So…what if…what if I tried again? I know plenty of people who have tried doing the double marathon thing. What if I went for it again?

The thought of a double marathon started as a “yeah, right…you won’t do that,” joke in my head. I texted my coach, James, the night of Boston, thanking him for his help and support over the past few months, and slipped in this text:

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Spoiler: I didn’t shoot for sub-3, but I’ll talk about that in the recap. 🙂

I really didn’t think he’d even entertain the idea. I haven’t had a solid rest period in a really long time, and I went HARD for Boston training, with breakthrough workouts pretty much every other week.

Sure, I run for myself, and I can make my own decisions. But the bottom line is that I’m the type of person who needs to be held back every now and then. I need to be told no. Over the past year, James has been that person who has told me when to go for it…and when to back down in favor of health. So I trust him and I trust his advice.

So in response to my text, James didn’t say yes. But he also didn’t say no. He told me that we’d see how recovery went over the course of the next two weeks.

To be honest, part of me expected to be injured again after the marathon since that’s  been the theme over the past two years. So I agreed to be patient and see how I felt. In hindsight, I probably should’ve just stopped while I was ahead. I didn’t need to run Buffalo. But you live and learn. My aggression got the best of me, and I only have myself to blame.

But. Anyway. Post Boston…

I took 5 days completely OFF.
On the 6th day, I tried an easy 30 minute run with friends…and felt ok.
On the 12th day, I ran a fun and hilly 5k…and felt good. Good enough to come within a couple seconds of my PR.
On the 15th day, I ran my first mini workout…and felt incredible. The workout was 3 x 1.5 mile repeats and I practically skipped through the speed, averaging 6:23, 6:07, 5:59 for each segment.

I was really pumped up. Buffalo was going to happen!! But there was one final piece of the puzzle: I wanted to get my blood tested to see how things were looking from the inside out.

So I got in touch with my friends at Inside Tracker. I’ve been extremely thankful for their partnership over the past year. I never thought blood testing was an important part of training until James suggested it to me, even before I was under his coaching wing. His philosophy? Get a test when you’re feeling great so you can more-easily identify what might be going on when things go wrong.

I decided to give their new High Performance Panel a try because I was most curious in finding out what was going on with the 3 levels that had been concerning me from past tests: iron, Vitamin D, and cortisol. I told myself that if my results were in the red – not just with these 3 levels…but overall – I’d do some serious reevaluating about this second marathon thing.

Initially, I got my blood tested last year by my doctor after I was diagnosed with a stress reaction. It was my second bone injury in a year and my doctor and I wanted to see what was going on.

-That was in May. Fast forward a few months, to August, and I was finally running and doing workouts again. I was feeling great and PRed in my 10k after just 4 weeks of workouts. Feeling great? = Perfect time for a blood test. So I gave Inside Tracker a try.

Could I have gone back to my original doctor for a second blood test? Of course. But I was curious. I wanted to see what Inside Tracker was about. My insurance is also a pain in the ass, so getting another doctor’s appointment and blood tests done would’ve been an absolute nightmare. I also liked the education and support that Inside Tracker offered with its test results, and I was intrigued that the reading would be tailored to me-an athlete-not just a normal woman in her late 20s.

The results of my first two tests – May ’15  -> August ’15 – things looked…fine. They were fine enough that I didn’t make any drastic changes to my diet. I added a couple supplements-most notably an iron supplement-but that’s pretty much it. I figured the iron pill would work its magic in due time. And I had a great fall season! So I thought I was doing all the right things. I PRed in the 5k, 10k, and half marathon.

But then I got another test in February. In between August ’15 -> February ’16, things had changed in my life: I had wrapped up a really strong series of fall races coming off my injury….I was in the thick of marathon training….I was working full-time after previously being unemployed.

But the test results definitely woke me up.

My iron hadn’t budged. My Vitamin D had plummeted again. Cortisol had skyrocketed.

Crap.

It was time to change some things, especially with the most intense weeks of Boston training coming up (helloooo first-ever 80 mile week). So…I took action. And, thankfully, those changes made a difference and I saw the results when I retested in early May.

Note: there are many more biomarkers than just VitD/cortisol/iron…but I’m focusing on these 3 because they stood out to me the most as needing improvement. 

Vitamin D
The only time my VitD has been optimized was last August – after a summer of spending time in the sun. So when I saw my levels plummet, I decided it was time to finally start supplementing. So I found these amazing vitamins at Target and started taking 4000 IUs/day, per my Inside Tracker suggestions.

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Lemon-flavored VitD: the most exciting part of my morning vitamin cocktail.

And it seems to be working! Full disclosure: I didn’t purchase these vitamins until April, so I’m confident that my levels have only continued to increase since my latest May 6th reading.

Another major change that I think affected my VitD levels was my increased consumption of meat and fish, which I’ll talk about later in this post.

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Cortisol
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m an intense person. And I really like control. And when I don’t have control, it stresses me out. So it comes to no surprise that the only time my cortisol levels have been optimized was last August: when I was just starting to run again and I didn’t have a full time job.

Unfortunately, life can’t always be carefree. 🙂

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I suspect my cortisol levels skyrocketed in February because:
1. I finally had a job again
2. Some days, my job required me to get to work at 5AM, so I was getting limited sleep
3. Marathon training was intense

So what did I do to get my levels back to a downward trend? Between February -> May, I was able to cut down my early morning shifts, from 2-3/week to only 1/week. I focused on getting 8-9 hours of sleep/night, which not only helped my cortisol levels, but also helped my running performance immensely.

I also downloaded the “Meditation Studio” app on my phone for $2.99 and started applying the relaxation methods not only while I was falling asleep, but also while running. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for meditation recordings and help.

Iron(!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Last spring, right before I got injured, I unintentionally lost a lot of weight very quickly. It was such a quick physical change that my ART specialist actually asked if I was okay, and later told me that he suspected that my weight loss was one of the many factors that contributed to the femur problem. It was true: my training had increased very quickly and I hadn’t kept up with proper fueling. Knowing this combined with the fact that my iron levels were stagnant over the past 3 blood tests made me realize that popping an iron pill every now and then wasn’t going to cut it. So here’s where I made the biggest changes:

1 – I started taking iron supplements…ON A REGULAR BASIS.

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Magic potion

Thankfully, I do not get tummy problems when taking this on an empty stomach. So I focused on taking at least 2 pills/day. I believe that the key with this is my frequency and consistency. This little bottle comes everywhere with me: in my backpack to work…in an overnight bag…in my purse…everywhere.

Note: I’m not a doctor. So don’t necessarily do what I do and think it’ll magically work. I decided to try this iron pill frequency thing after discussing it with a close friend who also happens to be an MD. She is extremely intelligent and right about many things in life-including this-so I’m thankful for her guidance. 

2 – I changed my lunchtime diet. Instead of eating turkey sandwiches and pbjs for lunch, I started eating things like this:

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Green beans, potatoes, and pork…with a side of ketchup

And this:

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Steak salad with feta, roasted red peppers, and garlic crostini

Eating real meals (with MEAT!) for lunch has completely changed my energy and hunger levels. If I’m hungry midday, a few hours after lunch, I drink a protein shake. -not a measly apple. The cliche is true: protein really does fill you up and keeps you satiated longer.

And I’ve never been leaner. Between January and April, my body fat has gone from 19% to 17% and my performance has also obviously improved.

It would be remiss of me to mention that this improved diet has been immensely helped by my friend Luke, who owns The Strong Kitchen here in CT. Basically: Luke is an amazing chef and cooks food and prepares it in single-serve meal portions. I order said food online and choose my portion size (muscle gain, performance, or weight loss…I usually chose performance). Luke delivers my meals to the gym where I work. Bada bing, bada boom…no more pbjs for lunch.

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Credits: The Strong Kitchen

 

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MY FERRITIN/IRON LEVELS, YOU ASK?!

 

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Boom.

After almost a year of no changes with my iron levels, I finally achieved an upward surge. YES! That was the icing on the cake, seeing that the rest of my nutrient levels from the High Performance test were either optimized or were in a good place.

SO…based on my blood test results, it seemed as though I had the answers to my questions. I wasn’t about to implode. I wasn’t injured. I was feeling really good and my blood test proved that.

After debating between Vermont City and Buffalo as marathon choices, I decided on Buffalo because of its flat course and also because I’m from Central NY, so I’d be able to stop at home on the way back to CT.

Marathon number 2 was a go. The only thing left to do was to maintain fitness, remain uninjured, and run the damn race.