Donating Blood and Running?

Donating Blood and Running?

Last week was peak mileage week for me.  It’s actually the highest mileage week I’ve had in 10 months.  So why did I decide to donate blood smack in the middle of the week- just two and a half weeks before my marathon?

I work part-time on a University campus and on Monday there were two American Red cross blood-mobiles parked near my office.  They had signs posted that they would be there Monday through Wednesday.  I’ve always wanted to donate blood but for various reasons I was never able to do it.  In high school and college I was actually below the weight requirement (not a problem now!) and then there was the decade of my life I was either pregnant or nursing.  I never really sought it out but when I passed by the blood-mobile on Monday I felt like it was something I needed to do.  I didn’t question it at all.  I’m healthy and not afraid of blood or needles (four c-sections will do that to you) and I wanted to help someone.  I knew I had a tough set of two mile repeats on the running schedule planned for Wednesday morning so I thought if I waited to donate until Wednesday afternoon I would be fine.  I assumed recovery might last a few hours and then I’d be back in business and feeling fine by Thursday.

It wasn’t until I was laying on the mat with my blood pouring into a tube did the thought even cross my mind that just maybe this wasn’t the best timing from a running perspective.  Why hadn’t I looked into this first?!  I started googling donating blood and running.  I found a few articles that left me feeling a little uneasy.  There was this article that started off with this line- “There’s not much that’s more essential to your running (and your life) than your blood.”  This article suggested it would take around 3 weeks for a blood donors VO2 max to return to it’s pre-donation level.  Would this affect my upcoming marathon?  Was I selfish to even think this?  Someone’s life may be on the line and I’m worried about a race?   I couldn’t back out now and ask the nurse to stop mid donation.

When I finished the nurse gave me a few reminders and a pamphlet to read.  Of course the one thing that stood out to me was, “No physical activity for 24 hours.”  I had an easy 8 miler planned for the morning so resting was not an option.  I could handle it, right?

Thursday- This run was only about 14 hours post blood donation so I had a feeling it might be tough. Not only were my legs dead tired from the track workout I’d done the day before but the wind was awful.  My body was generally fatigued and winded.  It was one of those days I wanted to stop running before my watched beeped one mile.  I was with a friend so I slugged through 8 miles but it took everything I had not to quit.

Friday– I ran 9 miles with another friend (remember my speed work partner from this summer?)  which was a distance PR for her.  We kept the pace pretty controlled and I felt much better than the previous day.

9 miles and a new distance PR for Jackie!

Saturday– Long run day.  I had 20-21 miles to cover and my coach wanted me to run them in the 7:20-7:40 range.  I really wanted to shoot for a just under 7:20 pace but that did NOT happen.  Another friend ran the first 12 with me which was very helpful.  The last 9 were very mentally and physically challenging.  Surely I will feel better tapered and fresh in 2 weeks?  Please say yes!

Sunday- Rest day.  Hallelujah!

Will I be donating blood again?  Absolutely!  Next time I’m just going to time it a little better.  Two and a half weeks before a marathon is probably not the smartest decision.  Runner’s Connect posted a very helpful article on how donating blood impacts training and racing.  I wish I would have read it earlier but I will definitely keep these in mind for next time.  These are some great suggestions:

  1. A good time to donate is during the recovery time after your goal race when your body isn’t under the constant demands of a training season.
  2. Plan the donation around a rest day and follow with several days of short, easy effort workouts until you begin to feel 100%.
  3. In the 4-5 days following your donation, throw out your watch! Your times are going to be slower (the research shows it) so just forget about pace and put some time on your feet.
  4. Stay hydrated and eat well before and after the donation. This will help you recover faster from the donation itself.

Here is some additional information on why you should give blood.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions and answers from the American Red Cross.

Did you know that every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood?
One pint of donated blood can save up to three lives!

15 thoughts on “Donating Blood and Running?

  1. I cannot donate blood as I’m under the weight requirement (I am also 5’0″) and have had anemia to the point where I was almost a recipient once. But, I know about the issues with blood donation and runners- especially female runners who are competitive. I know a girl who donated during her cross country season as a senior in HS and said it really messed up her season, and I agree that close to a goal race is not the time to do it.

    But donating blood is a really great thing to do- thank you for donating!! You never know when someone may need it. And I think runners can donate, especially someone who isn’t training for anything, just running for fun, doesn’t mind taking a couple days off afterwards, etc. There are also limitations on how many times you can donate per year so most runners could time it around races/training.

    Hopefully you are feeling 100% now too and will be good for the marathon.

    1. Thanks Amy! That’s scary about the girl whose entire season was ruined! I have heard it can affect some more than others. I learned from this one!

  2. Oh no! I can only imagine the feeling when you start to think of the consequences while you are in the middle of it. Good for you though, someone will be very thankful 🙂 If you managed 21 miles at that pace (even if it wasn’t the pace you wanted), it seems as if you bounced back pretty quickly.

  3. You are a superstar for donating, Tia! But I’m sorry that you discovered the timing isn’t the best! I found that out the hard way too – right before a half marathon years ago I gave blood and then had a tough couple of days post-donation. But you will rebound quickly. I actually think the training you’ve done will help you – your body is used to constantly being in recovery mode from hard workouts, so surely it can help you recover quickly from some blood loss too, right? Let’s go with that. I’m thinking positive thoughts for you. And thankfully you have a little time to recover (and a taper should help with that too) before the race. Rest up, hydrate and eat well!!

    1. Thanks Jenn! Yes, excited about the taper. I’ve been trying to stay up on my vitamins too- especially iron. It’s been a week now and I’m feeling much more recovered. Very thankful!

  4. As a cancer survivor and recipient of over 50 blood transfusions, thank you so much for your donation!! Selfless people like you are the reason I’m alive today. My husband regularly donates blood (he’s O- so they call him the very day he becomes eligible again) and learned the hard way that he needs to say no to a double red cell donation because it wears him down too much, no matter where he’s at in training. If you donated whole blood, you’ll probably be feeling good in time for your race.

  5. Drink lots of water and it will help you feel better. I’ve donated for years (I think I’m up to over 8 gallons) and I think you should feel ok for your marathon. Good luck and thank you for donating!!!

    1. Thanks Patty! 8 years?! That’s awesome! I definitely want to do it again (this was my first time) and it’s encouraging to hear from people like you.

  6. For me, my times plummeted after giving blood. Sadly, as a runner, I probably won’t ever do that again despite it being a noble cause. It took me a good month or two before my times came back to normal.

    I found that taking iron supplements brought it back faster but it still a lot more out of me than expected.


    1. Oh no! I’m hoping that taking iron (and eating foods with plenty of iron) and drinking a lot of water helps speed this along. I will definitely wait until an off season next time!

  7. Tia, this article you’ve shared is great; sadly, I’ve never even made the connection or thought about it much. I work at UAMS and regularly donate blood; I do try to do it on a Thursday afternoon (Friday is usually my running day off) but, other than that, I had no idea how long it might impact my running performance. I’m sure I would have had no qualms about sitting down in that chair this week (or next!) and I, too, have a marathon again in less than two weeks. Good grief! I’m glad you looked into this and thanks for sharing your findings. Great job on your training this week; I know you’ll be ready for LR!!

    1. It sounds like you recover very well. This is encouraging to me! That’s awesome you’ve donated so many times (and with no side effects later)!

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