Growing up, my dad donated blood regularly. It made a big impression on me and I have donated blood several times over the years. Dad also ran 3 miles two or three times a week when I was a kid, something else that has obviously made an impact. Now that I run and train for marathons, I have often wondered if I should be donating at all.
The answer is yes. Done at the right time in a training cycle, donating blood is not only not harmful, but it is awesome!
- You are helping save lives (duh). Sure, you work really hard in training to make more red blood cells and increase blood volume so oxygen and nutrients can get to your muscles faster and blood donation is the opposite of that. But holding on to all that precious blood when you can make more in a couple of weeks just because you are worried about your VO2 max levels dropping seems a little silly when compared to actually saving up to three lives. In three weeks or so after donation, you should be back up to speed, so simply time your donation well ahead of racing.
- You get your iron levels checked for free. As someone who has struggled with anemia, it’s great to get a free test in between doctor’s visits. At today’s donation, I was happy to have a level of 13.6, the highest it’s been since I’ve been tracking it.
- You get to practice mental toughness. A big part of racing well is to be able to shut down the central governor of your brain telling you not to do things that hurt. Blood donation is not particularly painful, but the finger prick for anemia and the needle insertion for the donation are certainly not pleasant. It gives you a nice sense of badassery to be able to tell yourself, “yes, it’s a little painful, but I can and will do this.”
- Blood donors are badasses. Fewer than one in ten people donate blood. If you do, go ahead and consider yourself elite.
- You get to freak people out with your low heart rate. My resting heart rate ranges from 42-55 beats per minute, well under the normal level of 60-100. Most trained runners have similarly low RHRs and it’s fun to see the look on the technician’s face when they check.
- They give you free cookies.
I plan to take the next several days easy. I have no hard workouts scheduled for 5 days and depending on how I’m feeling, I might even take that workout easier than assigned next week.
And I might just have a few more cookies.