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.