You Could Run, Or You Could Save Lives

Only a couple of days after pledging to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and writing on my personal page about how “exhilarated” I was to be coupling my personal marathon goals with a goal of giving back, I found myself face to face with potential hypocrisy. The building that I work in was hosting a blood drive. I knew about the blood drive. I work on our company’s administrative team, and I sent out multiple emails informing employees of how, when, and where they could give blood. But the idea that I would donate my blood never crossed my mind—not until one of my coworkers stopped on his way out the door to the donation mobile and asked if I was going to do so.

I said “no” decisively and immediately. But then immediately after that I thought, “well, wait…”

I could give blood. And because I could give blood, I should give blood, right? I had never given blood before. I had tried once, I even received a sticker saying that “I tried,” which I wore to be ironic though I remember feeling pathetic and thinking that trying and not succeeding at something as seemingly inert as letting someone take my blood from me might be the ultimate human failure. (Obviously, this isn’t the case—many people are unable to give blood for a number of very valid reasons. I just happened to “try” during one of the more angsty phases of my life.)

The thing was that I knew that I could give blood now and that there really shouldn’t have been anything stopping me from doing so. But there was one thing…

“Can you run after you give blood?” I asked my coworker while simultaneously Googling the same question. Both coworker and Google said that it probably wasn’t a good idea. I thought about this for a minute, but then I also thought of the number of people I know who like to drink after they give blood because they get drunk faster, and I thought that running after giving blood really couldn’t be any more destructive than that.

Additionally, my Google search revealed a number of different running testimonials saying that it could take up to three weeks to be at your optimal performance level after giving blood. This sounded terrifying to me. I could already anticipate the distress I would feel if I went into marathon training feeling less than optimal. After all, I wanted to PR—that meant I had to run sub-eight-minute miles for every pace run I ran, and for the 26.2 miles of the race on October 25th. “I don’t have time to not feel optimal,” I proclaimed loudly and frantically, in my head.

“Well, you could run, or you could save lives,” my coworker said. He shrugged and walked out the door. Inner-turmoil ensued—I could do nothing else that day (well, that hour…the blood drive was scheduled to end at 4pm and it was 3pm, so my time to be an indecisive mess was limited) until I decided whether or not I would give blood.

I watched the elevator doors close behind my coworker as he went to “save lives” while I agonized over whether or not my attempt to give blood could jeopardize the eight-mile run I had been planning to do that evening, and I suddenly felt quite hypocritical. To confirm my hypocrisy, I looked at the American Red Cross Association website and read that not one, but three lives could be saved by one person giving blood. I also read, “most people have blood to spare…yet there is still not enough to go around” (interestingly this was listed as a benefit of donating beneath “free juice and cookies”).

I could run, or I could save lives. I found myself saying to myself, “Maria, if your intention this training period is to prioritize fundraising for an organization devoted specifically to saving lives over your personal running-related goals, how could you possibly pass up the opportunity to donate blood just because you might miss a run?” Decision made. Sort of.

The nurses working the blood drive did not seem confident in my ability to give blood. “Do you weigh 110 pounds?” one nurse asked, skeptically.

“Yes!” I said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

“Okay then, here’s the form. Fill it out and read it carefully.” I filled it out, but I did not read it carefully, which the nurse called me out on when I returned the form. “I’m going to watch you read it all the way through because I want you to know what you’re getting yourself into,” she said.

I read the form through (no physical activity right after, etcetera, etcetera…might experience anxiety, etcetera, etcetera…let someone know if you think you’re going to pass out, etcetera, etcetera…) and handed it back to the nurse who then proceeded to take my vitals. “Your blood pressure is very low, so definitely make sure to tell us if you feel like you’re going to pass out,” she said in a tone that seemed like she was at least ninety-five percent certain I would. And with that, giving blood became equally about proving that I could give blood as it did about giving it.

This competitive mindset that is perhaps useful for racing can prove to be destructive in other circumstances. This is because it involves relinquishing a bit (or sometimes a lot) of rationality—ignoring signs, suppressing impulses, and denying undeniable facts—in order to succeed. For example, during marathons, I have convinced myself that excruciating knee pain was all in my head, that I didn’t really have to pee, and that silver specks I was seeing were just little sparkles of encouragement signifying that the finish line wasn’t too far off.

My whatever-I’ve-got-this spirit was temporarily thwarted when the needle pierced my vein—it was the biggest needle I have ever seen or felt and I involuntarily said “ouch” and teared up. But when I looked down I was vindicated by how quickly my blood was racing out of my body and into the tubes. (For past blood tests, I has always underwent multiple needle-pricks in multiple veins just to get a tiny bit of blood out.) “My blood has never gone this fast before,” I said. The nurse smiled and nodded sympathetically.

I did not experience anxiety, and I did not pass out. So, I immediately texted my sister (she’s a doctor) and asked her if I could do an easy run after giving blood if I felt fine. She said it should be okay, but no more than two miles, which I translated to mean that if I did the eight miles very, very slow and even took walk breaks that would be fine. I also recalled my brilliant thought earlier that many people drink after giving blood so running was totally okay. Plus, the reason they tell you not to run after giving blood is because your plasma volume and hemoglobin levels are lower and surely running must help rejuvenate both of these things because.

No surprise conclusion to this post—it is not a good idea to run after you give blood. At just over two miles into my run (which was really more of a slow, Jell-O-legged trot) I ended up texting multiple people the skull-face emoji, walking to the nearest grocery store, buying spinach and red meat (i.e. iron) and going home. But competitive nonsense aside, I am proud to have finally given blood and it was well worth a missed/abbreviated run to do so. I will donate blood again, although not while marathon training and probably not as close to beforehand as this time was.

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