Running with an Iron Deficiency

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I don’t know if I had ever mentioned this on the blog, and I know so many other runners have this problem as well.  One of the biggest struggles I have faced in my running career was dealing with an iron deficiency.  In my opinion it was even worse than dealing with my 3 stress fractures in the past.  I first found out I had an iron deficiency when I was  a junior in high school.  I had struggled that year to run as fast as I had in previous years.  And instead of the normal times getting better throughout the season, they got exponentially worse.  And that’s putting it lightly, I went from running 19 min 5ks to 23 min(my slowest ever) 5ks just within one season.  With zero explanation as to why that was happening. And to top that  every race felt like it was getting more and more difficult.  I was doing everything right, taking days off every week and not doing that much mileage.

 By the time I was running the 23 minute 5ks, my legs felt like bricks were attached to my ankles and I was running in a foot deep of really sticky mud.  Sounds fun right? Imagine having so much fatigue in your legs from the gun, you simply can’t even pick up your legs.  It’s basically like a nightmare.

Long story short, I went to various doctors, got my blood tested and found out my ferritin(iron) levels were low for even a normal person.  I found out female distance runners need a significantly higher ferritin level than the average person.   My doctor recommended I take an iron supplement, and it will take about 3-6 months to get to levels where I should be at, what fun!

So why is iron so important to distance runners?

Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body.  If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t produce enough healthy red blood cells.  Without healthy red blood cells your body can’t get enough oxygen.   Endurance athletes thrive off this oxygen to help their muscles function.  I like to think of it this way,  If you don’t have enough iron, your body/muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen, so you’re basically suffocating your muscles.  Sounds like a fun time to me! 😉

Next week I will share some Iron rich foods that you can include in your diet on a weekly basis to keep those iron levels up!


If you think you may have an iron deficiency, talk to your doctor about it!

If you have any questioned about my story/struggle with an iron deficiency don’t be afraid to ask!


Have you ever struggled with low iron levels before?