Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Brookwood's Ashley Buda is one of the state's top cross country runners. She placed second at the Gwinnett County championships.
Ashley Buda crossed the finish line at last year's state cross county meet disappointed.
The Brookwood runner finished in 169th place, well after the rest of her teammates. Her time was four minutes slower than her season best time.
Even worse, it was the third straight race that Buda had seen a decline in her performance.
"My last three races were the slowest times I've ever raced," Buda said. "I was trying to pinpoint what was wrong."
After the race, Brookwood cross country coach Chris Carter suggested Buda have her iron levels tested after reading in Running Times magazine about a girl that had a similar story.
It turned out Buda was anemic and the low iron levels caused her to have a decline in her performance as the season wore on. Buda started taking iron supplements over the winter and had a strong track and field season. Her success has continued on the cross country course. Buda took second at the Gwinnett County Championships and has emerged as one of the county's top runners.
"Her track season last year was great, and this cross country season so far is even better," Carter said.
Buda placed ninth at last year's county meet with a season-best time of 19 minutes, 41.68 seconds. But over the next month her times continued to get slower. It was 34 seconds the next race and more than two minutes the following race.
Buda and Carter began to look at her training regimen, diet, sleep, hydration, all the normal things that go along with training to figure out what she was doing wrong.
"She worked as hard as anybody, doing the right things," Carter said. "Unexpectedly, her times started to drop and we didn't know why."
It wasn't until after the state meet when Buda hit her low point that she had her iron levels tested.
"I remember I never felt worse after a race," Buda said. "It felt like I couldn't physically go faster."
It turned out the cause of her poor performance was iron-deficiency anemia. Because of her diet, Buda was not getting enough iron. She rarely ate red meat, a good source of iron, and that contributed to the problem.
"My parents are really trying to force red meat," Buda said.
She now takes iron supplements, but hopes to be off of them by the end of the year. That will mean an increase of iron in her diet. She regularly drinks Muscle Milk protein drinks and has a love for turkey meat.
"Just an easy four- or five-mile run would kill me and I would have a hard time breathing," Buda said. "It just got easier and once it got easier, it got more fun."
With her iron levels in order, Buda has become one of the county's top runners. She placed seventh at the Carrollton Invitational, was runner-up at county where she posted a personal record of 19:06.19, and was third at the Disney Classic in Orlando.
"She's running well, but she's enjoying it so much more because of what she went through," Carter said. "She'll tell you there's a lot worse things you can go through, but on similar lines she worked hard, but it was not paying off."
Buda will return healthy next month to Carrollton, where she'll try to erase last year's memory of the state meet.
"I have bad memories at Carrollton, so I'm just trying to change that," Buda said. "It's a little embarrassing, but I can take some pride in it that I didn't give up."
THE BUDA FILE
Who: Ashley Buda
Sport: Cross country
Dream job: Physical therapist
Favorite sports team: Any team from Philadelphia
Favorite movie: "Forrest Gump"
• Placed second at the Gwinnett County Championships
• Holds a personal record of 19 minutes, 6.19 seconds-- Maintains a 4.0 GPA
• Older brother Joseph Buda ran cross country for Brookwood
• Grew up playing soccer