Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Made of Iron, But Not the Kind You're Thinking Of

Looking back on my 10k TT debacle this week, I'm also looking at another possibility: my old friend Anemia might be back in town. Just realized that I ran out of iron tablets a few weeks ago and it's been on my to-do list to pick up some more. The way anemia works is it sneaks up on you. One day you're running 10 miles and before you know it a week or two later you're gasping for breath when you walk up the stairs. Luckily, there's a pretty easy fix, and since I started taking iron tabs again last night, hopefully I'll know whether or not that's a contributing factor soon enough.

I know some people get anemia in pretty mild forms, in fact it's common in women and very common in athletic women. For some reason, I seem to have a real problem making red blood cells, and have since I was a kid. Various tests have been run over the years with no conclusions about my faulty blood cell factory (no I don't have leukemia, no I don't have nutritional deficiencies, etc. etc.) In fact, it was serious, life-threatening anemia that derailed my first Ironman attempt and had my doctor threatening me with a blood transfusion (not to mention threatening to take a baseball bat to my bicycle if I even got on the thing again until my hematocrit came back up).

From as early as eight years old, I had pica, a condition in which you crave eating strange things (dirt, chalk, ice, paper) and which is frequently caused by anemia. While I was a vegetarian later in life, my family definitely wasn't that way when I was growing up. I remember once when my dad was the grand marshall of the rodeo, one of the bucking bulls threw his back out and they had to shoot him. So we had 400 pounds of "Black Magic" or "Hell's Fury" or whatever the bull's name was in our freezer that year. Needless to say, I wasn't anemic for lack of eating red meat. But I got in trouble frequently at school for eating chalk and paper, and at home I ate so much ice that my dad dismantled the ice maker in our refridgerator. Of course, no one knew that my strange eating habits were really the result of a medical condition, which was very curable.

Once in college, I unknowingly compounded my problems by becoming an athlete, and then a vegetarian. What followed was 20 years of serious battles with anemia in which my blood count would get so low that my doctors couldn't believe I was still standing in front of them (not to mention training for triathlons, climbing mountains, etc.). I'm just stubborn that way I guess. The red blood cell count of a dying cancer victim and I can't be dissuaded from my plans. Eventually after my docs endless pleading and the fact that I could no longer tolerate the massive amounts of iron I needed to take just to stay on the low end of normal, I gave up my vegetarianism. That was just a few years ago and though it took awhile to adjust to eating meat again, I think that's what allowed me to train and complete the Ironman finally (and no, the pun of that name wasn't lost on me at the time!)

So now, I really only have to take one small iron tab a day to stay in the boundaries of low-normal. It's not too much to stay on top of, except that for some reason my brain thinks I can slack off on this and still be okay. Until I'm not. Right now I'd place money on the fact that I'm not. Maybe that's not the only reason I had such a crappo run this week, but I'd bet that it's a big contributing factor. So if you've made it this far in this blog post, keep your fingers crossed for me. And if you know anyone who ever confesses to feeling urges to eat strange things like freezer ice or paper straw wrappers, maybe you'll know why!

1 comment:

April Bowling said...

Ahhh...yet another thing we have in common...what a pain!!! Hope you feel better soon and it's an easy fix...