first race after ferritin diagnosis
My first race after being diagnosed with low ferritin and taking iron supplements. It was a huge success, resulting in a 5k road race PR.

In all the years I have been running, I can honestly say I have never lost motivation. Yes, I have had days when I didn’t feel like doing a workout or my nighttime ritual of stretching and foam rolling. But I had never been in a place where I felt like my goals and dreams didn’t matter, until earlier this year. I was willing to give up everything I had worked so hard for.

Exhaustion, Frustration and the End of My Journey

I remember vividly driving in the car with my husband, crying, telling him I didn’t want to run anymore. I explained that I didn’t think I could handle the balance of our crazy family schedule and my intense training schedule. I was tired all the time and my training and racing wasn’t going as well as I would have liked. My husband immediately said, “You are not giving up. You have worked so hard to this point, accomplished so much and clearly have a talent.” After that conversation, I kept pushing, struggling during my training runs and races, but still losing confidence in my abilities as an athlete.

Weeks later, I had another conversation with my good friend. Again, addressing my lack of motivation to train and race, feelings of being tired, thinking I was having a hard time balancing family with training. I told her I was thinking about hanging up my running shoes. Like my husband, she told me, “You can’t do that. You have balanced family and training before. You have some great talent. You can do this.”

So, with everyone’s encouragement I continued to train and struggle. I remember telling my coach, “I don’t feel fit. I feel like I was stronger last year, and running some of the same workouts faster.” I thought I was focusing so much on track that I had lost speed and endurance for the “longer distances.” I also remember feeling like I couldn’t push through workouts like I used to.

Eventually, I started examining the different things in my own life that I thought might have an impact on my training such as nutrition, recovery, and rest. But nothing had really changed. At some point, I came to the conclusion that maybe I had reached my potential as an athlete and there was nothing left.

Knowledge is Power

Then I went to an adult running camp with my Oiselle teammates at Zap Fitness in Blowing Rock, NC. Which was amazing by the way! I love my Oiselle teammates! And Zap is awesome! Anyway, every day we had educational talks. One talk in particular focused on 5k/10k training, recovery and taking care of your body. Pete, one of the coaches at Zap who was giving the talk, encouraged us to get our ferritin checked. He explained to us why it’s important, especially in women.

Ferritin is an important protein that regulates delivery of iron. Iron is important for red blood cell production. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. If ferritin gets low, it can result in fatigue, loss of motivation and low energy. For a competitive athlete, oxygen delivery is a key aspect of high performance. Also, ferritin and iron are related but can each become deficient on their own. So, an athlete can have low ferritin and normal iron levels.

So being the type of athlete that I am, always doing whatever it takes to get better, I got my ferritin checked when I returned from camp.

When my primary care doctor called me with the results, we were both shocked. I found out my iron levels and hemoglobin and hemocrit levels were normal. But, my ferritin was between five and seven! For a normal non-competitive athlete your levels should be around 10-20. For competitive athletes like myself, we should be between 50-60.  My doctor told me I have literally been running on fumes and I must be one strong athlete to run as well as I have been with a ferritin level of five. He asked me how my training was going. I told him how tired I was, how I lacked motivation and more importantly how my training and racing was in the toilet. He validated all of my symptoms by telling me those are the results of low ferritin.

I started iron supplements once a day. Once my doctor knew I could tolerate the iron I started taking it twice a day. After three weeks, I felt a difference in my day to day life. After eight weeks I started to feel a difference in my training. And it was amazing! I wasn’t fatiguing as quickly and I was able to really push through those hard effort workouts.  At 11 weeks, I ran my first race and had the best and fastest race to date. I could not believe the difference in my ability to push and run hard. I feel like I have this new found excitement for running and racing. I feel like a brand new athlete. My motivation is back and stronger then ever. I am loving the sport of running and competing more than I ever have. I look forward to grinding out those hard effort workouts to become the athlete I know I can be!

Get Tested and Learn More About Ferritin

I had no idea how important ferritin levels were in competitive athletes. I suffered for six months thinking I could not handle training and family. I felt tired and chalked it up to being a busy mom. I beat myself up thinking I didn’t have what it takes to be the athlete I dreamed of being. I lost confidence. And all the while I was suffering from a metabolic injury that was fixable! Looking back at my training log and post race journal, the signs were there.

So, my parting advice to you, my dear friends, is trust your gut. If you know something doesn’t feel right, go get checked out. Don’t second guess yourself. And more importantly, get your ferritin levels checked.

Have you experienced low ferritin? What were your signs and symptoms?

  1. October 19, 2015

    Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this. I recently listened to a podcast on Runner’s Connect about this and am definitely going to get mine checked. I’ve struggled the last few months as well. On a side note, how amazing is Blowing Rock!?! I love it there. I was there last week and would love to do a running camp there. Glad you are feeling good again! xo

    • October 20, 2015

      THank you Jesica. Me too. I think I’ve been suffering longer than 6 months. It just took that long to hit “rock bottom”. And YES! Blowing Rock is amazing!! ZAP running camp is awesome if you are ever serious about going to camp. I’m headed back in June. THe coaches there are great also. THank you again for reading my story. xo

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