Running and I are taking a break.
Not breaking up, not divorcing, no one is moving out.
We are just going to be giving each other some space.
After finishing the Maine Coast Half Marathon with a personal PR and feeling the strongest I’ve ever felt during a race, this sucks. I’ve been back and forth and on various stages of the grieving cycle regarding this decision but I know deep down it’s one that needs to be made. Since devoting much of my life to running (hello, I made a blog and turned down multiple nights of pizza for it) taking a step back is far from easy. Running has unsuspectedly become so much a part of my identity that looking at a summer without it is almost like looking at my reflection without a nose. Still recognizable, but odd – and kinda freaking scary.
You’re probably confused. No kidding! I haven’t been super transparent on the blog about my personal history. You can read a snapshot that I wrote of it here, for The Lane 9 Project. Sparknotes version: I haven’t had a natural period (one that came without the help of some kind of birth control) since I was ~16. That’s almost 10 years at this point. Though I know I reached a healthy weight in college and had what I’d consider a normal relationship to food and exercise, there’s no way for me to know if I would have been getting a period at that time. Sparing actual numbers for the sake of NUMBERS AREN’T IMPORTANT, I ultimately weigh 20 pounds less than I did when I graduated college in 2014. Over the course of ~3 years, I’ve slowly and steadily been underfueling. That was a hard pill to swallow, but explains a lot when thinking about why it’s taken so long for my cycle to come back.
Amenorrhea is gaining traction in the media. (See HERE, HERE and HERE) Or at least it seems like it is. I joined The Lane 9 Project because I identified with its mission, have listened to podcasts featuring Dr. Nicola Rinaldi, author of the book No Period Now What, and have been following Tina Muir on her journey to get her period back to start a family with her husband. I found Robyn’s blog and she became a huge role model for me.
I had no idea amenorrhea was common. I thought I was an anomaly – some girl with a crazy irregular cycle that would have to endure the rest of her life with no real certainty whether or not she’d be able to have kids of her own. No one I knew seemed to be struggling with this, and we were all bandaged with birth control so it wasn’t on my radar for many years, either.
Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) is a condition in which a women’s reproductive system, namely the menstrual cycle, shuts down because the body does not prioritize making babies when it only has enough energy to keep all other vital systems running. A combination of energy deficiency (eating too few calories for the amount of activity or calories burned), sleep deficiency, chronic stress and overexercise catapult the body into a frantic “survival” state in which non-essential systems are shut down in favor of shuttling any available energy to those that truly keep us alive.
Why is it important to maintain a cycle? I have had multiple doctors tell me that I’m probably fine. That I don’t need to try to get my period back until I want to start having kids. I took the bait for years. But always wondered, “why?” Why should I settle for one of my body’s systems not functioning correctly? I had most of my hormones checked, and since they were within the normal (super wide) ranges, my physicians assumed I was fine. Funnily enough, I never had my estrogen checked until this year. What do you know? It was crazy low.
Symptoms of low estrogen via Healthline
- painful sex due to a lack of vaginal lubrication
- an increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to a thinning of the urethra
- irregular or absent periods
- mood swings
- hot flashes
- breast tenderness
- headaches or accentuation of pre-existing migraines
- trouble concentrating
HA doesn’t just show up when a women drops into the underweight BMI zone. According to Dr. Rinaldi, she’s found that most women maintain their cycles at a BMI of 22-24, but everyone is different. Some women will lose their period at a higher BMI, some will maintain it at a lower one. Everyone tolerates a different level of exercise. There are thin marathoners who have kids – we all see this.
I just turn out to be someone who is particularly sensitive. Whether to stress, lack of sleep, overexercise, or undernutrition it’s not exactly clear. In some way, I think I’ve been experiencing all of this since I moved to Boston for my dietetic internship. I’ve pushed myself to work hard, talked about the benefits of sleep but pushed it aside in favor of building my portfolio and network. I used running as a means to escape and re-charge, but ultimately probably only made it harder for my body to rest.
I’m on a mission to get my menstrual cycle back (inspired by others like Brittany and Robyn), and I’m starting with running. I’m hoping that it’s not a forever goodbye. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to slow down, fuel myself properly, let my body realize that I’m not under attack and that it can devote energy to ALL my body systems. Then, I’m hoping I can start running (or doing intense exercise in general) again – while prioritizing sleep, recovery days, and always always always fueling properly.
I’ve spent a good part of the last (few) month(s) generating mental lists like this and forging battles between the shoulds and should-nots.
Reasons Why I Should Take A Break
- I haven’t had a real period since high school. My just-measured estrogen levels are lower than that of a women in menopause and there is no sign that it’s going to return to normal unless something gives.
- Even though I’ve healed my relationship with food I can’t argue away the fact that I’m still 20 pounds lighter than my college-aged self and that ultimately reflects the fact that I’ve been burning more energy, however slowly, than I’ve been taking in.
- There’s no denying I live a stressful life, and running/training placed additional stressors on that, even though it made me feel good in certain respects I hardly let my body have a chance to “come down” for an extended period of time.
- I know I’m injury-prone, and I should devote more time to strengthening other parts of my running system besides the lace-up-and-run part.
- The fact that I’m so torn up about simply taking a BREAK seems to indicate that I’m using running for more than just joyful movement. I am hesitant to identify any habit as an addiction, per se, but I know I sometimes feel compulsive about running, have ignored a few rest days or had a little too much emphasis on the “active” part of active rest for the balance to be surely weighted in the direction of more is better. My logical self knows more is not always better.
Reasons Why I Shouldn’t
- Physically, I feel great. I am at the weight I always dreamed of and it’s comfortable for me. I KNOW I shouldn’t be motivated by the appearance of my physical body but it’s still a fear barrier that stands in the way of taking a step back. Something I will need to work on.
- I just joined the Oiselle Volee this year and was excited to become more a part of that running community. I know I can still be involved while running less, but it’s hard to make myself believe it would still be as fun.
- I freaking love running – it’s so accessible and simple and my favorite way to jaunt around Boston, especially in the summer. I feel so accomplished after a good run, and love pushing myself to become a better, stronger runner.
- What’s the point of trying to get my period back, anyway? It’s not like I’m trying to get pregnant any time soon. At least birth control sort of puts a bandaid on my low estrogen levels and prevents my bones from totally eating themselves away. Thinking about gaining weight as providing nourishing ground for a baby to grow isn’t exactly motivating now, though having kids EVENTUALLY is one of the main reasons I want to avoid infertility.
Disturbed my the mental war zone? Inner arguments like this were a constant during the worst of my eating disorder and even as I moved into recovery. Constantly battling, coming up with reasons why and just as quickly a reason why not. Letting fear hold the steering wheel for a little too long. Thankfully, my logic muscle is stronger now. I can step back and realize when something is not healthy – not serving its intended purpose in my life.
Even now, as I go back and read through the posts I wrote during my marathon training season last summer, I see a recurring theme: power through it. You are stronger than you know. Get through the mud. Work. Work. Work.
I never told myself to slow down, or even allowed that to happen. Rest days were written in to my schedule and I probably abided by one or two of them as they were truly intended.
Now more than ever it’s time to give myself a break. For my own health. For my future.
It’s a see you later.
If you identify with anything here, I highly recommend joining the conversation with The Lane 9 Project ladies. We would love to have you, support you, and walk with you (literally). I will be hosting events in the Boston area as an ambassador, but am happy and proud to come alongside any women in similar shoes as we rediscover and embrace our true strength.
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org