For a very long time, I knew that something was off with my health and with my training. I didn’t know what though, and I certainly didn’t know what to do about it. There were times I thought I knew, and I would work to fix it, but then I would realize that I still didn’t feel very good, and that I had no idea if I was on the right path. I would wonder if it was all in my head, if I was helping myself or maybe even making myself worse with all my efforts.
I felt sluggish. Tired. Heavy. Uninspired. BLUE.
My running, which had always been a source of light and strength in my life, was feeling subdued, flat and heavy-hearted.
At one point I finally went to see my primary care doctor about how I was feeling and she ran some blood tests. A few days later she called me back and casually told me that my ferritin was “on the low end of normal.” She said they like to see it between a 7 and a 130, and that since mine was a 14 she thought I should consider taking an over-the-counter iron supplement and eating more iron-rich foods, such as red meat, to up my number.
Ferritin is our body’s way of storing iron in the blood. Without sufficient iron stores, we will begin to feel very fatigued and lack the desire to do things we typically love and have energy for … such as running, in my case. As an endurance athlete, it’s especially important to have adequate amounts of ferritin stored in our blood because we are constantly using it up while training and racing. A healthy ferritin number for a marathoner or triathlete is not going to be the same as it would be for someone who is sedentary or even just exercising for fitness.
Bottom line – what is normal for an average person is definitely not normal for an endurance athlete. And really to dig further, what is optimal for one endurance athlete might not be optimal for the next.
After getting this news from my doctor, I decided to make some changes to my diet (specifically – adding in meats after years of eating a vegetarian diet), take a food-based iron supplement (because I had read this would be gentler on my GI system, and I already had a sensitive system) and reduce my training load in both volume and intensity. I slowly began to feel better – and I mean SLOWLY – but it started getting me thinking about what else could possibly be going on in my body that needed to be addressed.
How can I truly know what to work on if I don’t understand more deeply what is happening inside? Is it really even only ONE thing? Rarely that’s the case, in my experience.
I was tired of guessing.
This is when I discovered InsideTracker. More than a blood test, InsideTracker provides valuable insight into health and performance by analyzing specific biomarkers for the endurance athlete and advising on how to make improvements – through diet and lifestyle changes – where necessary. In May, I took the Ultimate Test so I would have an idea of what I was starting with. My ferritin number had (happily) increased from a 14 to a 29 (it more than doubled!), which was very good news because it was trending in the right direction with the changes I had already made to my diet and training load. I can’t remember where I had heard this, but I read somewhere that increasing your ferritin is like trying to fill a swimming pool with a garden hose. It takes a VERY long time. I was on the right path though and this reassurance really made me happy. Still, even though I was feeling BETTER I wasn’t feeling GREAT, of course … and I knew that I had more work to do. There were some other biomarkers tested that really confused and also concerned me – my liver enzymes and blood glucose were both higher than optimal and I wasn’t really sure what that meant. I had been experiencing gut distress, and had food allergies develop out of the blue a couple of years ago during Boston training and wondered if it was possible (or really, likely to be PROBABLE) that all of this was somehow connected.
As an avid listener of Endurance Planet, I had wondered for a while if investing in the help of Tawnee Prazak would be a good idea for me. Tawnee spoke so openly about her own experiences of pushing herself too hard in sport and in life, developing an autoimmune condition, and healing her body and mind from the inside out. I love listening to her share her experiences and expertise and am always fascinated by the really incredible, super-smart people she interviews on the show. I find that each episode teaches me something and inspires me because they are honest and insightful conversations amongst pioneers who prioritize optimal health (via natural, holistic methods) AND strive for peak performance in endurance sports. This show made me realize that I wasn’t alone in what I was experiencing, and that there were things I could do to heal and strengthen not just my running, but my whole life.
If I did the right things, and was patient, I could restore my health and also be a great athlete and enjoy my sport again so much. So I reached out to Tawnee after that first InsideTracker blood test, and asked for her help.
An additional feature I love about InsideTracker is that the site allows me to send all of my blood work results to anyone I want to. I had already sent them to both my husband and to my running coach to review. So once I hired Tawnee I added her to my list so she could review my results directly also. She analyzed them and also had me complete a very thorough questionnaire as well as record my diet and exercise for a while (through MyFitnessPal) so she could see my nutrition intake and energy expenditure habits. Right from the get-go, Tawnee identified that my gut was under some pretty serious distress. She told me that in order for my body to heal, I had to make changes – some significant and some pretty minor – to my dietary habits and my training load and also my lifestyle (ie, stress management and reduction). She suspected that since my gut was not functioning well, it was likely that I really wasn’t adequately absorbing the nutrients from my healthy diet! In order to heal my gut and build a strong, robust system that could both absorb the nutrients I needed and protect me from harmful irritants, Tawnee had me start with a supplemental regimen that involved probiotics, multi vitamins, gut-healing remedies like home made bone broth and glutamine. She also had me stop taking many of the vitamins and minerals I had self-subscribed, including iron. Because my gut was all whacked out, and iron supplements are not gentle on the stomach, it really wasn’t serving me any good. She also recommended that I reduce stress on my system by taking things down a notch (or ten, lol) with my training (no racing, no majorly hard workouts) and finding ways to relax and de-stress that were more gentle on my body. This was hard for me to adjust to at first, I have to admit. I am a go-go-go person and like to be ALL IN when I do pretty much anything, very good at extremes and at pushing through discomfort. But what I needed to find now was balance, and moderation. Calm. Healing. Peaceful. So I have been working on this for the last few months, one day at a time.
As with everything in life, I am a work in progress. I had hour-long monthly calls with Tawnee between July through October, each time assessing how things were going and coming up with a new plan of action. In September, I took a follow up InsideTracker test which revealed some really amazing changes. The greatest thing we saw was that my ferritin was up to 102! I was amazed by this, that in 4 months I had more than tripled my ferritin. This was fantastic evidence that my gut was healing and that my body was now absorbing nutrients. How cool is that?
We also noticed though some things that made Tawnee think twice. My liver enzymes had improved, but were still slightly elevated. And while my cortisol was normal in both tests, it was definitely on the lower end. Tawnee wanted to look deeper into what was happening with my hormones so she had me take a DUTCH test, which measures your hormones throughout the day with urine samples. This test gave us insight into how my adrenals are functioning, and revealed that they are TIRED. I thought low cortisol was this really great amazing thing, and I was surprised because this last year was one of the most stressful years of my life so I imagined my cortisol would be really high … but it turns out that my adrenal glands are just tired of producing hormones to handle stress because they have been in overdrive for the last few years. So now they aren’t making enough of it when they are called upon to handle stress. And while we don’t want HIGH cortisol we also don’t want LOW cortisol. We need the right amount of it, to have a healthy response to stress. So now that I know this is what is ACTUALLY going on, I am really truly assured that I am on the right path.
I’ve been getting messages and notes from some of you, asking me about how I figured all of this out and how I was able to get my ferritin to reach an optimal level. This is a problem so many of us are faced with in endurance sports, to one degree or another and at one time or another. I got to the place I did because I really just didn’t know what I was doing wrong, or what I was in danger of experiencing. I of course never intended to deplete my iron, or to mess up my gut, or to cause so much stress to myself mentally and emotionally and to my body. And in my attempts to heal – I tried to eat better but my gut couldn’t handle that. I just didn’t know… how can you help yourself if you don’t really know what you need?
In my experience, the first step to healing is awareness. Recognition. Knowledge. You have to recognize that something isn’t right, or at least be open to the fact that it could be better. The next step is to dig deeper, to uncover the root of it. This is where InsideTracker can be very helpful. And maybe that’s enough for you and you can use the amazing advice and guidance they give you and start fixing things on your own, which is what I think works great for most of us. But in my case, I needed to go further because I knew it was more than I could handle on my own and I was so wiped out from feeling like I was hitting brick walls.
So I hired someone to help me, and you may want to do that too. (Tawnee is amazing).
On another note, I know this is sort of a jumbled post and I hope it hasn’t been too hard to read. I have been having a hard time making my blog writing a priority these days – so I decided this week that I am going to sit for 30 minutes every day and write sort of stream of conscious. Just share. My hope is that with practice I will get better at it and make more sense to you guys! 🙂
Anyway, I am sharing this because I hope it will shed some light for some of you on how good it can be to empower yourself with some knowledge (even if it’s difficult to accept sometimes), to make the RIGHT changes for you and your body, for your life. It is a long road and you are not alone…and there are really some great companies, and wonderful people out there who will understand you, support you and believe in you.
If you are interested in getting your blood tested with Inside Tracker, you can use the code PACEOFME for a 10% discount on any of their tests. I assure you it is worth it.
**I was not paid for this review. InsideTracker covered the cost of my blood work and testing. All thoughts and opinions are authentically my own.**