Setbacks, Blood Tests and a Dose of Optimism

It’s officially outdoor track season for 2016. Admittedly the past 3 weeks have not been the best for me, unfortunately experiencing a few setbacks just when I want to ramp up the training to get after my goals. For a good 5 months, my training and body was feeling pretty amazing. Following my 10,000m track debut and 15K road race in mid March – the entire family picked up a string of illnesses. I was risking it as I was extremely sleep deprived at the starting line of both of these events. I then messed up further by initially not taking the whole being sick thing serious. No more whining, I should know better from past experiences. My Achilles’ heel has always been not recognizing when I’ve pushed to far and accepting that rest is best. I am lucky to stay away from injuries, but I’ve had far too many run ins with lengthy viruses. It had been a couple years since I went through this, so I had forgotten that I am not invincible.


Spending quality time with the kids WHILE running

My coach quickly recognized this and reminded me it’s ok to stop being super hero mom/runner. No more seeking for short cuts and sneaking back to workouts, it’s time to chill.  This was not what I wanted to blog about but maybe it can help you. Bad mistake. Do not repeat. If you’re sick, count a few days as a loss, take off from work AND running, then move on.  Exact same realization with injuries. This did not happen. So here I am typing. The good news, I do know I have a solid base behind me and all is not lost. I just need to turn this around and get my energy back before I can continue forward. Even if I do face a huge loss in fitness, I will venture on and pick up the pieces from where I left off. I compete for the pure love of it, so I’m not afraid to show my cards in a race, regardless if I’ve taken a few steps back.

A few weeks ago, I  went in to get my blood tested. Getting to know what’s going on the inside of my body is a necessary piece to couple my training. All runners (and athletes) should care. If you don’t know some of your numbers, you could be missing out on a very important piece that training doesn’t exactly state (other than “I’m tired or slow or sick”—which can often creep up at the exact time you want to be feeling your best).


With my biggest goals just around the corner, it was a good time to check in to see how I was doing.

For my bloodwork I use InsideTracker. The new “High Performance” blood test checks 10 biomarkers – all vital for optimal run performance. This test can be done locally (the company is based in Boston), no fasting required, and costs $250 out of pocket. Not a bad price considering most Vitamin D tests alone are $150+.

These 10 markers include:
Testosterone (sex function/athletic performance)

Cortisol (stress indicator)

Vitamin D (bone health/energy)

Ferritin (iron storage)

Hemoglobin (oxygen transporter)

Vitamin B12 (energy production/muscle repair)

HsCRP (inflammation)

ALT (liver enzyme)

SHBG (sex hormone)

Creatine Kinase (muscle health)

The best part is that the results let you know where you stand – not just as a healthy human but as an ATHLETE. I have heard many stories of iron-poor runners having no idea they are at a severe disadvantage with a Ferritin in the teens. Their doctor returned the test results saying “Yep you’re normal. Great work”. Wrong. Huge red flag. Big time problem for optimal iron storage which is vital for blood to carry oxygen to demanding muscles. An optimal ferritin would be 60 or higher. Anything under 30 and you are not doing yourself any favors when it comes to running well.

You wouldn’t know if you blindly trust your health care provider. InsideTracker is a team of experts specializing in sports medicine, who do the work for you so you don’t have to research what an optimal level is and how to correct any deficiencies.

Along with your results you get easy to follow lifestyle and diet recommendations based on personal preferences (vegan, vegetarian, celiac, etc). A new feature help[s you set goals and give you reminders. So here’s what I discovered in my last test:


I could use some work. My sickness accurately reflected this. My “at risk” biomarker was my CRP which measures inflammation. My body has been going on 2 weeks of fighting off illness with no success, so this was no surprise. If I want to run well, I can’t keep skimping on sleep. I can’t do it alone. I need to team up with my husband to tackle the sleepless nights. I also need to quit trying to cheat the system. I obviously need to back off in training and there’s no way around it. It doesn’t matter how driven I am, I only have 1 body to work with, and at this point, I have to listen. My goals will have to be altered, knowing it may take another week to fully recover and my race times will reflect this big hiccup in my training.

With my weakened immune system and extra stresses from being a mom that don’t always give me the optimal rest, I need to be on my A-game at all times with eating well. This means real, whole foods over any quick fix sugar cravings. Quality proteins and tons of produce. InsideTracker gave me a ton of ideas that I normally wouldn’t even look for at the grocery store.

InsideTracker was also quick to mention that I could use a consistent dose of Probiotics. Kombucha and a supplement are now back on my daily list of musts. With the lack of sun in Portland- I need to stay on top of making Vitamin D supplementation a priority. Luckily the sun has actually come out the past few weeks- so I have been taking full advantage and getting outside! Staying hydrated is also a big factor with the weather warming up and continuing to provide for my 6 month old. I will now be introducing smoothies back into my routine.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 2.55.44 PM

Iron levels. Less than ideal. Again. Great to know. This has been a lifelong struggle since I first heard that I should get tested as a runner. It is one reason I had my absolute worst years of race results when I was subjected to altitude in my own home (during Alan’s final years as a professional runner 2010-11, our house was set to a high level using altitude machines; a note that the elevation was set to his body’s level of adaptation and not mine). Iron = helping your blood transport oxygen. Low iron =  a big handicap in handling training, and obviously a hinderance living at high altitudes where less oxygen is available.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 11.44.47 AMI know from my past that keeping healthy iron levels while training is a battle. I need to rethink my iron supplements. I do a pretty decent job at getting in the recommended foods. Time to get back to the liquid form (found at most pharmacies over the counter for under $10), which seems to help my teammates greatly. I will trust their success to hopefully boost my ferritin and hemoglobin back to acceptable levels.

Surprise!!! My cortisol level was optimized. My last test during pregnancy at the end of my first trimester, it was through the roof. I would say I am a much more stressed pregnant chick than having the baby on the outside, so that was a positive reflection of reality. Having the outlet of running has helped me tremendously in having a balance in stress levels and being a mom/having a job and training.


Once again, my test was eye opening and a necessary reality check at a crucial point in my season. I would highly recommend the test! Check out their website if you’re curious at how InsideTracker operates. If you opt to get the test, use the code HPJULIA to get entered to win a free Ultimate Plan (testing 30 biomarkers).

In terms of my season, setbacks happen. I am fortunate that my job doesn’t depend on my athletic performances, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care any less. The last thing I want to do is start having a huge pity party. I’ll admit it’s hard to avoid though, when things take an unexpected turn in the wrong direction. I’m keeping my focus on the many other great things in my life that are unrelated to my running performance. I also know I’m not alone. Just off the top of my head I can think of a dozen other athletes with bigger goals who are also fighting setbacks. It’s all part of the game. It makes the winning moments even sweeter.


Post-race at Club Nationals back in December (11 weeks postpartum– 21:29 for 6K); pre-race included jogging the course with baby Paula

I do plan to get out and race regardless of if I’m in PR shape or not. The event I’m focusing on is the steeplechase. My A goal would be a sub 9:52 by June to qualify for the Olympic Trials (no I didn’t say anything about the actual Olympics – BIG DIFFERENCE). My B goal – just run the best I can with what I got. This could be a 10:00 or maybe slower. Either way, I am extremely excited to race my favorite event! My first one lined up is looking to be Oregon Relays at Hayward Field. I live for the everyday workouts, race experiences and am not afraid to embarrass myself. Love the process, the outcome will reflect that. A PR is always great, but the real joy is just having the ability to be out there. Every setback gives more appreciation of the good days. I’m confident I’m a few good days away. Thanks for sharing in my journey by reading my blog!!


Pictured above – a lethal fight against sickness — probiotics, raw garlic, kombucha, vitamin C and a day off

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