My Battle for Running Healthy

Photo by Win Goodbody | StoneAndSteel.smugmug.com

Feeling fresh or train thru (as pictured) I race frequently and give it all I have – good, bad or ugly…Stumptown XC #2 photo by StoneAndSteel

I have been a lucky runner gal who rarely has injuries to stop me from participating in my favorite sport. I’ve had to cross train a total of 1 month in college for a minor hip injury I sustained from being too aggressive in a yoga session, and my 2nd and only running related injury occurred when I was pregnant and too aggressive with speed work/mileage. I ignorantly ran through what I believed was an everyday “ache” which eventually led to me sitting the bench for 6 months of my pregnancy and another 6 months of minimal mileage with major pain. With 14.2 years of consistent 50+ mile weeks, I have 13.1 of those injury free, and 1 year of that time completely related to carrying a watermelon sized object. That should equate to smooth sailing, consistent improvements…Not so much the case for me as I have been extremely limited in my potential from another side of the health picture – My dreaded immune system.

JuliaJOJO

Enjoying personal bests in ferritin levels- with baby Joanie

Despite my best efforts I always find a random way to get sick (or overcome with poison ivy). I have a major problem with an illness streak. Despite what I’d consider living an extremely healthy balanced lifestyle, it has been rare that I don’t run into a major speed bump with my health. My iron levels have also been the bane of my running career. With consistent ferritin testing, wheat eliminating, meat eating and multiple daily regimented supplementing, I have yet to get a reading over 40. The exception was a 59 when I was still benefiting from pregnancy hormones a few months after Joanie was born. I don’t have the luxury to get iron infusions but I try my best to find sneaky ways to get my iron to be at an acceptable level for performance, with limited success.

I realize I fit the mold of being “too skinny” and perhaps this could be a factor contributing to my immune system being compromised, but I am definitely mindful to match or exceed the number of calories I’m expending. I in fact, do not ever count my calories, but listen to my body’s hunger cues and eat what I’m craving accordingly. This includes occasional stops through a drive thru, cookies, ice cream, or you name it to go along with the mass quantities of whole grain, fruits, veggies etc. And no I’m not vegan or even close to it. And no, I have NEVER missed a period, a guarantee to get it every single month within 28 days. If that were to go, it would be the first sign that I was truly doing damage to my body. (LOVE THIS blog post from elite Stephanie Rothstein Bruce- nickname “Tiny”) – Weight…What About Your Period – must read for aspiring female runners.

My theory is that I’ve beat down my immune system to the point that it doesn’t take much until it fails on me again. Even knowing I have this limiting factor I often times ignore signs and try to do too much. Not only in running, but in my every day life. When I add running in a way to continually push my body to the limit as an athlete, it keeps me riding on the edge. Only recently do I feel that my coach and I have really made a push to continually hold me back to somewhat err on the side of caution. My drive and ability to push and push are there. The voice that I frequently ignored calling me to slow down now needs to be heard. Accepting my limitations has been very challenging, but I can’t just toughen up, suck it up and push on. I need to be high maintenance in scheduling my workouts, letting my “toughness” ego go and really ask honestly if I’m ready before putting myself on the line in an attempt to boost fitness. If I can’t stay healthy, aside from gaining mental strength, it would have been better off to sleep for that 2 hours than subject myself to gut churning intervals.

NCAAXC05

Enjoying the reward for a healthy fall of xc racing. 2nd at NCAAs in 2005

Just in 2014 alone, with my daughter at her first year of daycare, I averaged a new cold every 3 weeks until the weather cleared up. This was just as often as my 18+ month old, only to return to frequent cold status once the Portland summer ended. The beginning of my illness streak all started in college. As a child-teen I rarely was sick. In 2002, 2 years into my running career I picked up mono just before the college conference meet. After winning by only a narrow margin and feeling absolutely terrible, I was diagnosed, laid in bed a few weeks and then made the decision to lace em up at nationals (as my team qualified without me at regionals). Pre-mono I had hopes for a top 3 finish, but still sick as a dog, I finished in 23rd very proud of my abilities to race sick. I got greedy and thought, I must be ok to begin real training again, and might as well since indoor is only 2 months away.

The training paid off and I got fit and fast quick. I clocked a 64 second best in the 5000m (17:26) on our small tight 200m track – lapping the entire field. A week later, I started feeling exhausted. I shook it off and continued to race, getting slower and slower. By conference I just about blacked out during the 5000m with a dismal 17:59. By nationals, I was toast and ran on guts and fumes finishing DFL* (dead f&#Ing last) in 18:04.

Despite constant sleep, the fatigue was beyond extreme and made my first bout with mono in fall seem to be a minor issue. It was time to sit out for outdoor and heal. Not only did it affect my running, but my performance in school as well. I was so tired, I couldn’t fathom becoming a Physical Ed teacher and later changed my major to Sport Management so I wouldn’t have to expend any extra energy during the day. Long story short, I struggled on/off with this diagnosed “Chronic Epstein Barr” fatigue until I finally broke free from this in the fall of 2005. Even with my struggles I did have a successful racing streak for a few months during the spring of 2004 when I won the NCAA III steeplechase.

PreLymes

Racing at the peak of marathon training in 2009

Aside from iron, I was relatively healthy until Fall 2009. I experienced a mind blowing increase of fitness after briefly joining Scott Raczko’s training over the summer with Samia Akbar. I had my sights set on a Trials Qualifier in the marathon with great hope due to workout evidence. Unfortunately it all took a nosedive when I woke up to do an easy run just a month before Twin Cities. Just like that it was as if the mono returned with vengeance.

I was back to being a vegetable and feeling like I would pass out a mile into my runs. I ended up walking most runs and crying from frustration. 4 days after this mysterious fatigue occurred, I still opted to race my tune up half at Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach. The sub 6 minute pace I could easily attain in my long run workouts was gone. I strained to hit 6:15s, only to finish the race on endless Hail Mary’s and sincere thankfulness that I had all 5 senses (passing a blind runner with their guide runner kept me going). No marathon to experience and 3 months of endless struggle to operate I finally got my diagnosis: Lymes Disease. (And yes even with the debilitating disease I still maintained training in some shape/form). I could go on about other illnesses, but have already expressed some of this in previous blogs so I will save the drama, (specifically referring to recently -fall of 2013; after my most successful spring track season).

This leads me to the week of November 24, 2014. This week I stumbled across the website InsideTracker.com and found a shining light of hope in finding a tool that can give me some guidance and keep me from crossing the line and maximizing my athletic performance. I got my blood tested today and by next week will get a clear picture of what’s going on within my body in ways I would never understand without these biomarkers. From this experience I plan to share via my blog. If you are like me and want to get the most of your training check it out today!! I’m so excited to share ways I can seek to better my chance at staying healthy. I plan to share real results (if it does indeed help or be honest if it does not) I am ready and willing to make the changes they recommend.  I’m PUMPED!!! Check out runner Jonathan Levitt’s recent improvements thanks to AthleteTracker and learn more info real runner experience here realfitsocial.com.

Up next Turkey Day 10K here in Phoenix. I’m taking a crack at my modest 10K PR of 35:48. If I can push a stroller at 6:09 pace, I would like to stay true to my word that a stroller costs about 30 seconds per mile (this would be ~ 35:08). A month ago, I would have said yes. Since the move, I’m not quite as confident based on recent workouts but all I can give is my best effort, and I am confident I don’t ever give anything less than that when a gun goes off. Here’s to hope for a PR. Thanks for reading!

turkeyDay**UPDATE** Ran 36:31 for the win. I knew I was being a little ambitious suggesting I could PR based on how I’ve been feeling the last 3+ weeks. I ran by feel (the goal medium effort 2 miles, medium-hard 2 miles, hard 2 miles). No mile splits, hit about 18:22 for the first 5K loop – off my initial 18:00 goal. I pushed it but came up short – only ran 18:09 the next lap (My goal was 17:40). About 4 miles in I ran into the wall of 5K runners. I had my sights set on a guy and followed his lead weaving in, out and around runners. The toughest part was finding any space to kick the final 200m. Not gonna lie, I’ve been pretty fatigued lately and excited to see what my results say Monday. Despite the results, I’m glad I raced now to give me a reality check on what’s to expect in the upcoming weeks.  On tap – rest, recovery and more rest. What a great time to do so on Thanksgiving weekend!!

4 comments

  1. Liking the post is my vote in confidence of a new 10k PR!

  2. Wow can I have your legs please? I struggle to go your stroller pace in a 10k!

  3. Julia,
    Thank you for sharing your journey with your immune challenges. My sister has Lyme Disease (with recurring problems over the years). Partly because of her situation, I’ve become very interested in all the research on immune/autoimmune issues, plus the effects of inflammation on our body. One thing I’m sure about high performance athletes, ESPECIALLY distance athletes, is that their bodies run on the ragged edge between health and illness…and that they often end up in a chronically inflamed state due to the mileage/intensity/competition/life stresses. Unchecked inflammation in turn can suppress the immune system and leave you vulnerable to illness. And if you’ve had Lyme, you are probably still in a vulnerable state compared to other athletes. (It’s a rough disease if not caught early.) I hope you can get some good info from Inside Tracker. I’ll be interested to follow your journey.
    ~Robin from Bend

  4. Melinda Brandt · · Reply

    Enjoy reading your posts. Love the pic from Nationals! I was behind ya in that pic as I snuck into the top 35 that year. Fun to see how you balance mommy-hood and running/racing. New challenges but always good to be a lifetime runner 🙂

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