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getting in touch with my inner colorado girl

Does this mean I get to take sick days to go hiking?


I have not felt like myself over the past month or so. In March, my marathon training decreased to an almost non-existent level, as did most of my cross training efforts. Yet even as I was exercising less, I felt exhausted and fatigued constantly. I became really worried when I set aside an entire Sunday morning for a 15 mile run, and I made it approximately one mile before I stopped. I’ve been running long enough to know the difference between being tired from exertion and just plain being tired. Something was wrong.

My first thought was anemia, which is caused by low iron levels. Girls on my high school cross country team who had anemia complained of low energy, fatigue, and after doing some highly scientific Google research, I decided that was probably what I had. After a five mile run last week felt as hard to me as a 20 mile run, I finally gave in and made a doctor’s appointment for some bloodwork. Since I was already being poked for an iron deficiency test, my doctor (smartly) suggested that we test for other possible culprits, ordering a Vitamin D test. I secretly thought to myself, “There’s no way I have a Vitamin D deficiency but whatever you say!” I’m outside constantly, and I live at elevation. I figured my Vitamin D levels had to be off the charts.

No way this girl could be Vitamin D deficient – right?

When my doctor called me with my results, I was shocked to learn that my iron levels were completely normal. I was even more shocked to learn that I have a severe Vitamin D deficiency. It seemed strange to me, but I was encouraged to learn that there was at least a reason for how terrible I have been feeling. I can’t tell you how hugely discouraging it has been to go for runs and have no energy. I really wanted to cry the morning that I tried to go for a 15 mile run and only made it a mile.

After doing some more highly scientific Google research, I learned that Vitamin D deficiency is something that surprisingly can affect runners, even at elite levels. I suddenly didn’t feel so alone:

“I could barely run 8-minute miles on my hard efforts, and that used to be my easy pace. I was tired all the time, and couldn’t recover from my workouts. It felt like I was going in slow motion.” –Julie Sands

“In the summer of 2008 I started to feel rather lethargic during workouts and I struggled to maintain my normal training paces. My recovery from my harder efforts and long runs took longer than usual. I immediately and incorrectly assumed I had low serum ferritin levels indicating iron deficiency anemia.” –Reyana Ewing

Apparently, normal Vitamin D levels for active, healthy adults are 50 ng/mL. Julie’s level was 19 ng/mL and Reyana’s level was 18 ng/mL. Olympian Deena Kastor also famously snapped a bone in her foot 5K into the marathon in Beijing. It was later discovered that she had Vitamin D levels of 15 ng/mL. My level? 12 ng/mL. Wow. Okay.

What does this mean?

Luckily, this is something that is completely curable. My doctor is putting me on special doses of Vitamin D for the next 12 weeks until my levels normalize. I will need to be cognizant of my Vitamin D levels for the rest of my life, but now I know this is something I need to monitor. After learning about Vitamin D vis a vis her Beijing experience, Kastor reminisced: “My skin feels better, I’m sleeping more soundly, my strength has increased, and I’m mentally alert and physically more charged up. Some of that might be due to the enforced three-month layoff I had after Beijing, but not all. It’s amazing how essential Vitamin D is to our well-being. It’s too bad I had to learn it the hard way.”

I will run more marathons. Just not one on May 6.

In the near future, I have made a very big decision about the Colorado Marathon: I’m not running it. From what I’ve been reading, it will take me about eight weeks to feel normal again. The marathon is in less than a month, and my training has (now understandably) not been going very well. I don’t want to put myself through the Colorado Marathon for the same reason I’m not skiing in slush right now – I want to still like running. I don’t want to run a miserable race and have my love of running dashed. This is not the last marathon in the world, and there will be more. Many more. I feel good about this decision, not dejected. I want to get healthy and be running strongly again before I try another marathon.

In the meantime, does this mean that I get to take sick days at work to go hiking?


Author: paulamahla

Typical Colorado girl that can't make up her mind. Trail running, hiking, climbing, camping, CrossFit, ultimate frisbee, and skiing? E, all of the above.

8 thoughts on “Does this mean I get to take sick days to go hiking?

  1. Glad you at least know what’s going on! Much easier to battle it when you know what you’re fighting.

    As for the marathon, good choice and a bummer but you’re right. Plenty of time to do another one! There are 5k/10k/1/2 options that you can drop to if you still feel like joining us up there!

  2. Thanks Luke! I am thinking I will drop to the half and just run it for fun, no pressure. Next year it is ON though! 🙂

  3. i’m shocked that you don’t get enough sun exposure to get your D automatically

  4. Good decision Paula. I’m glad you figured out what was wrong and that it is curable.
    Love always,

  5. wow how crazy! i’m glad you got yo-self figured out and are taking action. silly question – are you taking vitamin d in a (redundant) vitamin form in the near term? and does monitoring mean lots of dr visits or just when you start to feel bad? just very curious!

    • I’m taking just the special high doses of Vitamin D from my doctor for the next several weeks, then I’ll just go to a normal, over the counter Vitamin D medicine forever. Definitely not the diagnosis I was expecting, but oh well!

  6. Pingback: Race Report: Garden of the Gods 10 Miler | return to the motherland

  7. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles with Vitamin D deficiency, however, I was happy to read your blog article. I have the same thing going on over here. Actually, I was diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency last September after experiencing the symptoms you described–total fatigue, absolutely no fuel in the tank, digestion issues, even erratic heart beat. I went from running better, longer and farther than I ever had one week, to complete and total exhaustion the next. It was so frustrating, and no one could figure out what was wrong. Once I was diagnosed, I was prescribed the same Vitamin D regimen that you mentioned… one mega-dose pill once a week for 12 weeks. I also went gluten-free and that has helped with my stomach issues. Anyway, by the winter, I felt great. I dropped back to an over the counter dose of Vitamin D, and by Spring I was improving my running and getting back into my groove. Which brings me to current day… Here it is summer. I have been training for a 1/2 marathon and doing awesome. Running better and faster than I ever have in my life, and one day–it hits me again. The week before I ran 7 miles at 7:27 per mile and felt like I had plenty left in me, and then my next run two days later, I can’t even make it through mile one without stopping. That was about two weeks ago. I run enough to know the difference between fatigue from overexertion and complete exhaustion because something is wrong, and like you said, something is wrong. And I’m still in denial! Here I sit, researching online all of the possibilities for my condition. Duh. I have all of the exact same symptoms I had last summer when I was diagnosed. So, I’m faced with the same predicament. To realize that I may not be able to run my race in September and I am so upset. I have the desire to run. I love to run. But right now I am literally physically incapable of running. Ugh.
    So, sorry for the long story. But, the moral of the story is: now that you know this is something you have to deal with, stay on top of it. Have regular bloodwork done so you can keep up with your training and not fall into the same trap I did. Hopefully by now you are feeling much better and are back into your running routine. I wish you well with your training, and for now… run a few for me!

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