About 5 months ago I stopped trying to run fast.
I know, I know, my handle is ‘runfastersarah’… Ironic, right?
But I think I might be able to live up to my ‘name’ again these days! Let me tell you why…
Late last year I hired a very expensive new coach. I’d just come out of training for a fast Long Beach Marathon – and had ‘failed’ quite miserably (in the sense that I did not achieve my goal). Thinking some fresh direction was in order, this new coach promised me a sub-3:21 no problem and so I paid up. Just under 2 months later I ran my slowest 8k race ever. My fitness level proved to be pretty much at rock bottom. I can’t blame it on this particular coach – I later learned I was struggling with iron-deficiency. But at that point I didn’t know it.
No matter how hard I pushed, I was barely able to run at a pace faster than my easy pace. Honestly? It was soul crushing. It was making me super sad and frustrated. So I stepped away from trying to run fast and began running only easy paced runs. I abandoned my dream of a sub 3:21 spring marathon and decided to run it for fun. Only happy runs. I gave up on speed work – intervals and tempos of any kind – and I began to love running again.
So then I decided to run farther – all at an easy pace of course. This was a new challenge my body appeared to be able to handle and so I went with it! I ran the IronKnee 25km trail race and the MEC 55km trail race and then the Tenderfoot 50 miler from Squamish to Whistler. I was having SO MUCH FUN. But then…
In the middle of running these ultra’s I discovered I was clinically iron deficient. My ferritin levels (at 13) were below 15 which is the line at which one crosses from probable iron deficiency to clinically iron deficient (healthy levels are typically above 50). And I was bordering on iron deficiency anemia meaning my hemoglobin levels were (at 125) dangerously close to being below 120 – healthy levels are between 135 to 160. I was in disbelief (as my diet was and is extremely iron-rich), but at least I finally realized what was behind me not being able to run fast anymore.
As a nutritionist I knew exactly what needed to be done, so I immediately began supplementing with the right types of iron and in the right amounts (you can read in detail here what I did). Truth be told, as a nutritionist I’m bit embarrassed to admit it took me so long to realize iron-deficiency might be my problem. I talk about it and teach on it so much… Yet another irony.
Not surprisingly I quickly began to feel better and noticed some semblance of speed coming back. However, I was still extremely hesitant to try an actual speed workout of any sort – particularly being that I was in the middle of ultra training. Why switch things up now? But I began occasionally frequenting the new SportChek clinic on Robson Street – a half and full marathon training program. Two weeks ago I ended up at one of their Wednesday night speed training sessions. I took it super easy, pretty much just ran easy at the back while everyone else ran hard – all good.
Last week I went again with the same intentions. Again I told myself I’d just run it easy and hang out at the back. But this time somehow the minute everyone took off, I all of a sudden found myself near the front with one of the leaders who appeared to have taken me under her wing to pace me through the workout. How could I let her down now? So I maintained my pace for the tempo bit and when it came time to pick up the pace for the FAST bit, I complied and tried to follow her – and my legs responded! With this SportChek group leader there by my side, I managed to complete the entire workout, all four sets, really strong… Really actually FAST. Having her there, watching the timing and pacing me like that, was AMAZING. I felt so good!
I’m still in ultra training. My run farther goals are in full effect as I train for my Mountain Lakes 100 ultra in September. However, I’m beginning to think I just might be in a position to add speed work back into my schedule, after nearly 5 months of being scared right off of it. So off to the SportChek run clinic I go tonight – in hopes of that same magic being repeated this week, and I just might be running ‘faster’ again sooner than I’d hoped for 🙂