You got runner problems, I feel bad for you son – I got 99 problems but iron ain’t one.
It’s no secret that endurance athletes have problems with iron. Personally, I’ve had problems with it since I started running in high school. In middle/high school I passed out twice- out cold on my feet. I was constantly dizzy and tired. My parents took me to a doctor and got my ferritin (a measure of your stored iron) and my blood checked. It was bad – my ferritin was 2 and my red blood cells (RBCs) were all out of whack. I was severely anemic. I started taking about 100 mg of elemental iron a day in 4 doses and kept on iron for the next 5 or so years.
In high school, the highest my ferritin ever got was a 29 – during my senior cross country season. That was probably my best season, and for me, a 29 was good.
In college, I couldn’t keep it up freshman year and most of this sophomore year it hovered between 13 and 24. Long story short, a couple months ago I decided I was over it. I only have 2 more years left to run in college, and I want to make the most of it.
A couple months ago I contacted a hematologist with the hope of getting IV iron infusions. When I was there they did a ferritin and CBC test. My ferritin was 14 which is low, but my CBC measures were all pretty normal. In other words, my iron stores were low, but it hadn’t started to show in my blood yet. 14 was still low enough that the doctor was willing to give me an infusion.
They did the first one that day, and the second part three days later – how Feraheme is typically prescribed. Basically they put in IV line in with saline for 15 minutes, pushed the iron and steroid in, and observed me for 30 minutes. If you’re going to do something similar, I recommend really pushing the vitamin C in the days before. The steroid depressed my immune system so I wouldn’t have a reaction to the iron, but with the side result of coming down with the flu (full-blown 103 fever 7 day horizontal flu.). At first I thought it was side effects of the iron, but they said it wasn’t.
For the few weeks afterwards, I was running worse than before. I had already lost 5 lbs since last semester and the flu made me lose 5 more. For about three weeks I slept 9-10 hours a day with some naps. My mile repeats were as bad as 6:49 and I still felt terrible.
Eventually I started feeling better and running better. This was around the time I started doing 5 or so double runs a week. Last week I ran one second off my PR in the steeplechase (11:40s) and came back a few hours later to double in the 5k, PRing by almost 20 seconds and getting right under 19 minutes for the first time ever!
Before the infusions, my resting heart rate was in the 70s or 80s (at the doctor it was the 90s!) and now it’s around 50-52. My ferritin went from 14 to 179!! I’ve honestly never felt better in my life. Side note: at night when I’m trying to fall asleep it feels like part of my heartbeat is missing.. it’s the weirdest feeling ever. I’m confident that even if CBC numbers look okay, a low ferritin (less than 60 and 30 for sure) is not good for endurance athletes.
I’m not sure when I’m going to need another infusion, but I’m glad I did it. If you’re considering IV iron and want to ask questions go ahead and comment or contact me.