Testing for Answers

Have you ever just felt exhausted? Toward late August of last year I noticed my body was just “off.”  I was a good month and a half removed from my last race, so I thought by now I should be recovered.  Unfortunately, I was dead tired in the middle of the day for no reason.  I had a hard time in strength classes. I wasn’t training for anything, keeping my efforts low, but still my body was failing me.  I remember my breaking point was driving back home from a nice and easy trail run and almost falling asleep at the wheel, and it was only 1pm in the afternoon.  I knew something was wrong.

To rewind – I had run my first 50 mile race in May, and then ran the Silver Rush 50 in July, so I thought two months to recover should be enough.  I hadn’t raced this distance ever before, and was used to how my body would recover after a road marathon. Trail ultramarathon recovery was new to me.

I decided it was time to see a functional medicine doctor.  She recommended blood and saliva tests.  The results came back that I was 1) low in iron, 2) suffering from adrenal fatigue, and 3) hormones were all out of balance.  While all of this was hard to process, it at least helped explain why I was feeling so “off,” and was also a lightbulb moment!  Together with my doctor and a nutritionist, we developed a plan to get me back to myself again.  I focused a LOT on diet, and added in some supplements to help with my iron deficiency. 

After a six week re-check things were improving, but I still wasn’t healing as much or as fast as needed.  I felt more energy, but my body still wasn’t back to normal.  We tweaked my nutrition plan and the supplements I was taking.  Now I also had pain in my hip and overall aches and pains that weren’t normal for me.  I hadn’t run in over a month (to let my body heal and get a true break), I was diligent about my PT exercises, and was keeping up with my anti-inflammatory nutrition plan. Still, I was dealing with this stabbing pain in my hip/groin area.  An MRI on my hip came back negative (thank God), only showed inflammation. Most likely my whole body was still fighting inflammation.

So another month of no running and PT exercises which consisted of body weight and band work, no heavy weights to continue to let my body recover from the adrenal fatigue.

I went back to my doctor and I retested my levels only to find that my testosterone was now at the VERY low end (it was low before, but for some reason had dropped more).  Low testosterone in women can cause fatigue, muscle weakness, sleep disturbances, and impair the healing process.  Another lightbulb moment.  I received my first testosterone replacement therapy (pellets) in December and about two weeks later I felt a noticeable difference.  My hip was finally feeling better.  The leftover “hangover” of symptoms from the low iron and adrenal fatigue were slowly going away.  I was more myself again.

About a month after the pellets I noticed my strength training felt back to my normal.  I was power hiking on the treadmill with no pain and felt more energy.  Baby steps in the right direction.

It was now mid-January and I really hadn’t run since October, thus it was time to go on a test run.  I warmed up for a good two miles on the treadmill and then slowly (and tentatively) started to increase the speed to a slow jog.  I was trying to be positive but hadn’t had a pain free run with my hip in forever nor a run where I didn’t feel exhausted.  I reminded myself to not overthink it and…just…run.  And you know what, I was running, pain free!!!!  Sure it was slower than my usual pace, but I didn’t care, I WAS RUNNING!

It was crazy that it took August through mid-January to feel like myself again, slowly, but surely.

As I shared my experience with my female running community at my gym, I learned of a few other woman had gotten bloodwork done, and all were low in iron, most deficient in several vitamins/minerals and some also had hormones that were all out of balance.

What I hope is by being open with my struggle, it helps another woman get tested.

I fear that A LOT of women athletes in endurance sports are struggling with similar issues, but as women we think we can push through, or that it’s normal to feel tired.  Listen when your body is talking to you and seek the help that’s going to keep you in the sport for a long long time!

Katie O'Connor

Katie O'Connor

I’ve been running since High School cross country, where my love for the sport started! Ran my first marathon in 2003 and the rest is history! I love the confidence, strength and community running has given me. And I started coaching to help others find that same love!!!I am a UESCA Certified Run Coach, have been running competitively since 2003, and have been in the fitness industry for over 10 years. I am passionate about helping other runners achieve their goals. From beginners to seasoned runners tackling new goals, I am here to help you be the strongest [mentally & physically] runner you can be [and have fun doing it]!I live in Chicago with my high school sweetheart husband, our daughter, and our cat.

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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