Perimenopause and Endurance Athletes

Perimenopause and Endurance Athletes

So, after another sleepless night, I think I may be perimenopausal. I’ve noticed a pattern of depression before my period, which is out of sync with how I normally feel. I had noticeable heart palpitations a few months ago, and have been getting hot at night sometimes.

To be honest I don’t really want to admit to it, because, well, the word menopausal has many negative connotations to me. Maybe I just don’t want to admit that I’m getting older, just yet; However I also know that until I accept this part of myself then I’m not going to be feeling more positive any time soon!

During the last few months, I have found that there is information for women out there, but as symptoms can be so different. I could attribute my feelings and symptoms to so many other things. It feels a bit like being in the dark. I have talked to friends about it, and we all feel a little bit confused.

Symptoms of perimenopause can vary but here are a few of them

  • Changing periods – length of cycle, duration of period
  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue – tiredness or a loss of zest
  • Anxiety, mood swings, irritability and depression
  • A feeling of being invisible and a loss of confidence
  • Decreased libido or sex drive
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Increased PMS
  • Urinary leakage or urgency
  • Aches and pains in muscles and joints
  • Heart palpitations

Perimenopause and Endurance Athletes

What to do?

The last few months I have found myself in a very dark place, at times, and its hard to know what to do about it. Standard advice for perimenopausal women is to get your nutrition right, exercise, get enough sleep etc, but there is not much information out there for women who are already doing these things, and who are also training for endurance events. The standard advice of exercising may not be the best option here. If you are training a lot, then your stress levels may be raised, so it might not actually be the best thing for someone who is already pushing themselves close to their limits.

It may be more beneficial to incorporate a bit more recovery, and some strength work at this time in your life.

A lot of information is also for menopausal women, who have already stopped their periods. So what happens in-between? It seems to be a kind of no mans land, possibly because everyone is so different in how they experience this transition. It makes it difficult to study. There is no way of knowing if you are perimenopausal, as the tests that can detect it are based on hormone levels, which fluctuate throughout the month anyway.

Future research

It would be interesting to see some research in this area, but I’m pretty sure that perimenopausal women and endurance are not going to be the focus of many scientific studies in the near future. Talking about it can help us to realise that we are not the only ones going through it, and may help you to feel supported. I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s experience during this time, so feel free to get in touch if you have any ideas or information that you want to share.

If you’re looking for some more resources I have listed a few below, and you can read about my experience at a race when I was suffering with symptoms here

NHS site

Ride strong through the menopause, cycling magazine

The British Menopause Society

DNS and haywire hormones

I’ve blogged about a DNF before, but how about a DNS? It happens, and feels pretty crappy. So I’m just going to go through what happened, as I’m sure it may feel familiar to some of you, and may even help with accepting it.

Last year I entered an off road duathlon, which was cancelled, I was given a free place in this years event which I was really looking forward to, however in the week leading up to the race, I was feeling pretty negative about the whole thing. The thought of getting up on Saturday morning in the cold and dark to drive to Afan wasn’t really appealing to me.

On Thursday I woke up with a sore neck, and couldn’t swim on Friday because it hurt too much, I was also pre-menstrual. My moods have been really bad for the last 3 months. This is almost another blog, but just as an overview, I think some of my hormones are out of whack, as I have been extremely tearful and depressed the week before my period, which isn’t normal for me, then as soon as it starts I feel normal again.

Anyway I got up, prepared to race, and kept telling myself that as soon as I got there and was registered etc, it would all be fine, and that I would feel worse if I didn’t race, so off I drove. Just over an hour later I arrived at registration where it was still pretty quiet. I payed my £5 to park, went into registration, and my name wasn’t on the start list. The organiser said he’d have to wait to give me a number, and to come back in around half an hour. I left the building starting to get tearful, as I wanted to rack up and just get everything sorted so I could warm up etc. I waited for over half an hour then went back to join the now long queue. When I got to the table they still couldn’t give me a number, and there was no sign of the organiser. I was brushed off, and my second emotional episode of the day started. I called Patrick and explained the situation, I assumed I would have to wait until everyone had registered before I got my number, which isn’t how I like to get ready for a race, leaving everything until last minute. I tried to let it go, and just think of racing for fun, but was just too upset, and part of me just wanted to go and meet the boys. Patrick told me to go for a quick ride around, and then I may feel better, as sitting in the car on your own is not great for morale! I rode off into the bike park, did a few circuits, and then started to feel a bit better, but not better enough to go and make a nuisance of myself again at registration. By now I knew that they would be closing transition, and I just wanted to get out of there.

Maybe if I’d been feeling a bit more positive I would have gone and found the organiser, but by that time I was on a pretty negative spiral, felling sorry for myself, and generally giving myself a hard time. I decided to forget it, and go meet the boys at the climbing wall, so rode around a bit more until the runners had gone, and then drove down to Pontadarwe, where I went for a run, and continued my Canal path tour of Britain (3 different paths in the last 3 months!)

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The next 24 hours were horrible. After we’d finished climbing I cried a lot, tried to explain myself to Patrick, and got into a pretty depressed state. I’m over it now, helped by the fact that my period started, I’m sure.

So if you do have a DNS there are usually some pretty good reasons for it happening

  • Shit happens, you can’t always control everything, things may have been different if my name had been on the start list.
  • You can’t always be on it, sometimes you don’t have the willpower or motivation, and that is ok, even the best have bad days.
  • Sometimes you just have to ride out a bad mood, and accept that you are pretty miserable right now, acknowledging your upset will allow you to feel better in the end.
  • In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, although it may feel like it at the time.

If you are struggling with motivation, keep an eye on it, as it may be a sign of something a bit deeper. I’m monitoring my moods now, as The past 3 months have been pretty up and down, it could be a sign that something else isn’t right. Look out for patterns of behaviour, and if there’s anything you can do to improve the way you react in certain situations, then that can be positive. But also remember that sometimes you just aren’t “on it”

 

 

Why diets won’t work

why diets won't work

Why Diets won’t work

When someone says “I need to go on a diet”, my heart sinks. Why? Because going on a diet implies a short term, quick fix. Think about the new year magazine articles promoting detoxing, and going alcohol free. How often have you tried one of these diets or detoxes and then gone back to old habits, sometimes making your habits even worse!

Why does this happen? Because eating is a habit, and habits are hard to change. If you make extreme changes, for example by going on a “detox” or diet, then you will be able to stick to it for a short time (for the length of the diet/detox) then you will inevitably go back to what worked for you in the past. What you eat is determined by so many factors that it needs a bit more thought than just blindly following a plan.

How can I improve my diet?

Instead of going on a diet. I would encourage you to think about what you are eating, and ask yourself some questions

  • Why am I eating? bored, hungry, upset?
  • Am I really hungry?
  • Is it a good choice of food for me right now?
  • Is this going to make me feel better or worse?

This is just a start, your diet is a complex thing and everyone has different priorities and feelings about food. There are no bad/unclean foods. The “clean eating” trend encourages obsession about certain types of foods, and in my opinion, encourages eating disorders.

If you truly want to see change in your diet then be more aware of your eating habits, and realise that there is no quick fix. Change happens gradually, start with one sustainable change and then others will follow, and remember that small changes add up to big changes in the long term.

If you are interested in nutrition advice, then have a look at my packages here

 

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

In her book, “Roar”, Stacey Sims reminds us that, “Women are not small men”. For both men and women hormonal fluctuations cause a reaction in the body that can affect your training and nutrition. But when it comes to hormones, clearly women are different; we go through cycles during our life, our menstrual cycle, the pregnancy cycle, and the menopause. And yet to date, most scientific research on the effect of hormones and sports performance has honed-in on men between the ages of 18 and 30!

In this post I am focussing on what happens during your monthly cycle. I encourage my female athletes, to track their cycle, to make them more aware of the hormonal changes that happen each month. You can use an app like Hormone Horoscope, or monthly info to keep tabs on where you are in your cycle. Even if you don’t use it to inform your training, I still feel it is a useful thing to be aware of. If you’re not convinced then have a read of this article.

Let’s talk about it

I’ve found that some women are keen to get in tune with their cycle, and others just don’t want to talk about it. The messages that we are given in the media are, that it shouldn’t stop us from doing anything. Periods are an inconvenience that we need to try and ignore or take pain relief for. Its great that we can carry on with our lives when we have a period. But we also need to be aware of the effect that our hormones will be having, so that we can better understand our motivation levels, and our training and nutrition needs.

First let’s have a look at what happens every month in a menstruating female.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

What actually happens?

A womens menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between 21 and 40 days, and it can also be outside these ranges. It is pretty common for there to be variability from one month to the next in the length of your cycle. As long as it’s not wildly out every month, then its normal for this to happen. The picture above assumes that you have an “average” 28-day cycle, (very few women actually do have a cycle this length!)

The first half of the cycle (days 1-14) are from the day that you get your period until the day that you ovulate. Which I’ll refer to as the low hormone phase. The second half of the cycle (days 14-28) I’ll refer to as the high hormone phase. The day that you ovulate is not necessarily day 14, it is usually around midway through your cycle.

During the low hormone phase, and just after you get your period, oestrogen starts to rise. In this half of your cycle you are more able to make strength gains, and your mood will probably be better. You can follow general advice for nutrition and hydration because you are physiologically more like a man at this point in your cycle. If you have your period on race day, its not such a bad thing. There are numerous stories of women performing well when they have their period. In Victoria Pendletons’ book, “between the lines”, she refers to winning races when she had her period. From personal experience I have found that it does not really impact my performance.

In the second half of your cycle, progesterone starts to rise, which may make you feel lethargic. It gets harder to recover, and sessions that felt easy a few days ago, now feel harder. You may have cravings, because your metabolism increases slightly, due to increased basal temperature, and you may also feel bloated as your body retains water.

What can I do about it?

In one study it was found that amongst women trying to lose weight, those who followed an exercise/nutrition plan tailored to their menstrual cycle lost more weight than the ones who just restricted calories. For best performance you need to pay attention to the timing of nutrition and hydration, particularly in the high hormone phase. Stacy Sims recommends 10 to 15g of protein and 40g carbs at this time before any workout lasting longer than 90 minutes, and after sessions. Also hydrating well, and preloading before long, harder races with salt would be beneficial. During the high hormone phase your blood plasma volume is lower, which is why those hard sessions feel more challenging. Your blood is essentially thicker which makes it harder to get oxygen to your muscles, and as your core temperature is increased you will feel the heat more, and therefore need to ensure that you hydrate and keep cool, especially in hot weather.

I’m looking forward to seeing future research in this area, as more women take part in endurance sports, and become interested making their training more effective. Watch this space!

Early season racing, what should your aims be?

early season racing

Early season racing

With the early race season getting underway, what are your priorities for some of these races? Its been a while since you’ve worn your race kit, and used your race gear, so you may be a bit rusty going in to your first few races. Its a great idea to do a few low key events to get yourself back in to the practicalities of racing.

Race morningearly season racing

This will be a reminder of how it feels to get up early, and make sure you are adequately fuelled for the days event. Most early season events are on the shorter side, so its a gentle introduction, and there shouldn’t be dire consequences if you don’t get this right. However it is an opportunity to start practising your race morning routine. If there’s anything that didn’t go so well in the past, then now is a good time to change what you do. If you always leave certain jobs until the last minute, resolve to make time to get organised sooner. Remember what goes well and what doesn’t go so well so that you can learn and adapt next time.

Race environment

early season racing

It will probably have been a while since you have competed and felt those race morning nerves. Even if the race is not a priority for you, you will still produce adrenaline, and be in competition mode. You may think about your race tactics, and put these into practice. In my first race last year I realised that I backed off when it mattered, I took that in to my next race, and made sure that I pushed when I needed to.

Post Race

early season racing

Here is your opportunity to learn from the race. I ask my athletes to think about 3 things that went well, and 3 that they can improve on. Be thorough in your analysis, but don’t punish yourself, its your first race after all. Questions that I may ask are; did you feel fatigued going in to the race? How did you feel after? Did you push hard enough? Did you fuel properly? What were transitions like? How were your equipment choices? These are things that can be taken forward to the next event, and worked on in training. They all add up to better performance.

 

 

If you want to read what other coaches say there is a link to another article here

 

 

 

Creating helpful habits, for success in triathlon.

Creating helpful habits, for success in triathlon

We all have habits and routines in our lives. Some of them are helpful, and some of them, are not so helpful. Becoming more aware of your actions can help you to identify which habits are helping or harming you. As an athlete you will have habits to make sure that you get your training done.

If you need to get up early for a swim you may get your equipment ready the night before, and then set an alarm to wake you up. You then complete your swim session, and may reward yourself with a cup of coffee, or similar.

All habits follow this pattern. First of all there is a trigger, in this case your alarm going off, and seeing your swim kit prepared. then your routine, which is completing the swim session, then your reward which is a cup of coffee. If we take a closer look at the “habit loop” you can see how to implement good habits in your life.

TriggerCreating helpful habits, for success in triathlon

This is something that reminds you to do something. It may be something that you are not aware of, for example every time you open the fridge at a certain time of day you snack. Examples of triggers are; time, a visual reminder, an alarm, or it could be a feeling. Once you identify your trigger then you can change or add on to your habit. You can also create triggers to start a new habit, for example when you put your running kit on you do some core exercises before your run.

Routine

Creating helpful habits, for success in triathlon

This is what you do after the trigger. It could be going to the pool, having a second helping of dinner, drinking a glass of wine, doing strength exercises. This is the bit that you can change, once you identify your trigger.

If you know, that when you finish your dinner you always go for a second helping, even though you are not hungry then you could replace this routine with making a cup of tea. If you want to fit some strength exercise in to your day then you can add this on to an existing routine.

Reward

This is your way of giving yourself a pat on the back, and can vary depending on what your habit is. If its getting out training, then the reward can be knowing that you are one step closer to your goal. Sometimes you may need a bit more than that, and the reward may be a chat with friends and cup of coffee after a group training session. If you substitute your habit for a healthier alternative then you know that it is creating a healthier you, for example substituting your second helping of food for a hot drink.

Putting it all together

So to create helpful habits, first you need to actually want to create that habit. No amount of positive talk is going to help you if you don’t really want to change! Think about if there are any barriers to creating the habit. For example, when I wanted to add core work to my day, I realised that I sometimes wasn’t wearing the right clothing for it. By doing the core work before a workout then I was already dressed in comfortable clothing. Next identify your trigger. If you have a good habit in place already, then you can add on to it, as with the core work example above. It can be helpful to write down what you want to do and how you’re going to make sure that you do it!

If you want to find out more about habits then click here

creating-helpful-habits-for-success-in-triathlon

 

 

 

Recover better to perform better

Recovery

You’ve heard it before, but recovery is a critical part of your training. If you are aiming to improve in triathlon, then you need to make recovery a focus. If you don’t, then training will be, stop start, frustrating, and can make you ill.

There are many ways of recovering, but one which often goes by the wayside when people are trying to fit in training, and a full time job, is sleep. You may try and cram in a session late in the day, and this can affect your sleep for the night, then you may want to get up early to “fit in” a swim, already you are compromising your recovery for these sessions.

So what actually happens when you sleep?

Recovery

Your body releases growth hormones.

These hormones help your body to increase muscle growth, you need to get sufficient sleep for this to happen. If you are sleep deprived your body also produces the hormone cortisol, which can break muscle down.

Your body repairs itself.

When you do a training session your muscles get damaged and get micro tears in them. When you are sleeping your body can repair the damage, this is how muscle grows and rebuilds, making you stronger.

Your metabolism stabilises

If you are sleep deprived, then your blood sugar levels are not regulated as well, and this can cause weight gain, as your body fails to respond to carbohydrate ingestion. You may still feel hungry, even when you have eaten a normal meal.

What can I do?

So, what can you do about it? It’s important to go through all the stages of sleep for adaptations to happen. If you are not getting enough regular sleep (around 7-8 hours, maybe more!) then you need to identify why this is happening. Is it because you are trying to do too much? You may be better off scaling some sessions back, or looking to re-prioritise a few things. Think about what is essential, desirable, or could be removed from your daily routine. It may be that you are spending too much time in front of a screen or bright light before bed, there are many studies to show that this impacts the quality of your sleep and your ability to get to sleep. More on this here

Addressing these things, can help you to create habits which are not only beneficial for your training adaptation, but also for your overall wellbeing.

 

 

 

Scaling workouts to fit in with busy lives

Scaling Workouts

It’s a busy and sometimes stressful time of year. Everyone wants something done before Christmas, you may have more family/social commitments, and it can be tricky to balance everything. Keeping consistent in your training can be hard work, but if you know how to scale a workout down, then things can become more manageable.

First you need to know if your workout is a key session or not. If you are only doing 2 sessions in each triathlon discipline, then its safe to say that both sessions are key sessions. If you have more sessions then it may be worth checking which ones are key.

If you can only fit in key sessions then you may need to scale them down. This is how I would recommend doing it.

Scaling workouts to fit in with busy lives

Scaling workouts

Warm up

Hopefully, you can keep the whole warm up in. It’s an important part of your session, which prepares your body and mind for training. If you are going to be working at threshold, then add some work building up to the level you will be working at. Don’t expect your body to just kick in to threshold work, you need to prepare a bit. If you need to do any activation work, to get your body used to the movement patterns, then now is the time. If you do have to shorten your warm up, then make sure it is still at least 10 minutes long, and if you skip the build work, then expect your first few intervals to be a bit off.

Main Set

Lets say the main part of your session is intervals and you didn’t build to the interval intensity in the warm up then use the first few intervals to build up to that level. If you did warm up thoroughly, then complete as much of the main session as you can. This is the key bit of your workout. When your session is an endurance session e.g. all at one pace, then you may just need to cut the session short.

Cool down

If you have time for a short 5 minute cool down, then great. If you don’t, then don’t worry about it, but avoid spending the rest of the day in one position. For example, seated at a desk. However if you do find yourself in this position then try to get up and move around every 20 minutes or so, and try to find time to stretch at some point in the day.

Below I have an example of how you could scale down the swim session shown, in order of priority.

Scaling workouts

  1. Remove cool down
  2. Shorten or remove build set
  3. Shorten warm up
  4. Shorten main set

This advice will help you to gain the most from your training sessions at this busy time. Enjoy the holiday season, and stay healthy!

4 things that you can practise in yoga, and training or racing endurance events.

Mental Training to improve performance.

Yoga and an Ironman race may sound like 2 complete opposites, but there can be many similarities in the way we practice in both areas. As well as the physical benefits of practising yoga, there are many psychological benefits too.

Imagine you are getting ready to race an event, you feel nervous and scared. Practising yoga will help you to alleviate these fears, here are some examples in how you can transfer your skills.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being present. At the beginning of a yoga class you may sit and ground yourself, by closing your eyes and focussing on your breathing, then letting go of what happened to you during the rest of the day and becoming present focussed. You can use this skill at the beginning of a race to clear your mind, and also throughout racing, if something goes wrong, for example you get a puncture, accept it, and calmly do what you need to do, to get going again. More importantly, let go of the feelings of upset, that you may have about having a problem, then you can continue to race at the best of your ability.

Breathing

During a yoga practice the breath is often linked to movement, becoming aware of how you are breathing is an important part of yoga practice, and this can also be transferred to a triathlon. Before a race you may use breathing techniques to calm yourself down, and whilst racing you need to be aware of how you are breathing, as it is linked to how much effort you are making. Check in with your breathing every now and then, you could even visualise your blood being oxygenated by your breathing.

Mind over matter

Imagine you have been asked to hold a pose in yoga, your legs start to shake and you start wondering when you can release the pose. Your teacher tells you to breathe and relax into the posture, and you begin to feel better in that position. The same thing can happen in endurance racing/training. There will be times when you feel bad, and you don’t want to carry on, just relax into it and know that it will pass. You can’t fight against the feeling, just realise that it won’t last forever, make sure you are not holding tension anywhere in your body/face, and maybe use some positive affirmation.

Positive affirmation

One of the Yamas of Yoga is Ahimsa (non violence). This is the practice of compassion, and being kind to yourself. This may sound strange when you are asking your body to push itself beyond what it finds comfortable, but you can do it in a compassionate way. For example, you may be going through a bad time during a race. Instead of being unkind to yourself by telling yourself that you are not going fast enough or making enough effort, change the way you speak to yourself. You could have a phrase that you repeat for example “I am the best that I can be” “powerful and strong” This will override your negative thought patterns. Think about how you speak to yourself, are you being kind and compassionate? Would you say those things to someone else? Read more about the 5 Yamas of yoga here

Acceptance

Sometimes, if you are in a yoga class, the person next to you, or behind you, is able to do a pose with ease, and you are struggling. Sometimes what you did one week, feels impossible the next. It doesn’t matter, we are all different, instead of comparing yourself to others, accept yourself and your situation as it is. You may have had a bad training session/race, it happens, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t that important. Learning to accept, and move on is a useful skill to develop.

 

Mental Training

How hard do I need to train?

How do you know if you are training in the right zones? It may look confusing but it is actually quite simple. If you have done some testing then you should know roughly where your threshold is for all 3 disciplines.

If I was coaching you, I would give you sessions based on the paces shown in the chart below. You may not always be able to hold the effort level, but it is a goal for you to aim for.

how-hard-do-i-need-to-train

RPE chart, used as a rough guide to help you get to know how hard you need to be working.

When starting out it can be useful to have numbers to go on, and they give me, as a coach, some useful data to look at after you have done a session. As you improve, you will get to know roughly how hard you are working, and you can focus on executing the interval more on feel. This is particularly the case if you are using heart rate as a guide, as we know that many factors can cause it to fluctuate.

I often find athletes worrying about what their heart rate is doing in a session. If is was lower than last time, or higher than last time. As long as you are performing the session to the best of your ability then don’t stress about it. Check in with your breathing and don’t go chasing a higher heart rate if it feels right then it probably is!

how-hard-do-i-need-to-train

The most important thing is to know how your effort “feels” for each particular intensity, so, as you do the session, make sure that you check in with what your breathing is like, and how you are feeling.  You need to know that for racing, so you can focus and be present in the race. The other bonus of doing this is that if you don’t have power/heart rate on the day it doesn’t matter!

 

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