With my crazy running schedule (self induced, of course), I really have to be careful about other things that I commit to, things that will take away the resources necessary to complete the training for my next race(s). Some activities, ideas, trips or adventures may sound like a good opportunity, but when I really analyze whether any of them are the right opportunities at the right time, more often than not, they aren’t for me. At least not at that moment in time. There’s just not enough energy, money, time and my husband’s patience to do it all.
There is one thing that I have continued to keep in my schedule throughout the last three and a half years of running: donating blood.
My first blood donation was in Bermuda in February 2006; I typically donate 2-4 times a year depending on what the need is by our local blood bank. For me, donating blood is NOT an easy task: from the first donation when I almost passed out (they took the needle out before I completely went under) to the time I actually passed out immediately after donating blood (and woke up to about 15 doctors and nurses staring at me as I came to). That was a few years ago (2011), but it is always the first thing I tell the phlebotomist when I go in. I want them to be prepared. I want them to know they need to distract me. I want them to know that I prefer to not pass out and be the talk of the blood bank that week. The worst part: this fear I have is 100% psychological.
So far, so good. (And of course all of my history is written in my file; they all know I am a ‘problem’ patient.) And I just donated my 30th pint last week.
When anyone donates a pint of blood, it takes several weeks for the red blood cells to be completely replaced. The haemoglobin in the red blood cells carries oxygen around your body. After donating, I can’t walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath, and my runs the rest of the week start out as pretty awful, but gets easier as the week goes on. As a runner, it often takes me two weeks or longer to feel 100% again as far as running is concerned. This is not an insignificant amount of time to take out of a marathon training plan. It might mean the difference between a goal pace/time and not being able to get to that level of training. Ideally a donation would be planned for early weeks in a training plan, a drop back week in the middle or perhaps just after completing a marathon.
Our small island has such a limited pool of donors, so my donations are important to our local blood supply. Because I am physically able to donate, I do. Every time I donate, my pint can save up to three lives. In my book, saving three lives is always more important than any training run or marathon goal.
So yes, there are times when running isn’t a priority in my marathon training cycle. When I am called by the blood bank (and assuming I don’t have a marathon within the coming three weeks, and that the blood bank isn’t down to their absolute last pint), I go in and donate. I will always do what I can to fit it into my schedule so this life saving donation happens – and is also a ‘safe’ time for me with my running plans. (I’m not crazy or stupid; if I’m going to be running a race or don’t feel well already, it isn’t a wise time to donate. But I make sure I get back to that donation request at the first opportunity.) And not once have I regretted it. Even when that next long run feels like I have never run that far before and I want to puke. It’s always worth it.
Do you donate blood? How often do you go? What other tips would you offer runners who donate blood?
If you would like to learn more, please contact your local blood bank or the Red Cross (in the US: 1-800-RED CROSS or download their app here.)
A few tips for the first time blood donor:
- Eat your normal meals for the day.
- Hydrate well.
- Go early to complete all your paperwork and speak with the phlebotomist/nurse at the blood bank.
- Bring a book or something to distract you (if needed). It will take about 30-45 min total, with only about 10 min being the actual donation time.
- Don’t do anything strenuous after you donate (for the rest of the day).
- Proudly wear your sticker afterwards.
- Eat your cookie/drink your juice after donating.
- Plan on iron-rich foods for the days after your donation to replenish your iron supply.