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You need iron to run

Sara is a bad trail runner. She knows, but she loves running, and that’s what counts. Although, knowing why she is bad at running counts as well. We had a theory and now we know for sure; Sara is anemic. See, you need iron to run.

Running is stamina, endurance. That’s something you can train. Train specifically, because the endurance from one sport doesn’t always guarantee success in another sport. I mean, you can be a great long distance swimmer, but that doesn’t make you a great trail runner. Of course, you have the stamina, but swimming is a low impact sport, running is a high impact sport. Plus swimming you do horizontal and running vertical. Just to name 2 differences.

High heart rate

Sara is an amazing yogini. Yoga may look very relaxed, but I can tell you from personal experience, that isn’t always the case. Especially Sara’s classes. They are tough. High paced, strong moves. If you’re new to them, you will suffer.

It does mean that she has stamina. On her yoga mat. When she started to run with me, we noticed that her heart rate was extremely high for the slow paced run we did. In the beginning a higher heart rate can be normal, but not a heart rate high in the 160 beats per minute at a pace of 8 minutes per kilometer. That’s, to put it mildly, strange.

By now her heart rate is a bit lower when she runs, but it’s still high. Too high for a slow runner. So, there had to be something wrong with Sara. Something that explains why she is struggling with running. The answer is; she has Anemia. The American National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, describes Anemia as: ‘a condition that develops when your blood produces a lower-than-normal amount of healthy red blood cells. If you have Anaemia, your body does not get enough oxygen-rich blood’.

'Train specifically, because the endurance from one sport doesn't always guarantee success in another sport'

John Kraijenbrink

Low Hemoglobin and Ferritin

As you know, you need oxygen to run and the harder you run, the more oxygen you need. But to transport that oxygen to your muscles, you need red blood cells. Or to be precise Hemoglobin; the protein inside your red blood cells that carries the oxygen. Sara’s hemoglobin is low.

But that’s not the whole story. You also need Ferritin, a protein in your blood that is responsible for storing and transporting iron across the cell membrane into the Hemoglobin molecule. Iron can’t cross that barrier without being attached to Ferritin. As iron binds with oxygen, it means that if the iron can’t cross, the oxygen can’t cross. So you have less oxygen going to your muscles.

So in Sara’s case, she doesn’t have a lot of cells bringing oxygen to her muscles, and most of the cells that will do the job, are empty, because there is no oxygen loaded upon them, as her Ferritin is low as well.

Low iron is bad for endurance

Some of the problems of Anemia are: feeling tired, weakness and shortness of breath. So there you are, that’s why Sara is a bad runner. She just can’t get enough oxygen to her muscles to run fast.

To put a number on it, her Ferritin used to be 10.3 on a scale from 10 to 291. Thanks to Ferritin pills it’s now up to 26. Yet, according to Steve House and Scott Johnston, authors of Training for the Uphill Athlete: ‘For endurance athletes, a Ferritin level below 50ng/ml will result in some reduced endurance performance. Levels below 30ng/ml will show as dramatically reduced performance and chronic fatigue.’

Sara’s Hemoglobin is below average as well. So if you always feel fatigued after training, you’re short of breath, your heart rate is always high or you feel you just can’t progress, maybe ask your doctor for a blood test. Maybe you need iron to run as well.

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