Periods and me.
Up until the past 3 years, when it came to periods, I was deluded. I believed in order to be a better runner it was better not to have periods than to have them. I was convinced that is was normal to not have periods as an athlete. There was next to no accessible information out there to tell you about the importance of periods to training. Or, if there was, no one seemed to speak about it, especially not at a club level to developing athletes. Due to the lack of education on the subject, I saw periods as a nuisance that would slow me down, interrupt training, and signify that I weighed too much- I was living on another, incredibly unstable planet.
Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way. It took two stress fractures, in the tibia of BOTH my legs, at the same time, to realise that periods signified health, which would allow me to develop into a stronger, and subsequently faster, athlete. As a consequence of not having periods, my bone health suffered. I’m no specialist, and this blog is completely about my own experiences, but I have learnt how vital periods are to my long-term (and short-term) health.
Fast forward three years to today and it is a completely different story. I am not shy, and am in fact proud to say, I have consistently had a period every month for the past 2 years unaided (I’m not on the pill).
It sounds sad, but I genuinely get excited when my period arrives. The heart sinking feeling I used to get is a very far cry from the excitement I now get. I know it is a sign that I am a healthy functioning woman (even if I do look 12!). It allows me to see that I am fuelling myself well alongside training, and my body is coping with the intense activity I am asking it to do.
Learn the signs.
I have also come to know my body and understand why it feels how it does at certain times. Leading up to my period, my legs feel heavier in training, my stomach becomes more sensitive, I can get VERY emotional and my concentration can be all over the place. Rather than beating myself up for my body reacting in these ways, I accept it as a part of me. I used to get angry at these bodily responses, but now I am actually proud and fascinated. I am amazed by my body’s ability to respond in this way, and sometimes be quite predictable (not always!). Whilst I experience these feelings, they are very individual and vary from person to person.
About a year ago, I started using the FitrWoman App, and I have found it incredibly insightful. I had no idea about the symptoms I experienced at different times of my cycle or that my legs feeling heavy was even linked to my period, until I started using the FitrWoman app. It has allowed me to understand what my hormones are doing at different times of my cycle, what might be best for my body, and notice patterns in my symptoms.
It was also a tool that allowed me to open up about periods. If there is an app for them, and near enough every woman has them, why aren’t we speaking about them more. I now feel 100 times more comfortable discussing periods than I used to.
This leads perfectly on to my last point. I recently changed coach, and one of the first things he asked me was about my periods. I felt so relieved that he spoke to me about this topic, and it was so refreshing. Periods aren’t something to be ashamed of or hidden away from, and we should feel more confident to speak to our coaches about them. If you have ever worried about approaching the topic with your coach before, you may find it helpful to break the ice. It isn’t an excuse when a session might not go to plan because your body isn’t feeling great, instead it is a valid explanation that your coach should know about.
I am still learning to listen to my body and not beat myself up when the symptoms I am feeling are working against me.
Going with the flow...
Whoever you are, no journey is ever going to be completely straightforward. There will be ups and downs, but accepting that is all part of the process. There is no point hating every second of what you do, if so, it’s not the right path for you, therefore, you need to embrace the rollercoaster nature of it, and just go with the flow. Accepting there will be ups and downs is the best place to start. Once you’ve done this, the whole process will become a lot more enjoyable. That being said, it’s not as easy as it sounds!
It is worth noting that NO JOURNEY IS LINEAR. It is never going to be a straight path from where you are to where you want to be. If that was the case, everyone in the world would be extremely successful and achieve all their goals, but it doesn’t work like that. With every journey, whether you are working to become a doctor or an athlete, there will be challenges along the way, and the hardest but most rewarding part is how you handle them. Some will retreat and give up when things get tough, others will ride it out and stick with it. It’s up to you to decide which route you will take, but we all know which one pays off. Resilience and persistence, no matter what happens, is so incredibly important. Try not to give up when things get tough. I focus on being positive and sticking with it.
This lack of linearity doesn’t necessarily just apply to the larger picture. It is relatable to training on a daily basis. It shows how some days your body may not be feeling as strong as it usually does, and this is ok. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have lost all fitness and your goals are unattainable. It is simply your body telling you that today it needs to go a bit slower. There is no point fighting against the difficult sessions and the downs in your journey, try to just go with it.
I find my best and happiest running tends to come when I don’t force it or overthink it. When I go with the flow, turn up day in and out, don’t focus too much on how I might feel, get it done and then be ready to go again the next day.
This is ALL JUST PART OF THE PROCESS. Ultimately, if you stick with it, ride out whatever you are going through, because remember, a down can only be followed eventually by an up.
Whilst times are tough for everyone at the moment, and it is still difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, everyday is a step closer to it. Stay strong and stick with it, no matter how you feel, because it will all be worth it at the end of this bizarre time and you won’t regret it.
Using, not abusing running.
Running is a powerful sport. Almost everyone who runs, does so because they enjoy it and it makes them feel happy. Whatever your goal and whatever you are training for, running is a great escape. It allows you to shut out all your troubles for a while and just focus on your movements and the route you are running.
For me personally, it is a time when I can be completely in the moment. There is nothing else I can do; I can’t respond to emails or check my phone, it is just me, running and the great outdoors. This is powerful, however, this great feeling can get abused, and this is something I learnt in the past.
Running should be respected. No matter who you are, how fast, far, or frequently you run, it needs to be given a certain amount of respect. I forgot this and it didn’t end well. I ended up injured, malnourished and unhappy. The opposite of why we run; to be happy and healthy.
I was running irrationally, and consequently ran myself into the ground in an attempt to search for happiness. Rather than seeing running as something that could add to my life, I relied solely on it. I was running to escape stress, which many do, but at an unattainable level. I was going through pretty testings times in life that I had absolutely no power over, and I was desperate to feel an ounce of control - running allowed this.
I believed, running gave me an excuse to malnourish myself and run as much and as often as I wanted. I believed the more I ran and the less I ate, the happier I would be. I wasn’t, it doesn’t work like this. When abused, the ability of running to make you feel good can have the opposite effect. I used running to please bad cravings. I used it for all the wrong reasons, which resulted in me abusing it.
USING the sport however, is incredibly different to abusing it. Running can ADD happiness to your life and it can give you a sense of guidance and purpose, even when you are injured. It can’t cause happiness, but it can make you feel better. When used correctly, it can allow you to escape the stress of the world, clear your mind, and feel stronger inside and out.
There are ways to ensure you get the most out of running, and USE it in the best way. It is important to HAVE DAYS OFF. This allows you to miss the sport, and I can assure you one day is enough to make you desperate to get back to it. Running streaks, in my opinion, are a thing of the past. Rest days also allow you to continue using running to feel a sense of relief. They allow your body to recover, keeping your feet in your trainers and running pain free.
Another way to use running to its fullest, is to NOT SEE IT AS TORTURE. It is not a way to punish your body for the food you have eaten, or the time you have spent on the sofa, but instead a way to free your mind. To get the most out of a run is to see it as its own activity, rather than a chore to compensate for something else.
Think of the positives: how good your body and mind feels afterwards, how nice it is to run in the fresh air, and what you are adding to your life. We don’t HAVE to run, so we should be grateful for the opportunity to do it.
Keeping Positive: Lockdown 3.0
Being hit by yet again another lockdown is not easy for anyone. Whilst we have all started to get used to spending lots of time at home, it still hits you hard when the news arrives. It is that feeling of taking one step forward followed by 10 steps backwards. It is easy to feel as though your own life is outside of your control which can send you into a spiral of negativity. However, it is important to try and stay as positive as possible. For your own sanity and health. Positivity isn’t something that just happens, you have to work hard to be positive. Here are a few things I employ to stay positive when times feel very testing.
I LOVE writing a list and I write them every single day. Whether it’s an outline of my day, what I want to eat for dinner, shopping lists, to do lists, whatever it is I love a list, and there are many reasons why.
It helps me feel like I’ve achieved. There is nothing more satisfying then ticking things off a list. No matter what I’ve done in a day, whether it is completing a piece of work or going to the supermarket, when I tick that job off my list there is a sense of achievement and accomplishment attached to it. A list allows you to feel as though are succeeding at something, even when there is little to make you feel like that outside of your bubble. However, remember, there is also no harm in leaving things on your list. You don’t need to finish everything you write on it. Simply move it on to tomorrow’s list or the next days. You will eventually get round to ticking it off.
Another power of the list is the structure it adds to your day. If you write down everything you want to get done, ideally in the order you want to do it, you have your day planned out in front of you. With lockdown, for some there is little motivation to get up for the day ahead. However, writing a list sorts your day out and gives you that drive to get up and start ticking things off it.
The little things.
It’s been a while since we have had the usual things in our lives to look forward to. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t get excited by anything, it just means we need to find excitement in other things- the little things.
For me, my excitement tends to come from food, but there are other things too. If you try to cook new things, or recipes that you find particularly tasty each evening, you will find yourself getting slightly excited by this. Be kind to yourself, and allow yourself something tasty to enjoy each day. You will feel much better, trust me. There is no need to deny yourself anything in normal circumstances, but doing so during lockdown, will only make you feel miserable. Another thing you can do is get stuck into a series. Box sets have been the saviour of the past year. I have been watching The Serpent on BBC and recommend it to everyone. It is based on a true story, which makes it absolutely shocking, but it is also very addicting. If you enjoy reading, like I do, order some books and get stuck in!
This is ESSENTIAL to staying positive. Never underestimate the power of exercise, even if you don’t like it. You will feel SO much better for exercising and getting some fresh air. Even on the days where all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch movies, getting outside for any form of exercise, be it a walk or a run, will brighten your mental state considerably. This time is about looking after your mental health, even more than your physical health (whilst this is of course very important), but prioritise being kind to yourself. Exercising in the fresh air, 100% makes you feel better. You will then enjoy curling up on the sofa all the more.
Catch your thoughts.
Finally, when you feel your mind drifting to a place of negativity, catch it. Find things to distract yourself to keep your mind in a present, positive state. If a negative train of thought is taking over, direct your thoughts elsewhere, to what you are going to cook later, maybe phone a friend, do anything to bring it back. Another thing I find helps is colouring. It helps concentrate my mind and stop it from wondering off. I always remind myself that positivity is something you have to practice and it will eventually become habit. This is what I have found myself.
Being positive isn’t easy, we have to work at it like we would anything else. You will then see it as part of a journey and welcome the challenge of learning to be more positive.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!