Heavy Metal Runner

“Picture a locomotive pulling a train with a caboose at the end.  In between are a series of box cars, each with an assignment of transporting oxygen.  For endurance athletes, the more box cars, the better your oxygen transportation system.  Fewer box cars – a poorer (compromised) system of delivering oxygen to your working muscles”.  This simple word picture created by a professor in graduate school has stuck.  I use this same imagery when trying to explain to someone why it is so critical to monitor both iron stores and iron levels.

Working with a female athlete a few years ago this issue hit hard. Performances were beginning to slide, workouts were becoming strenuous (even easy runs) and general interest in running was waning. Training reverted to straining. Coaching attempts to “fix this problem” included; “lets run your intervals faster, lets increase your volume, lets increase intensity, and let’s just try harder …” Nothing worked.  In fact poor performance continued. “I am always so tired” – were her words.  Later it was determined she was very iron deficient.

With acceptable levels of iron you can run hard.  Compromised levels and everything is hard.  Everything.  Feels and looks like you are dragging an anchor as you are running. Since working with this particular athlete this subject has piqued my interest.  I have tried to read as much as I could get my hands on. There is some good peer reviewed research but you have to hunt for it. The coaching clinics I have attended barely touch the subject.

Are you at risk for either becoming anemic or iron deficient? A simple blood test will tell you.  I would recommend establishing a baseline to compare future lab results with (make sure you check your serum ferritin). If you are found to be either anemic or iron deficient the treatment is pretty simple. I am not a physician and therefore must refer you to one who understands this subject as it applies to endurance athletes. They will also be in the best position to monitor treatment. Caution: most medical staff apply clinical values using general population guidelines.  Such interpretation may mask either issue. Endurance athletes should not be compared to these values due to the fact their needs are much greater. Conduct your own research and be prepared to educate your doctor.

This problem is rooted in basic human physiology but becomes a bit more complex when assessing problems and tracking solutions over time.  It is an issue that is often overlooked. Too complex? Too much science? Not sure.  But I believe we are too quick to dismiss a slide in performance (particularly for younger female endurance athletes – but males are not immune) with select excuses before conducting a simple blood test.

Blog space won’t allow a complete review of this subject. But we will be addressing this issue including options for treatment at the Continental Divide Running Clinic 2012 (June 23 and 24 – Homestake Lodge following Wulfman CDT).  Email me (kkeller145k@gmail.com) for clinic details or a list of my favorite literature references on this subject.

Dragging an anchor?  Find out where your iron levels are at.  This is an important piece of the training and competition puzzle that warrants evaluation.

Where did I take the  ”Eat At Joe’s” photo? Any ideas? Name the city and win a CDRC 2012 registration or a free month of Keller Coaching. One hint – it was not taken in Bozeman, Montana! Get guessing!

Until next time – enjoy the run!


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