Category Archives: Periods

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”

 

 

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!

An unexpected result

An easy week

After last weeks mini holiday, it was back to it. Luckily I had an easy week planned as there was the washing, shopping, and general catch up that you need after going away. I had also entered Pembrokeshire coast Triathlon at Broadhaven at the weekend so it meant I would have a bit of a rest before the race.

I had a great bike session on Tuesday. I had been thinking on my previous long ride that I tend to get a bit lazy towards the end of a ride and start dropping the watts, so when I was at the side of the road checking my bike for creaks, and a man flew past asking if I was OK I thought I would see if I could catch him!

I was near the end of my ride so it was ideal for me to push a bit more than usual. It became apparent that I was catching him on the ups and then he was pulling away slightly on the downs. I managed to reel him in after Yerbeston, on the Ironman course, we got chatting and it was someone whose name I had seen on strava (Dave Swan if you’re curious!) I turned off at Molleston and left him to complete the rest of the Ironman loop.

You can see my increase in power at about 2 and a half hours in!

You can see my increase in power at about 2 and a half hours in!

Still getting the power dropouts, but have sent my power meter back, again…I may write a post about that bit of kit someday! Had a long run on Thursday and was surprised to see that my running has improved again!

A similar run last year and my run this week

A similar run last year and my run this week

Cancelled my swim session on Friday, as I was feeling a bit fed up with the pool and I didn’t want to do another session for the sake of it. On Saturday I raced Broadhaven and won! That was a real surprise, I knocked 5 minutes of my previous time, so I was obviously very pleased with that! Full race report is here.

Comparison between the years

Comparison between the years

I still need to do some work on programming myself to believe that I am a strong swimmer, as it was always my weak sport, so, in my subconscious, I still think I am not good, but the last 2 races I have done I have had pretty good swim times. Must keep that in mind 🙂

Look away now if you don’t want to read about hormones, and periods!

One thing men don’t have to worry about too much is how their hormones affect them during races, they pretty much have the same cycle of hormones every day ( high testosterone in the morning, which drops off during the day and is lowest in the evening) This is also affected by their actions, e.g. racing will produce a rise in testosterone, read more about this here.

Women, as you will know have varying hormones throughout the month, so at times all we really want to do is sleep all the time, when at other times of the month we are outgoing and confident, this corresponds to our cycle. I have been doing a bit of research on this, as I find it quite interesting. There is a lot more detail on hormone horoscope, which I find really helps me to deal with moods and how I feel certain times of the month!

The female cycle

The female cycle

The reason I am writing about this is that my period was due on the week of Broadhaven and all week I was worrying about when it would start, and whether I would have to deal with it on race day. I looked at a couple of forums, and found a post by a man who said don’t worry about it, chances are nobody will care, or notice, just wear some black shorts and get on with it. This relaxed me quite a bit, and I also mentioned to Patrick the night before, that the last time I had my period on a race I won!

I didn’t get my period until after the race but I still find it really interesting, as I am about a kilo heavier in the week before I start my period, so you would think that my performance would be worse. You would also think that there would be loads of interesting research on this, but I’m not sure if there is or where to find it. I did read Victoria Pendleton’s book and she mentioned that she always seemed to have her period on competition days. Maybe its time we started taking it into consideration, it is a massive part of women’s lives, but seems like people don’t really want to talk about it, although with online forums maybe people are starting to discuss more topics like this.

I did find some useful information here, which I recommend to anyone interested in how hormones affect your training and performance.