a quote next to the computer: “The greater the challenge, the more glorious the triumph.” Keep your chin up!

    I have a friend, who is an ultra trail runner, who has had chronic iron problems for years. I will ask her about what helps keeps her going.

  26. says

    Wow- that’s crazy. (And really frustrating.) Hopefully you’ll be able to at least maintain your levels through diet. And the acupuncturist definitely might be able to help.
    I recently had my iron tested and was surprised to see normal levels. Sorry- no advice.
    But, good luck with it and keep the upbeat attitude!
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted..Some of my favourite vegan recipesMy Profile

  27. says

    I remember this post from awhile back so I searched for it because I am dealing with never-ending anemia and I have a marathon in 7 days. I am kind of freaking out because I’m already at that point where I’m assuming my performance will suffer. This anemia has been going on for years and nothing seems to help, although I haven’t had an iron infusion yet. My doctor says we’ll go that route in 2 months if there’s still no improvement. I feel out of breath and tired from just running up a flight of stairs, so how am I supposed to perform well in a 26.2 mile race? How do you combat those feelings of doubt? And where do you stand with the anemia today? I’d love to hear an update on your red blood cell situation! :)