Sreeja Reddy ran a 28 min 5k to finish on the podium at Durshet Forest marathon in August 2019. Her training had been going great and she had consistently been improving her 5k times. We had big goals for the remaining year and breaking 26 min was possible.
With high hopes, she began building her running base doing long aerobic runs and easy runs over the next few months. In October, in a time trial she ran in 27:15. She improved by 45 seconds but something felt off. She was gasping for air after the run and didn't feel comfortable.
Not giving it too much thought, she continued to train into the anaerobic phase building for the December races. As she trained, she got slower and she kept struggling through workouts. Even a single 400m or 200m repeat brought her to her knees. In December, she raced a 35 min 5k (7 min slower than Durshet) and completely lost her breath. For a runner who logged over 35-40 km a week in running, that was the last straw. Something was definitely wrong and needed to be fixed.
She decided to get a blood test done as we suspected that her haemoglobin count might be low. Sure enough, when the results came back, we knew exactly what was wrong. Her haemoglobin count was 8 and the normal is between 12 and 15 for girls.
This condition of low haemoglobin levels is known as Anemia. Haemoglobin is responsible to carry oxygen from the lungs to the tissues in the body where where by aerobic respiration, our body produces energy. Sreeja's high energy demand along with low haemoglobin levels caused her to gasp for air since her working muscles weren't getting enough oxygen.
It's common to have low haemoglobin levels in athletes because of the increase in the plasma volume which reduces the concentration of red blood cells which contains the oxygen carrying haemoglobin. Low haemoglobin levels can be caused in female athletes because of heavy menstrual periods that causes the iron levels to fall.
By mid-December, her doctor put her on a 1.5 month course of supplements to increase her levels. Slowly, but surely, she started to feel better and running was comfortable for her again. She felt better during training and her times began to improve. Her training had been working but her haemoglobin levels just weren't enough to power her workouts.
Should you ever feel an abnormal shortness of breath or frequent dizziness during your runs, get your blood tested and you might just solve the problem before it dramatically affects your training and health.
As for Sreeja, in January of 2020, she ran a personal best of 26 min and in late February she went on to run her fastest time, finishing a 5k in 23:20. Her runs are now more comfortable and often puts in 8-9 repeats of 400m without falling to the ground.
She's now off the supplements and her goals for this year are bigger than ever. Running under 22 min for 5k by the end of 2020 seems within reach for this 14 yr old.