Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Girl...You'll Be a Woman Soon (Effects of PMS and Menses on a Woman and Running)

Now if I could, I would bet all my money that no one knows that the title to this blog post is a song title, and the song was done by Neil Diamond many, many, many moons ago...

OK so in light of my Saturday long run this past weekend, and from the couple of comments I got and several emails, I figured this womanly topic should be further explored, so I got to checking around on the old internet...


From what I understand, progesterone is also high right before your period and progesterone affects how we take in or process oxygen (see below), so those runs are going to be more difficult because we can't catch our breath very easily and not only that but the fact that the oxygen itself will have a hard time going to the places it needs to go.  Makes sense.

Impact on training

The hardest time to race or train efficiently, for athletes experiencing a menstrual cycle, is during the week before menstruation and a week after ovulation. At these times increased levels of progesterone simulate the brain's respiratory centre increasing ventilation rates (progesterone is also linked to the mood swings). Athletes use breathing rate as an indicator of exercise intensity so exercise can tend to feel harder at these times.  Well duh. 

I know from my own personal experience the week leading up to P-Day I sleep a lot more and am just generally more fatigued.  While this was the case this week, it wasnt as bad as previous weeks and since my cycle is all kattywompus anyway due to age, I just never know anymore.  But when those cramps started on Friday night and they were as bad as they were, I kinda knew that this might be bad but I went into it with a positive thought process but physically it wasn't something I obviously was going to be able to overcome.

This time, the training run was more physical than mental.

The time of maximum efficiency for athletes experiencing a normal 28 day menstrual cycle might be pre-ovulation (days 9-12) or post-ovulation (days 17-20).  This is excellent news to me because if this right and my body stays on target, this is prime time for Chicago marathon this year.  :O)

Many women get concerned that they won't be able to run when dealing with the bloating, cramping, and bleeding that come with their monthly period. They get particularly nervous when they realize that they may have their period for a big upcoming race.   Thankfully I don't recall this ever being an issue for a marathon, although I know last year it was right before Chicago, but the unseasonal heatwave kinda made that pale in comparison.  Plus it was before and not during, so the impact was non-existant in my opinion.  I have had issues though during a shorter distance race and way too many long runs to count.  Its kind of hard to avoid that when training for a marathon.  I mean there are months of training involved here!
I think its important to remember:  Don't be afraid to run when you're menstruating. You may find that running can actually improve your mood and alleviate physical symptoms before and during your period. If you're training for a big race, it's recommended that you plan to run when you have your period so you can see how it feels.  Really?  Sorry when I read this bit of advice on the internet, I couldn't help but laugh, but I bet there are some women that do exactly this!

It will alleviate some of the fear and nervousness if you have it for your race. Tampons are recommended over pads for comfort and to avoid chafing. Just make sure you carry an extra one on your long runs during that time of the month.  
Just as the effects of menstruation itself differ greatly from woman to woman, the effects of menstruation on running performance vary greatly as well.  Some women notice no difference in performance; others notice a great deal of difference.   If your period is going to affect your running, it’s most likely to occur during the premenstrual and early flow phases of the cycle.  

The good news is that many women runners find that their running helps to ease cramps, bloating, headaches, fatigue, and all of those other friendly monthly visitors.  To best deal with the effects of menstruation, track how your cycle affects your running in a training log, and then plan accordingly.  For example, if you notice that running often seems harder during your premenstrual phase, accept that and don’t try runs that are longer or harder than usual during this time.


On the not-so-good side, running can lead to increased bleeding. Some of the painkillers, such as ibuprofen, that help with other side effects can also reduce bleeding. The increased bleeding usually isn’t so great that it’s visible. But if you’re worried about this, do what Olympic gold medalist in the marathon, Joan Benoit Samuelson, does and run with a tampon in a plastic bag pinned inside of your shorts or tights (um why didn't I think of this on Saturday???!!!).   Honestly I really didn't think it was going to 'happen' but I won't make that mistake again.

More often than not the best advice to menstruating females, their coaches and parents: “All female athletes should keep a training cycle diary.” In this way a female can track whether or not there appears to be a pattern in her cycle that leads her to believe racing during a particular phase could be a detriment to her performance. Plan your races during a time when you realize you are typically “on.” He also suggests females get their ferritin tested frequently. “Know what it is when you are feeling good and then get it tested when you are feeling low.”

“Watch high-intensity efforts and recovery during the luteal phase,” Sims recommends. “It’s a bit harder on the body due to the physiological shifts in fluid, temperature and fuel, so women are more predisoposed to overtraining and under-recovery during these two weeks.”

Many of us remember(or not) Uta Pippig’s 1996 win at the Boston Marathon where finish line photos showed her wild-eyed and grinning despite evidence of menstrual bleeding and diarrhea on her legs. I seriously doubt anyone encouraged Pippig by saying,
“Pull the tampon out and run.” (this is a saying a lot of guys say to other men which means basically to man up and quit running as slow as a girl; yeah I know...) 

Clearly the power of her positive and determined mind played a crucial role in her win despite the indignity of her appearance. 

While an uncomfortable and typically taboo topic for most men and some women, it’s something that every woman runner needs to take into consideration when planning a training schedule and understanding running performance.

And in order to grasp the important differences occurring during the phases (and yes I looked this up), one has to first understand the menstruation cycle. The first day of the cycle is the first day of menses. Bleeding is usually complete by day 5 or 7. Days 1-14 are called the follicular phase. By day 14 or 15, ovulation begins with a surge in estrogen and lutenizing hormone. The following phase lasts until the last day (28 on average) and is called the luteal phase. During this phase estrogen is at its highest triggering several interesting changes, many of which hinder performance.

Do you schedule races around 'that time'?  Have you ever freaked out when you realized close to race day that 'Flo' would be visiting as well?

3 comments:

Lisa said...

Back like maybe 8 yrs ago, I was more aware of my races & cycle falling at the same time. I guess with experience, I learned I'd be ok. As a matter of fact, I've had some of my better training runs/races while on my period. Go figure?
Age & running have shortened my cycles, too, though.

Lesley @ racingitoff.com said...

First, I have seen Neil Diamond perform that song live in concert.

Second, I just can't wrap my head around stopping mid-run to change. I usually just end up coming home a nasty disaster if I have a long distance to run on the first 2 days. My times are short but really heavy which makes a running disaster.

monicac2 said...

I still can't get over that Uta Pippig visual! :0

I run through my time-of-the-month, and always with pads, not tampons. It's not pleasant, but we do what we have to do...!