Sunday, June 30, 2013

Time to Shut Down and Retool

It dawned on me tonight as I shoveled prune after prune into my mouth, that I actually don’t know what fruit prunes come from.  Until now, all I have known about prunes is that they are found in cardboard boxes in old people’s fridges somewhere near the bottle of Italian dressing that expired last February (but, it’s still good!  That stuff doesn’t really expire!) AND that they are the source of some not-so pleasant tasting juice.

What am I doing eating prunes?  Plums, by the way.  They come from plums.  It turns out they are high in iron.  Furthermore, it turns out that I am low in iron.  Very low.  Alarming low.  Upon seeing my ferritin level, the doctor asked if I was having my period. 

I hadn’t been feeling energized in weeks.  Every run felt like work.  Every workout felt like death.  I was pushing as hard as I could, but the results showed otherwise.  I wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I went to the doctor and asked to have some blood work done.  I thought perhaps I was hypothyroid and maybe I could get some of those drugs that all of Alberto Salazar’s athletes get to take.  But while the tests found out-of-whack levels of almost everything else (including, but certainly not limited to my iron levels), my thyroid is just fine.

What’s next?  I did another round of blood tests to make sure the numbers from the initial test are accurate.  If they are, the first step will be finding the root of the problem.  It could be caused by a number of things, but the most likely culprit is a nervous system imbalance due a constant state of anxiety.  There are a couple of much more serious causes that are not outside the realm of possibility, but at this point they are not likely.  Let’s hope it stays that way. 

Of course, all of this is somehow related to a struggle with insomnia that has now lasted four months.  It has evolved from the inability to sleep most nights to the inability to sleep every night.  It's not that I am not tired.  It is that my brain seems to have forgotten how to shut down.  I am relying on Ambien every night (something I once swore I would never do) which does not actually induce sleep.  It induces amnesia.  Once it wears off, I am awake and no matter how tired I am, I cannot fall back to sleep.  Words don't properly illustrate how torturous this is. The question is: Is the insomnia causing the abnormal blood tests or are the blood abnormalities causing the insomnia. 

Following yesterday's five mile race in the park that felt like I was dragging a pickup truck behind me, I am hanging up my running shoes for a bit and focusing on letting my body restore itself.  While there is no proof running is causing any of this, a break would certainly allow my body to produce the hormones and nutrients it needs to function properly without having to restore muscle tears and other stores depleted by running.  I believe it's important for athletes on any level to know and listen to their bodies.  In this case, I knew something was wrong and now I know I need to be vigilant about fixing it.  Taking a step back from the daily grind of training could be the key to consistent training in the future. Continuing to push through workouts could prolong what has been one of the most trying periods of my life. 

The solution is much easier said than done.  I need to find the off switch and hit it as hard as I can to get it into place.  It has proven it's jammed in the "on" position pretty tight.  Ideally, I'd go to my parent's cottage for two weeks and leave every electronic I own in New York.  But, as an adult with real life responsibilities, that's not possible.  Instead, I'll control the variables I can and reduce physical and mental stress to the best of my ability.  Once the ball is rolling, hopefully, everything will fall into place.


  1. no credit given for solving the prune mystery? you're better than that.

    1. Am I a bad friend for immediately assuming he was going to talk about his bowel movements, and how prunes have helped to keep them regular?

  2. I can't speak to insomnia, but I can speak to the low iron: I fainted a couple of years ago after several weeks of feeling like I was high (that is the only way I know to describe it). It turns out my iron levels were so low, I was thisclose to needing a transfusion. It's surprising how terrible it can make you feel, and in a way that isn't obviously "Oh, my iron must be low". In an ideal world, you'll get on some iron supplements (in which case you're going to need those prunes for another reason, zzing!) and in a few months you'll be totally normal, sleeping habits and all. I'll keep my fingers crossed, buddy!