This is a sponsored post on behalf of me for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). All opinions are my own.
In June 2016, I ran the 10K Run for Heart in memory of my dad, and even though I’m a long-distance runner and knew the race wasn’t going to be a stretch for me, I still felt incredibly nervous. The race had so much meaning to me, and I was desperately afraid I was going to fail and let my dad down.
(Silly, I know…)
So despite the fact that I was knee-deep in the chaos of packing, moving, and renovations on 2 homes, I found the time to run over 90K in the 4 weeks leading up to the race.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. That was one tough month for me, and there were times I seriously considered backing out of the race, but each time I felt the urge to quit, I reminded myself why I was doing it and found the strength to carry on.
I felt prepared and pumped when I went to pick up my race bib a couple of days before the race, but the morning before I was due to lace up my runners and make my dad proud, I woke up with a horrible head cold and the weatherman decided to change the forecast from ‘beautiful and sunny’ to ‘rain and thunderstorms’ for the remainder of the weekend.
I was crushed.
My husband (bless his heart) kindly suggested I skip the race, and even though I knew my dad would have told me to do the exact same thing, giving up just wasn’t an option for me.
That’s not who I am.
So while I was carb-loading the night before race day, I started researching the best tips for running in the rain, and after reading a ton of amazing stories, it soon became apparent that the only advice I needed was this:
Change your attitude.
While a lot of the more seasoned runners admitted rainy races can be tricky and unpleasant, almost all of them said they ended up not only running FASTER in the face of rainy weather, but that they also felt a bigger sense of accomplishment when they crossed the finish line.
I read countless stories like this, and when I woke up to rain and a congested nose the following morning, I kept reminding myself to focus on how I would feel when the race was over.
The race started off the same as any other – lots of loud music and cheering and screaming and mad dashes to the port-a- potties (so gross!) – but as I approached the halfway turnaround marker, one of the event organizers grabbed the turnaround sign and started moving pylons while yelling, ‘10K IS DOWN THERE! 10K IS DOWN THERE!”
So I ran, and ran, and ran some more, and when I reached the final turnaround point, I noticed there were only a handful of runners behind me, and judging from how my body felt, I knew I had run a lot farther than I was supposed to.
And I was right.
The original turnaround markers were incorrect, and while the event crew were sorting out their error, they mistakenly directed 72 of us to run 14K instead of 10K.
I’d never run that far in my life, and when I realized I was only halfway through the race, I was terrified I wasn’t going to make it across the finish line. But before I could enter freak-out mode, I reminded myself why I was there, grabbed a cup of water, turned the music on my iPod up, and ended up not only beating my best 10K outdoor run time, but also placing 12th among the 72 runners who ran the 14K with me.
Words cannot express the feeling of pride that washed over me as I looked up into the sky to say goodbye to my dad after crossing the finish line that day, and while I felt like I was running on adrenaline for the remainder of the day, I felt awful in the days and weeks after the race.
I was exhausted and irritable all the time, I couldn’t concentrate, and the mere thought of going for a leisurely jog around our neighborhood made me want to cry.
At first, I just thought I’d overdone it, but as time wore on and I continued to feel lousy, I decided to say something to my doctor, and after ordering blood tests, he called to tell me I was severely anemic, and when he explained some of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency, it all made perfect sense:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Pale skin
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
- Cravings to eat strange things, like dirt, ice, or clay
I remember joking that all I needed was to eat a few burgers and I’d be fine, but my doctor (very) seriously reminded me that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ diet when it comes to an iron deficiency (or any nutritional deficiency, for that matter), and strongly encouraged me to invest in a good iron supplement to help bring my levels back to where they should be.
As the CRN explains, dietary supplements help fill nutrition gaps and promote overall health and wellness for the many Americans who cannot get enough essential nutrients from diet alone.
My initial reaction was one of relief. I figured I’d just take the supplements and all would be good again, but after chatting to the gal at our local health food store, I realized that iron levels as low as mine were are pretty hard to treat. Also, while dietary supplements can play an important role in good health, they are meant as supplements to, not substitutes for, other healthy habits, and since my doctor had warned me it could take a good SIX MONTHS for me to feel like myself again, I knew I needed to take this seriously.
So I started doing some research, and I found out some surprising facts about iron deficiency that I was initially unaware of:
- Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, so you should opt for an iron supplement that contains Vitamin C, or consume it with a natural source of Vitamin C (i.e. orange juice)
- Eggs, dairy, spinach, whole-grain breads and cereals, and coffee and tea can inhibit iron absorption, and shouldn’t be consumed 1-2 hours after taking an iron supplement
- Antacids and calcium supplements can also interfere with iron absorption and shouldn’t be taken within 1-2 hours of taking iron supplements
- Intense endurance training can cause anemia
This last point really struck a cord with me. Even though I was feeling exhausted all the time, I was still pushing myself to exercise at the same pace I had grown accustomed to, but once I realized I was doing my body more harm than good, I started to make some major adjustments to my lifestyle.
I’m still not feeling 100% back to my old self, and I anticipate it’ll be another 6 months before my energy levels come back, but in the event that my experiences can help someone going through something similar, I wanted to share 5 key things that have helped me:
- I start my day with a bowl of steel cut oats. One serving of steel cut oats provides up to 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of iron we should consume each day, but it’s important not to add anything that will interfere with our ability to absorb the iron, so I sweeten it with a little bit of cinnamon and raw honey, and avoid any and all dairy for at least 2 hours.
- I eat red meat at least 3 times per week, and make sure I incorporate other sources of iron-rich poultry into my meals wherever possible. Red meat, seafood, and poultry are excellent sources of protein, and I feel my best when I get a good balance of the 3 in my weekly diet.
- I eat dark green, leafy vegetables 2 times per day. I’ve swapped my beloved iceberg lettuce for a combination of spinach and swiss chard, and while I cannot eat kale in it’s raw form, I do blend it into green smoothies once in a while for an added kick of iron.
- I snack on dried fruits and nuts. This helps me feel full in between meals, and gives me a iron boost to boot.
- I workout smarter and not harder at the gym. I’ve traded my long, intense running sessions for shorter (and more effective) workouts that don’t leave my body feeling as though it’s going to collapse.
There are lots of choices when it comes to dietary supplements, and if you or someone you love suffers from an iron deficiency, I urge you to talk with a doctor or other health care practitioner about what dietary supplements are right for you.
If you found this collection of iron deficiency symptoms and remedies helpful, please share it on Pinterest!
And if you’re looking for more health-related tips and tricks, please follow our Health board where we share all kinds of helpful information!