Dear Running: I Learned About Myself, And Then Drove Forward

Cady McPhail is a high school senior from Chelsea, Alabama. The Auburn University signee just concluded arguably one of the greatest female seasons in state history, ending with four state titles, including three individual honors in the 800m, 1,600m and 3,200m. McPhail, a 9-time state champion, set state indoor records in the 800m of 2:08.68 and 4:44.93 in the 1,600m. She's still ranked U.S. No. 1 in the latter distance. Here, she writes on her journey, including a path that was once unknown. 

This indoor season, all of my numbers looked so much better, from the labs to the clock. It felt good to be healthy again. 

By Cady McPhail - Chelsea (AL) '23

Dear Running,

You have already taken me to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. You have taught me to never give up and always appreciate how great it feels to run healthy. 

My distance coach encourages our team to get routine blood work. I went in September of my junior year. My doctor said everything looked good. I was riding the high of coming off of a great sophomore season, where I had run times in the 800m and 1,600m that put me on the radar for college coaches.

I thought junior year was going to be awesome. 

Instead, my times were slower than the previous year on the same courses. Looking back at those September labs now, I know that if they had dug a little deeper they would have seen this: While my iron levels were normal, my ferritin (or the iron stores) was at a rock bottom eight. An eight would make a normal person fatigued.

But for an elite endurance athlete, it would have been season-ending.

I didn't know it was an eight!

So I proceeded to run the rest of my junior year not knowing that with every workout my ferritin numbers were dropping. The indoor state championships arrived and I told myself that I had it in me to drop a fast time. I refused to give up on my goals. I pushed myself to an indoor PR at the state meet.

That race made me believe I must be healthy. 

But by March, I was well off my PRs. Every workout and race felt like a struggle, despite the fact I was still doing all of the right things. By May, I was over 10 seconds off my 800m PR at the outdoor state meet. Something that was once my favorite thing to do had turned into a daily struggle. Many college coaches who were seriously recruiting me months earlier started to reach out less frequently, or didn't "hit me up" at all.

After outdoor season, I went back for more labs. This time my ferritin was at a five and I finally had an answer. I was severely anemic and that had been the source of my dizziness, fatigue, ice cravings and even hair loss. We looked at the labs from the fall.

For nine months I had been powering through and my ferritin stores were depleted. Generally, anything under 30 is considered low for an endurance athlete. But for me, it was a revelation. Suddenly everything made sense. You would expect that I would be frustrated, but honestly I was just relieved.

I was referred to a hematologist, who immediately prescribed IV iron infusion treatments. My iron levels increased rapidly and by July I was feeling less fatigued. 

This indoor season, all of my numbers looked so much better, from the labs to the clock. It felt good to be healthy again. 

What I've learned from all of this is that endurance athletes are different from the average patient. Make sure you communicate this clearly with your doctors and don't give up if you are feeling tired and weak.

Make sure to look closely at your results. Don't spend months struggling like I did. And the biggest lesson I've learned is that no matter how tough things seem, never give up on yourself. 

I can't wait to see what else running will teach me. 

I just want to end with this: Thank you to my high school coaches -- Coach Lee and Coach Fuqua -- for never giving up on me when I struggled the most.

Thank you to Auburn University and to Coach Kindt, who continued to believe in me when many others did not. 

Gone for a run,

Cady McPhail 







If you are a track and field athlete or coach interested in contributing to this series at the state or national level, please send your essay to MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull at, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.