Low HR Training

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an example on how diet affects running (Read 1115 times)

    when you read about maffetone training in general, you may notice that it is mentioned that if improvement does not happen after 3-6 weeks or you improved but then get on a plateau for no reason, then your diet may be the problem. I never really understood that part, I assumed that if someone is not malnutritioned and keeps up with energy requirements while perhaps taking some vitamin supplements and no problem with carb intolerance then it should be largely fine.

     

     

    well what happened to me over the winter and especially in the spring now was a good example of that and now I understand that part as I experienced myself how it can go wrong. I learned this very recently (2 days ago, basically).

     

     

     

    when it probably first started (slight speculation here but I'm pretty sure) was when I ran a great HM PR at the end of november. the only thing I could not explain is that as soon as I tried to bring pace (and HR) near or beyond LT, my leg muscles would start hurting in a really weird way and I felt like I could not keep the pace because it was so taxing on my muscles. it was primarily parts of the hamstrings and the quadriceps muscles but perhaps some lower leg muscles too, just less noticeably (I'm not even sure if lower leg was affected at all by this). so I had to resign to running the entire race well below LT pace and LT HR. even though I planned on surging the last few miles well past LT. I had to resign to a slower race result too though it was still an awesome PR by many minutes (I'm still so proud of that!!).

     

     

    before I ran that HM race, I was already going into base build for the winter. so in the weeks leading up to the HM race I started running about 6-7 hours a week (less in race week) at low HR. you see, I was not trying to prepare for the half marathon by sharpening. (that can wait until I become a better runner.) the HM race was the last race of my race session.

     

     

    after the HM, I was not sure what the muscle pain was but I noticed that the weird feeling would come back every time I tried to run a pace past LT. below LT no problems.

     

     

    after that I got into full base build mode, no faster runs, certainly nothing at LT or even near it. so this did not bother me. I even forgot about it for a while.

     

     

    so I was base building and that went on from december to end of winter. I felt great, and my paces kept improving at low HR including MAF HR. I got up to highest consistent mileage in my running life so far. this may not sound a lot to some experienced runners, but by february it was around 40-50mpw and 7-9 hours a week.

     

     

    after that,  some faster paces were introduced. first these were sub-tempo runs where "sub"means pace was slower than LT pace. going past LT pace itself was still not "100%". and I saw that my pace at higher HR's did not nearly improve as much as at lower HR (very little improvement at higher HR, actually). I found that curious.

     

     

     

    anyway, then one day I did some little interval running to wake up fast twitchers (they were 100's). it went great. the problem was, that soon after that workout I started having weird muscle issues if I was running any faster than a really slow pace. at faster but not really fast (~10min/mile or faster) a "heavy legs" feeling would develop after I was into ~30mins of the run and then it would gradually worsen into pain if continuing the run. this was mainly in quadriceps and usually both legs. at harder paces the symptoms would develop earlier and would then hurt a lot more.

     

     

    the feeling was basically like I was going "locally anaerobic" in my quadriceps muscles. even though my HR and my breathing did not show any sign of going anaerobic. (though, of course, paying attention to HR and breathing to determine this was a bit misleading, because it uses the assumption that in normal cases you only go anaerobic when your oxygen uptake is also significantly increased. meaning, the two go hand in hand in running in normal cases. but I should have remembered that anaerobic metabolism on its own will not necessarily affect HR and breathing that much, i.e. HR and breathing can stay pretty low-ish.)

     

     

    I promptly decreased my mileage, added extra rest days and I did slow runs most of the time waiting for my body to come around. and I never had a chance to get back to a high mileage after all this started.

     

     

    my MAF pace initially did not deteriorate even though at faster paces I would struggle with the muscle issues. a proper long run at any faster-than-MAF pace was out of the question. I did quite a lot of MAF HR runs because they did not hurt. I like to think it was because the MAF HR for me involves very few fast twitchers. I would finally recover and I was able to run a bit faster without pain. but a few days later, one day came where even the MAF pace started hurting. too bad because that day I had the best MAF pace in my life so far. for some reason HR was very low that day so I'm thinking it was maybe involving more fast twitchers than usual hence the hurting but I still don't really understand that one run.

     

     

    after this HR vs pace relationship got worse, including MAF pace, it dropped to the 11's. and my HR would unexplicably go drift up fast in runs like I was losing all my endurance. very curiously, I did not lose my speed, i.e. I was able to sprint 300m full all-out without any loss of speed and without pain.

     

     

    at this point, I was advised to try and increase my protein intake in my diet. I did that and consequently, I recovered from this second bout of the problem in a few days. I kept the protein intake high and I felt fine, my HR started returning to normal and even past LT pace/HR I did not have any symptoms. finally!! I did not feel this good at paces past LT since november.

     

     

    alas, a few more days (1-2 weeks) passed, and the problem returned in a seemingly unexplicable way! despite keeping my protein intake high. my HR would drift even worse and MAF pace definitely declined into the 11's and would not come back anymore. and my legs would get so heavy I could not even hold a 10min/mile pace easily, not even for 30mins. it started affecting my life too, until then I did not have symptoms during the day but now I did: I was sleeping a lot more and felt pretty crappy after things like going up stairs to my apartment etc.

     

     

    at this point I finally figured out what the direct cause of all this was - with my suspicions I went to the doctor, I got a complete blood test and it confirmed that my iron levels including the iron stores in the body were extremely low. red blood cell quality also was not quite adequate anymore.

     

     

    my last blood test was about a year ago, they did not check my iron stores but iron in the blood was within normal even if perhaps on the pretty low end of the range and so were my red blood cells. the only one thing that was out of normal range was the TIBC (another iron related value), but it did not fire off any warnings for my doctor. I wondered about the TIBC and the low-ish though normal iron level and basically asked if I should take iron supplements and they said nope. again as I said, this was a year ago.

     

     

    anyway, apparently my diet was not good enough to keep up the iron levels with my periods as a woman AND running. after the nice base building, once I tried to add some faster running and my period came at the same time (what bad luck!!), it was asking for too much extra iron which could not be provided from my depleted iron stores and I quickly slid into this abyss. and it definitely got worse with each period with the last one being the final nail in the coffin! i.e. I could not even run much anymore.

     

     

    as I understand it, both the periods and the running cause blood and hence iron loss. and the two together was too much and symptoms would gradually come up after fully depleting my iron stores as my body struggled to make enough red blood cells.

     

     

    so, this is one example of how diet is important. in my case, I do not like meat and I don't eat it. adding more proteins into my diet (more fish, more eggs etc) did help as this does mean more iron with it gets to my body, but the hole has been dug too deep already so this only helped for a little while. now I am and will be taking iron supplements for a few months... afterwards I will still have to watch my diet more.

     

     

    this was also a curious example of how I was still able to improve MAF pace for a while even after I was getting into real trouble with my fully depleted iron stores - I just didn't know it yet as I was mostly asymptomatic. I'd long suspected something though, as I'd already failed to improve LT pace and vo2max pace before any serious symptoms would come.

    basically, vo2max pace is the most sensitive marker here because it indicates total oxygen processing capacity and the body's iron levels are heavily related to that. so vo2max pace was the first one to fail to improve. it did bother me a bit but my paces were getting better for submaximal HR's and low HR's so I was not too worried yet. 

    next, LT failed to improve but I ignored that as I was getting into base building anyway. and then my legs started hurting as they were getting deprived of oxygen - extra anaerobic activity! it has been proven in studies that with depleted iron stores even without anemia (!), blood lactate levels are increased during exercise and even at rest. at this point I knew something was seriously wrong and I was seriously worried and disturbed - and when the hole was finally large enough, MAF pace also started to decline. that was about the final nail in the coffin...

     

     

     

    this is my second running regression in my running life so far. in neither case was MAF pace the most sensitive marker, because other symptoms, body cues, etc. signs came up before MAF pace would decline - but it did eventually decline. and when the paces declined I of course got extremely interested in solving the issues.

     

     

    hope this "case study" is interesting and perhaps it will help someone in the future.

      Thanks for sharing that, C. I've seen anemia decimate the running of someone I know. Painful legs. Took awhile to bottom out. Once the problem was diagnosed, and the reasons for the anemia eliminated, health returned, as well as the running, and legs feeling better. I also have another friend who was vegan for a number of years, lots of whole wheat and nuts. She wasn't a runner, but was pretty active. She ended up in a pretty sorry state of anemia, and almost departed planet earth. She has made a full recovery by adding red meat, poultry, an fish back into her diet, avoiding whole wheat and gluten, and soaking nuts and seeds overnight. She found out the wheat and raw nuts were ruining her digestion, and she wasn't absorbing iron, as well as other elements in food. She is now living a robust, energetic life.

       

       

      I wish you a speedy return to a hemoglobin filled life. Cool

       

      --Jimmy

        Thanks for sharing that, C. I've seen anemia decimate the running of someone I know. Painful legs. Took awhile to bottom out. Once the problem was diagnosed, and the reasons for the anemia eliminated, health returned, as well as the running, and legs feeling better. I also have another friend who was vegan for a number of years, lots of whole wheat and nuts. She wasn't a runner, but was pretty active. She ended up in a pretty sorry state of anemia, and almost departed planet earth. She has made a full recovery by adding red meat, poultry, an fish back into her diet, avoiding whole wheat and gluten, and soaking nuts and seeds overnight. She found out the wheat and raw nuts were ruining her digestion, and she wasn't absorbing iron, as well as other elements in food. She is now living a robust, energetic life.

         

         

        I wish you a speedy return to a hemoglobin filled life. Cool

         

        --Jimmy

         

         

         

        thanks! Smile

         

        sorry to hear that it was almost fatal for a friend of you. how come it was not diagnosed earlier?

         

        my health did not get too affected (hopefully), I'm only borderline anemic, i.e. not too far from the low part of normal range. (though, of course I would like to get better than just low normal hemoglobin etc)

         

        I did not post about this before, because I was very puzzled and nobody had any idea. but now that I know the reason I wanted to write about this in detail.

          thanks! Smile

           

          sorry to hear that it was almost fatal for a friend of you. how come it was not diagnosed earlier?

           

           

          The usual. She didn't go to a doctor until she was woke up after passing out. Leading up to that she was feeling exhausted.

            Thanks for sharing this Cmon2.  I recall reading some stuff on the main forum about this.  This is a link.

             

            http://www.runningahead.com/forums/topic/8f6c3d76d3f94609a9f4e0836f55ce30

             

            There is probably more than one thread on this topic over there.  One thing I recall reading is that a you can be at the low end of the normal range for a non-runner.  But, if you are a runner, your iron really needs to be up at a higher level than at the low end of the range.  I am really glad you were able to figure this out.  It is amazing how just one thing can be off and it can throw off your running.

             

            After reading about iron deficiency last year, I decided to start taking multivitamins more.  I decided to eat a better diet.  I don't think I was deficient, but it just made me more conscious of it.  I now have salads every day for lunch that always includes lots of spinach leaves and other dark green things.

              jimmyb: oh wow. well, I understand because I didn't want to go to a doctor either. Smile

              but when I saw that the increased protein intake only worked for a couple of weeks, I realized it was something else I was taking in with the protein rich foods and that of course could only be iron... a moment later I had another revelation - I realized that the protein thing worked exactly until my next period came and then no longer. I was just at the end of that period when I was thinking about all this. and this was when I finally knew for 99% sure that it was the iron even though I was not displaying the typical anemia symptoms (not severe anemia yet).


               

              run48: thanks, jimmyb already sent me that link Smile it was a good read - thanks to you both!
              you are right about the iron levels for runners should be higher than low-normal. I didn't know that before reading up on the topic online. doctor last year said that I was okay with a low-ish but normal iron.

              now I am not even in the low end of normal iron ranges, I'm significantly below normal. the doctor was rather surprised when he saw my new blood test results...

              spinach is supposedly not a great iron source because of oxalates or whatever. Sad

              if you like meat then you could be better off by eating meat (heme iron is better than the iron in any vegetable but of course vegetables are useful for many other things! so shouldn't stop eating them Smile )

                Some more links for the hemoglobin--challenged:

                 

                http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=20675

                 

                interview with elite marathoner, Alan Culpepper, who became anemic:

                http://www.runnersworld.com/article/1,7120,s6-243-292--10856-0,00.html

                 

                thread on the old Coolrunning (sigh of nostalgia):

                http://www.coolrunning.com/forums/Forum4/HTML/010015.shtml

                 

                Matt Fitzgerald:

                http://running.competitor.com/2010/08/features/anemia-and-the-runner_12310

                  Normal aging doesn't help matters either:
                  http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=15737

                   

                  And then there is voluntary anemia.  I just donated blood a few weeks ago and it dramatically affected my MAF pace.  Here are my recent first mile (after warm up) MAF paces:

                   

                  4/18/2011  13:23
                  4/21/2011  Donated blood
                  4/26/2011  15:19
                  4/29/2011  14:28
                  5/2/2011   13:31

                   

                  And more on diet recommendations here:
                  http://vablood.org/pdfs/Dont%20let%20low%20iron%20keep%20you%20from%20donating.pdf

                    nice links!! Smile

                     

                    markshank: yeah, I'm not surprised you experienced that decline in the pace...

                     

                    I also experienced how much the extra blood loss can matter. I gave quite some blood for the blood tests (complete tests, not just iron), probably a bit more blood was lost than in one menstrual period, and I did feel crap afterwards for a few days and running went even more miserable than before. no wonder....

                     

                    of course if you have enough iron in your body iron stores then blood donation is not a bad thing at all....especially if you have a rare blood type Smile (I do)

                      a follow-up: I have been taking iron for almost 4 weeks now.

                       

                      it seems my HR has come back to "normal" in this last week. I mean, I noticed after about 2 weeks that my HR was not drifting up like crazy anymore and the pace that my legs would tolerate without going "anaerobic" improved...this pace suddenly improved about 1min/mile over a few days in the third week. HR also improved along with it. so I guess the iron supplementing has now really started paying off. Smile

                       

                      I wasn't running a lot in these few weeks. every second day, 30mins runs then I increased them to 45mins after a while. HR low but not very low because I guess the neuromuscular improvements stayed and so it was too much out of sync trying to run a much slower pace than what my system got used to. so I usually let HR be in the 160's.

                       

                      after I noticed my pace/HR relationship got back to normal (and the feeling in my legs too), I started increasing the training load. not too drastically yet, just 30miles for last week. Smile

                       

                      once I can see I can tolerate this and paces&HR stay good, I will start proper training. Smile

                       

                      I started out with a pretty miserable run with an avg. pace of 12min/mile and HR would drift to over 160 in 15mins.. now I did a run at 10:30min/mile and I averaged better HR for longer time than in that miserable run before.

                       

                      let me add just a few tips for iron supplementing that I've been paying strict attention to:

                       

                      1) vitamin C with each dose of iron. (500mg is recommended, but generally, the vitamin C should be 6-7times the weight of the dose of the elemental iron you're taking with it.)

                      2) taking iron on empty stomach (or at least 2 hours after meal, 1 hour prior to meal)

                      3) liquid iron is supposed to absorb better (I got this ferrous sulfate elixir thing here, 5ml is 44mg elemental iron - I dilute this of course, and I dissolve vitamin C powder in it and then drink it - I will drink it through a straw because it is so acidic and taste isn't too great either).

                      3b) I also heard that chelated iron works well (very gentle on stomach and absorbs good and doesn't cost too much). there is also heme iron tablets (which would be the best) but I find it too expensive.

                      4) don't take calcium with iron

                      5) if you must take iron with a meal, the meal should not include the following: dairy. and I think no wheat, rye or similar grains (due to fibers). also, black tea, green tea, coffee should be separated from iron

                      +1: take at least 100mg ... but 200mg better Smile (start with lower amount then increase after 2 weeks to 200mg, is what I did)

                      +2: don't stop until you got ferritin levels up at 50 or so. (this I still haven't got to yet, I guess...I will have a follow-up blood test as per request of the doctor)

                        Cool Great post, C! Glad to see hemoglobin coming back into your life.

                        Keep going!

                         

                        --Jimmy

                        Can I be Frank


                        Walk This Way...this way

                          cmon2,

                          Thanks for the update!
                          You've nicely enumerated key
                          aspects of iron supplementation.
                          Great to see your positive results.

                          You've encouraged me to pick up the
                          bottle again. (Iron tablets, that is).
                          I polished off 100 X 65mg. @ 1/day
                          recently. Time for a refill.

                          A serious error on my approach, though:
                          I tend to throw the kitchen sink at a
                          perceived weakness, which is probably
                          not scientific.. eg: I'll make attempts
                          to reduce stress, get better sleep, bump
                          up consumption of spinach, sardines,
                          fortified cereal, etc., all in addition to the
                          Iron caps; then expect revelation of
                          cause, effect. Not that conclusive.
                          It's back to work.

                          ts

                          Aspiring, (Fe)man

                            I'm pretty sure that I have been experiencing the symptoms of anemia. I was easily running 50-60 miles a week for the first three to four months of the year, then in the last four weeks I've been struggling to get 30 miles in. I was running an average of 7 miles a day with some harder workouts thrown in the mix and now a 5 miler feels like torture.

                             

                            It may be time to get some tests done because I'm tired of feeling tired all the time.

                             

                            The pain that hurts the worse is the imagined pain. One of the most difficult arts of racing is learning to ignore the imagined pain and just live with the present pain (which is always bearable.) - Jeff

                             

                            2014 Goals:

                             

                            Stay healthy

                            Enjoy life

                             

                              cmon2,

                              Thanks for the update!
                              You've nicely enumerated key
                              aspects of iron supplementation.
                              Great to see your positive results.

                              You've encouraged me to pick up the
                              bottle again. (Iron tablets, that is).
                              I polished off 100 X 65mg. @ 1/day
                              recently. Time for a refill.

                              A serious error on my approach, though:
                              I tend to throw the kitchen sink at a
                              perceived weakness, which is probably
                              not scientific.. eg: I'll make attempts
                              to reduce stress, get better sleep, bump
                              up consumption of spinach, sardines,
                              fortified cereal, etc., all in addition to the
                              Iron caps; then expect revelation of
                              cause, effect. Not that conclusive.
                              It's back to work.

                              ts

                              Aspiring, (Fe)man

                               

                               

                              thanks Smile 

                               

                              have you had your ferritin tested? if not, then you should do so before starting iron supplementing. for men this is important, because without the monthly blood and iron loss, it can put you at risk for iron overload. especially if you have the iron overload genes

                               

                              sorry if this is trivial info to you Smile just making sure!

                                I'm pretty sure that I have been experiencing the symptoms of anemia. I was easily running 50-60 miles a week for the first three to four months of the year, then in the last four weeks I've been struggling to get 30 miles in. I was running an average of 7 miles a day with some harder workouts thrown in the mix and now a 5 miler feels like torture.

                                 

                                It may be time to get some tests done because I'm tired of feeling tired all the time.

                                 

                                 

                                sorry to hear you're having issues! for men this is less likely to be a problem by default but a lot of running like that 60miles+harder workouts could cause a negative iron balance even for men. are you eating any red meat?

                                 

                                I assume you are going to get hemoglobin and other RBC values tested by default, but that may not be enough to determine if you have an iron problem, in pre-anemic state HGB and other values might be on the low end of normal..so if you get a borderline RBC result, get the iron stores checked too..

                                 

                                for assessing iron stores, the best measurement is supposed to be soluble transferrin receptor, because it is not affected by inflammation processes. ferritin can be slightly elevated in such cases (CRP and ESR can be markers of inflammation).

                                but, if you get a low ferritin level, especially if it is along with a high level of transferrin/TIBC, then you do not really need to know sol.transferrin receptor levels. so just try ferritin first.

                                I'm saying that in case it costs you extra to test the transferrin receptor - I don't know about all that health insurance stuff in the USA.

                                 

                                btw, it could be that there is some other nutritional deficiency (so let's not forget that possibility), but iron is most likely (excluding "plain" overtraining) because running causes so much iron loss.

                                 

                                I'll be curious to hear about the results!

                                 

                                I'm curious, what feels like torture about the 5miler? do your legs get heavy or is it your heart rate that drifts crazy high?

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