For those who don’t know me, I love my sleep. I was unwell when I was younger and as a result, it’s normal for me to sleep like a log (through the night) for an ideal 8 – 9 hours most nights to stay happy and healthy. So, in mid-June, when I had not slept through the night for over a week, I was starting to get a little beside myself…and so began the ringing of alarm bell number one!
Alarm bell #1: Disruptive sleep.
Even if I only wake for a minute or two, this is enough to be disruptive for me. Now, before I lose all of you who are thinking “I normally wake in the middle of the night”, remember this is just what’s relative to me! Disruptive sleep for me is waking at all, for someone else it may be trouble falling asleep or prolonged periods awake.
Alarm bell #2: Irritable, grumpy, easily annoyed.
I am a glass-half-full kind of person, and do my best to always be smiling…but recently, and those closest to me can attest to this (thank you for putting up with me, you know who you are) even the slightest things have got on my nerves, I got tired of my whinging and I’d even wake up grumpy…giving Gaz a run for his money!
Alarm bell #3: Dizzy in the pool.
Like my sleep, the pool is another thing that alienates me from the majority of people…I love it! It’s my happy place, easy, relaxing, and it makes me feel good. So when all of a sudden, I could no longer get my breath, I felt dizzy, and felt like fainting when I rolled onto my back or reached the end of the lane…I knew something wasn’t right.
Alarm bell #4: Empty legs.
I distinctively remember this last year, all of a sudden I couldn’t keep up with people I had been riding all winter with. My legs felt empty, the muscles were there, I just couldn’t harness any of the strength I knew they had.
Alarm bell #5: Missed alarm.
In the nearly 3 years I have been with Tri-Alliance (ie. waking up at 5am), I’ve only slept through my alarm twice – both for this very same reason. The fatigue was all consuming and as Simon would say, I had to use tooth picks to keep my eyelids open.
Alarm bell #6: Eyelids.
Rather than use toothpicks to keep them open, I should have looked at their colour! Turns out that it’s not an old wives’ tale that the colour under your bottom eyelid is an accurate sign of iron levels – the pinker the colour, the better your iron levels are. Paleness in general is also a sign, I’d suddenly lost my rosy cheeks too!
Alarm bell #7: Where did my brain go?
And the final alarm bell, was my brain not working! I would make mistakes at work, words missing, misspelt, or just completely not making sense…there will probably even be typos in this article! The icing on the cake, however, was when I calculated that my 3 hour parking spot at 9am would take me through to 1pm…I like maths and was good at it at school so the parking fine I received was distressing and did nothing to help my mood (alarm bell #2)!
All of this, thanks to a vital element we call iron, or lack thereof! Iron is an important part of haemoglobin, the part of your red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen around your body. Why my brain didn’t work…it was being starved of oxygen! Why I wanted to faint when I was swimming…my body was prioritising sending oxygen to my muscles (so that I could swim) rather than my head! Why my legs didn’t work…they couldn’t get all the oxygen they needed to fire! Crazy, huh?!
When training for a serious goal you become so attuned to every feeling that your body has. As I prepped for the World Champs last year, I was so hyper aware of my body that I knew something was up when I started to experience these symptoms. Initially I saw my doctor where my iron level was found to be 7, I was prescribed oral tablets and after 3 months, my levels were 29 and it was suggested I “wait a bit longer”. With the World Champs looming, “waiting” did not feel like an option for me! Finally, I was referred to the best doctor going ‘round who took one look at my iron levels and gave me an iron infusion. Within a week, I had literally snapped back to myself and within 2 months, my iron levels up at 121.
When I got even a hint of these symptoms again this year, I went straight back to the good doctor to find out my iron was 11 and received an infusion that same day. My doctor tells me that for a person going about their day to day life, an iron level of 50 would be ideal but for an athlete training for triathlon, 150 would be more preferred.
So why am I telling you this? Well, I feel fortunate that I figured this out last year and don’t know if I would have, had I not been training for such a big goal and had I not been so honest with my coach. If it wasn’t for last year, I don’t know that I would have known what was going on this year, and I want to arm others with the info so that they may know too. We frequently talk about how normal it is to feel tired but there’s a limit to that!
You may also be wondering why my iron gets so low? Well, I’m wondering that too and I’m working with my doctor to figure it out…there may just be another article!
And before I finish, I need to reinforce that I am not a doctor nor medical professional, I’m sharing this to encourage you to listen to your body, to trust your gut (did you know it’s actually connected to your brain so it’s worthwhile trusting!?) and most of all – DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK. Whatever you have going on, whether it’s a health issue, something you’re struggling with, an idea you have read or heard about that you want to give a go, something you don’t understand at training…the coaches and other athletes are here to support one another and chances are, they or someone they know has been through it too!
“While we may be individually strong, we are collectively powerful.”