Tuesday, May 28, 2019

9 Things No One Tells Runners About Menopause

No matter how much we wish we could avoid it, no woman gets out of this life without going through menopause. The average age for menopause is 51. Perimenopause, that fun period of time when things start happening, can begin 10 years before that. Cue Tammy Wynette singing "Sometimes it's hard to be a woman..."

While perimenopause was like being an adolescent all over again--mood swings, hot flashes, acne, and heavy periods--I did some of my best running during those years. Who PRs a marathon and a half marathon in their early 50s? I did. I was running so well that I thought I'd be able to snag a BQ!

Yeah, not so much. My body had other ideas.  Here are 9 things I've learned about running with menopause. It's time to talk about it.



No One Talks About Running Through Menopause.
No one really talks about menopause. It's like some big shameful secret instead of a natural physiological process that every woman goes through. Bring up the topic and watch people squirm uncomfortably. In my younger days, I heard women refer to it as "the change", as in "she's going through the change of life". There were whispers about "the change" when one of my aunts who, while in the throes of menopause, threw all her dishes out into the backyard. One of my bosses referred to hot flashes as her "personal summers". Ick. I get clammy just thinking about that. One of my coworkers, who is my age, used to say she was "too cool" to go through menopause.

She's still cool. She's also menopausal. Proving that it is possible to be the bomb diggity even when your estrogen levels are hovering around zero.

Even less than people talk about menopause, no one talks about menopause and running. While I was preparing this post, I did a Google search on menopause and running. I found a few articles here with general information but nothing of depth. Apparently, scientists aren't interested in studying old crones, even athletic ones. Here you go grandma, take some estrogen pills or an antidepressant and stop complaining. You'd think that our next stop was the nursing home instead of the starting line to a race. I have my thoughts on aging as a woman in the US, but this is a running blog, not a personal op-ed.

I started talking about this to some of my peers, running friends who share an age group with me. Most of us that are still running are making our way to the back of the pack. I learned that it wasn't just me. We were all going through the same thing. Slowing down isn't easy.

No one's talking...

You Will Slow Down
My slowdown started about 2 1/2 years ago. I flew down to Panama City Beach to run a half marathon with my friends Holly and Marcia and a bunch of other middle-aged bloggers. It was so much fun! I was excited to run in Florida in December and set a goal to sub 2 this half.

Much to my surprise, even though my training indicated I was fully capable of a sub 2 half, I couldn't do it. I struggled with pacing about 2 miles in. At the time, I didn't know what was going on. The conditions were perfect, the course was flat, and I had Holly as my rabbit. One week after the race, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and I was certain that was the reason I was slowing down.

Maybe it was but most likely it wasn't. I had some success with running a few more half marathons over the next couple of years, but I never did sub-2 a half marathon after that. My endurance started to suffer, and I had to incorporate walk breaks into my long runs. There would be no more marathons. In January of this year, I ran the Mobile Half Marathon, feeling good and finishing with a 2:15. Never did I think I would celebrate a 2:15 half marathon, but there it was.

And Then, You Will Fall Off A Cliff. Not literally, but figuratively.
This recent slowdown was dramatic. A month after the Mobile half marathon, I couldn't run 3 miles without stopping. Pushing it to 6 or 8 miles, even with walk intervals, was a struggle. My mile per minute pace dropped precipitously. I was heartbroken. What the hell was happening to me? I blamed RA, but with my blood work indicating low disease activity, I had nothing else to blame but menopause. Am I done with distance running? Will there be no more half marathons for me?

You Will Gain Weight Around Your Middle. No matter what you do.
The lack of estrogen causes a deposit of fat right smack in the middle of your abdomen. The "menopot". One of my friends calls it a "donut". No matter how hard you work out, no matter what you eat, it's there. I eat a lot of salads. I don't eat junk or sweets. I am still very active, including strength training and bootcamp. Yet...there it is. Flubber. Yeah, no bare midriffs over here. Don't even get me started on the back fat.

Things Will Start to Sag. A lot.
When I was a nursing student, my first clinical was in a nursing home and we had to dress the elderly ladies. It was when I first learned about what was called "pendulous breasts". Meaning they were looooong. How to put the bra on? Do you roll them up and stick them in the cup? Was this my future? Well, guys, suddenly, my sports bras aren't supporting the girls. I put on my bra, hoist up my breasts, and mold them into the cups. At the end of a run, they've kind of slid out of position. Do they sell bras in a 34 long?

Chafing Occurs in Strange, Unmentionable Places
Can I say this? You will chafe where you've never chafed before. Especially in the land down under. Lack of estrogen leads to vaginal atrophy and dryness. Before running, I recommend using one of those new silicone anti-chafing products. That's all I'm going to say about that.

Leakage happens.
I know a lot of women who have this problem. Maybe that's why old ladies don't laugh as much--they're afraid of peeing their pants. Lack of estrogen causes weakening of the urinary tract. There are treatments for this, including physical therapy. Talk to your doctor. Sure beats wearing Depends.

You'll Sweat. And not necessarily when you're working out.
Hot flashes are the WORST! There have been times when I have been seeing patients and beads of perspiration break out on my face. I can feel my face flushing. I act like nothing is happening, because that's what we do, right? I have never experienced a hot flash when I've been running though. Maybe because I'm already hot and sweaty.

Insomnia is real and it's ridiculous.
I'm tired. I like to read before I fall asleep and it doesn't take long before my eyelids are drooping. A couple of hours later, I'm awake. Wide awake. My mind starts running. I get up to go to the bathroom. And then I lay there. Sometimes, as a bonus, I'll have a hot flash. Then I'm kicking off the covers. By the time I fall asleep again, it's time to wake up for the day. Guys, I'm tired! That makes it tough to work out.

There is good news. 
Not everyone slows down with menopause. There are some old ladies who are just killing it. One of my friends from high school can still run a sub-4 marathon. She's run Boston 3 times and this year BQ'd again. But she is definitely the exception. Just look at the over 50 women's age groups in a race and you'll see that the number of participants drops off precipitously. So do the finish times. Yet no one talks about it.

Strength training is one area post-menopausal women can slow the inevitable body changes associated with menopause and even make gains. It is never too late to start strength training. Increased muscle tissue burns more calories and can help keep post-menopausal weight gain at bay. Strength training can also prevent the progression of osteoporosis, a condition that causes weakening in the bone and can lead to fractures. One to 2 sessions per week is all that is needed. The weights need to be moderately heavy to make a difference.

I love what strength training has done for me and it is a bright spot in my fitness regimen. Running for me right now is trying to figure out a pace that I can feel good at and still get a runner's high. Will I get my groove back? I've still got a half marathon on the calendar for September. Will I line up with the other old ladies?

I'm sure going to try!

No one talks about running with menopause. I'm breaking the silence. /via @oldrunningmom #runchat #menopause #running #curearthritis

What do you know about running after menopause? Any advice? I'm looking for a supportive running bra--any suggestions?

For more information, check out the list of resources on Run Young 50!




60 comments :

  1. Girrrrrrrl. ooof, feeling ya . . . I'm almost 52 but not yet in menopause yet, but things have definitely changed. Lawdy the peri-menopause is dragging out. Anyway, as a lifelong competitive runner, the running changes have been the worse to take and have, at times, made me hate and want to quit running (because I start comparing past self to present self) - slower, tired-er, more recovery needed. I'd say it was about 48 when I noticed I wasn't "me" anymore running. The last marathon (nov 2017) I ran was a disaster mentally and physically, so much so I couldn't bring myself to sign up for one this year. However, I know there is still joy in running and I sometimes feel it - haha, and I would never actually give it up. And, I'm all for getting in the gym and building some muscle -- not only does it help boost metabolism but it also an endorphin boost and empowering, like I'm not going to just sit back and wither away.
    Thanks for sharing the post in a funny yet informative way, it's a real topic we shouldn't be embarrassed about!

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    1. You are clearly still rocking it--your muscles are proof. Yep, I won't totally give up running but I need to accept that running is just going to be part of my fitness regimen--that I can't rely on being just a runner any more.

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  2. Oh the joys of being a woman. Do men have to deal with anything? Seriously, they get off so easy! My grandmother and mother didn't suffer too much through menopause but other women in my family have had it bad, especially with the hot flashes and night sweats. My sister is and I are really hoping (fingers crossed) that our transition to menopause will mimic our mom's!

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    1. It hasn't been bad for me either--I think that the running slow down has been my worst symptom. That's what has been so hard for my doctor too--she doesn't know what to do with me!

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  3. You know I had to rush to read this ASAP. I think I may have had a hot flash during a race, but how could I tell? I literally couldn't figure out if it was the weather or if it was me. Either way it sucked. I'm lucky that my hot flashes have been mild, but the night sweats! I wouldn't mind if it was my body, but who can sleep with a sweaty face! I need to remember to keep face wipes by my bed. And yes to lubrication! I apply Chamois But'her directly .... Bless you for opening up on this topic.

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    1. You know me..always looking for answers. It was no surprise that I didn't find much. We need to talk about this!

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  4. I swear by my Brooks high impact bras. While they no longer make the ones I'm wearing, I'll definitely get another Brooks once these have died. It looks like the Brooks Spring Uphold Crossback Bra is pretty close to what I wear now. I can't wear pull on bras, my back is very narrow so if a bra goes over my shoulders, it's too big for my chest.

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    1. I have a Brooks Moving Comfort bra and I have issues with the clasp. I'll have to try them again. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  5. I can relate to some of this but I didn't START running until AFTER menopause.

    I hope I am not slowing down too much but then again I was never as fast as you.

    The menapot is no joke. Good thing there is spandex. Can't wear a dress without something holding it in.

    And the sagging skin? Bad news...it gets a lot worse in your 60s.

    Good news...so many women still out there in their 70s and 80s. I hope it will be both of us.

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  6. thank you for all of this information and for being so candid about what happens to women during menopause when they are runners. I had no idea about many of these things.

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    1. I'm grateful for all my friends who shared their stories with me!

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  7. I'm like Darlene, I was pretty much in menopause when I began running so maybe that's why I never was able to get super fast...sigh. But yeah, there are a lot of sucky things that come with it that's for damn sure. At least we're all in it together, which is why it pays to have friends your age - they get it.

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    1. I was never super fast, but the speed I run at now is just darned depressing! I'm getting used to it..and I'm happy to still be moving.

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  8. You CAN get out of this life without experiencing menopause. It's called death. I think menopause is especially hard on a runner because we quantify our runs my pace. And it's very clear when those numbers drop off. Now I totally get what's going on with women who've "let themselves go". Oh and it's a Texas-sized donut here.

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  9. Thanks for being so candid about this! I had no idea that a lack of estrogen affected so many things. I've definitely been feeling some changes lately and I think perimenopause is definitely here for me.

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  10. I just turned 55, so this hit very close to home. Perimenopause just keeps on rolling here. 10 months with no period, I was ready to throw a party, then BAM! It's back. My perimenopause periods have been some of the worst of my life. I ran my fastest marathon at 50 and now I can't get past about 5 miles.

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    1. THAT is what I am talking about. It's like someone pulled the plug and drained all the energy out of me.

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  11. I'm SO glad you're talking about this since at age 44 I'm entering peri-menopause and it already sucks! I'm sure I have mentioned this before (because I wrote a few articles about it for WR) but check out ROAR by Stacy Sims - one of the only doctors/scientists and Ironman athlete who studies women in endurance in general and menopause specifically. Although her study group is small (because of all the reasons you mentioned) it's the best there is when it comes to solid information on menopause and endurance sports!

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    1. Your the second person to recommend ROAR and I'm off to order it as we speak. I may reach out to her for an interview eventually. Once I get over myself, that is...

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  12. This is brilliant and if you don't mind, I'm going to share it in the menopause FB group I'm in, which has a fair few runners.

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  13. Thankfully, I'm not there yet (key word: yet). Lots to look forward to LOL (although my sleep has always been jacked; I'm lucky I can function on 5-6 hours of shut-eye)

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  14. Thanks for this post! I was nodding the entire time. Gotta keep on, keeping on!

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  15. I was so hoping that running would be the thing to not experience menopause. I am 54 and have yet to have any symptoms beyond insomnia. Am I in for a rude awakening?

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  16. My friend Marie is 64 and she beat me at M2B yesterday (3:45) after doing the Bklyn 1/2 last weekend in 1:47 and Boston in 3:47. Granted she used to beat me when I was in my 30s and she was in her 50s and we both ran faster, too. LOL! I'm not there yet but I appreciate the insights!

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    1. While I don't love that she beat you, I love that she's still so fast! Can I have some of what she's drinking?

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  17. Thanks for putting this all out there! It is crazy that there isn't more information on the topic. The insomnia is killing me right now - I swear I am permanently tired! And, don't get me started on this memo-middle I'm sporting!

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    1. I'm glad that INB makes skirts and shorts with high waists. It kind of holds it all in place.

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  18. Ugh I have been so upset the last year about the weight gain and fat in places I never had it. Like you, I work really hard at staying active and it just seems so unfair and cruel. I see lots of women in my MRTT group crushing it in their 50's so I guess there is hope!

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    1. Unless they haven't crossed over to the dark side...the precipitous drop in fitness over the past couple of months has just floored me. I thought I was going to gradually slow down. I never expected it all to come to a sudden halt!

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  19. I second Allie's suggestion to read ROAR - the chapter on menopause has some interesting insights! Thank you for sharing this - I think it is so important to talk about women's issues in running, whether that's menopause or pregnancy or periods.
    If you find a supportive running sports bra, you should share it! I'm already starting to think about BFing and am almost overwhelmed with the options. It is much easier to pick out a sports bra before having to consider things like enough support.

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    1. I actually read your review of ROAR after I found it on Google! I am going to pick it up and if I can, try to get in touch with Stacy Sims. You are right, we need to talk about women's issues. I didn't know if talking about menopause would cause blog suicide for me--so far the response has been overwhelming!

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  20. I love that you are talking about this! We definitely need more conversations about this! I am not there yet but it's nice to have the info in advance. I also think we need to have more conversations about periods and running as well!

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    1. It's mind blowing to me how little information is out there on women's issues and running. I didn't expect so many women to respond to this post like they have! Let's keep the conversation going.

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  21. You’re definitely describing my life! I had a hysterectomy at 50, which sent me straight into menopause. I did all the things: I slowed down, I gained weight, I had (and still have) hot flashes. Fortunately, the surgery actually seemed to fix my leakage problem, for now anyway. And 10 years later the extra weight just kind of went away. I haven’t gotten any faster though. It is frustrating but I tell myself I’m competing against the other 60 year olds. Thank goodness for age groups!

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    1. You seem to be holding your own! I hope to get back to running long distances again--I'm holding you up as my role model!

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  22. I am so glad you wrote this post - while I am not there *yet*, I was just discussing this with fellow runners this past weekend. I already suffer from a lot of those symptoms anyway...not looking forward to menopause lol.

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    1. I really thought I was going to breeze through this thing, until the past couple of months. It hit me like a rock. No one told me it was going to affect my running like this! I think we runners feel things more because we are so in tune with our bodies.

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  23. I'm not at that life stage yet but I thank you for your honesty. I think it's a part of life that needs to be talked about and it's a shame that athletes don't talk about these things!

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  24. Great post! I am not there yet (don't think so) but I will get there and now will know what to expect.

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  25. I love this post! I'm not there yet, but I've already felt the 40 year old slowdown and had trouble with injury and my body breaking down from overuse. But, women need to talk about all this stuff more and I'm thrilled you put it out in the open. Am not thrilled to hear about the donut though....I got more of one than usual at 40!

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    1. I feel like my "donut" keeps expanding! I'm not loving it.

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  26. I've learned that aging is not for sissies!

    One of my running girlfriends sent a group text asking if we'd seen the new feature on Garmin that tracks your menstrual cycle. I reminded everyone that I'm 61 and said that a hot flash tracker would be more appropriate for my age group!

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  27. Wendy, it is good that you are raising awareness of the potential impact of the perimenopause & menopause on runners. The number of comments show just how little information there is out there for runners and endurance athletes. I've found a lot of people look at the posts I've written about my own experience of the perimenopause so I've published a post on my blog which brings together the useful information I've found specifically written for endurance athletes, including from a sports nutritionist, sports physio and a triathlete podcast which includes an interview with Stacey Sims, author of ROAR. http://runyoung50.co.uk/running-and-the-menopause-resources/ Katie

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    1. This is great and I'm glad you shared the link! Heading over to read it.

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  28. I love this. I'm a runner and went through early meno at 41 - I'm now 52 and yes I've definitely slowed down. But it isn't all bad. Losing estrogen doesn't have to lead to vaginal atrophy and there are lots of things we can do to naturally help ourselves transition more easily through menopause. Increasing natural phytoestrogens in our diet is key to this. Leakage is also common but NOT normal. If women with stress incontinence see a specialist pelvic physio 84% of them can be cured in just 6 sessions. So don't accept menopause problems, ladies. There is much that we can do to help ourselves achieve hormonal balance long term.

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    1. All great points and I'm so glad you weighed in! I agree that we shouldn't just accept problems associated with menopause. But we have to take charge of our health!

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  29. Because I started so late in life, I haven't really hit my slow down yet. Then again, I'm pretty slow to begin with, so there's that. I'm sure it's coming at some point.

    Hot flashes . . . not so much. I call them hot flushes, and even those I don't get that much. Must be genetic, like my mom, I went through menopause late, about 56 (yes, like my mom) & she also didn't really get many hot flashes (hopefully I don't get breast cancer like her, though).

    In fact, I actually thought I'd finally gotten through menopause at PCB -- perimenopause was far worse for me, I struggled way more with my weight and the erratic periods drove me bonkers. At that point, thought, it had been about a year since the last one. Except I got my period right before the race! Thankfully, that turned out to be the very last one.

    Insomnia . . . oh yeah, that's a different story. Most of the time I really do sleep ok, but I go through weeks at a time when I'm not getting enough sleep and I just feel like a zombie. Not really sure it's due to menopause, but who knows, could be.

    Ah, the land down under. Which no one talks about. Not so much the chafing, although there is that occasionally -- but that started before menopause. But can we talk about sex? Initially, it was horrible. So painful. Yeah, no one talks about that, either. Hopefully this post doesn't get dumped into spam because of that sentence! Anyway, I have to use lubricant, which is not so sexy or spontaneous, but otherwise we'd be roommates. It has gotten better, though, thankfully.

    I have only leaked once (maybe because I never had kids), but man that was definitely unpleasant & glad that I was alone that time.

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    1. I didn't talk about the issues with sex because this was a post about the effects on menopause and running. Yeah, it all sucks. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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  30. Thank you so much for this! I am almost in tears as I type this!! I'm going on 4 months without my period, experiencing hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia! I.am.so.tired!! And the weight gain; where did those extra pounds come from?!
    I'm struggling getting up in the morning to run, but I am determined to get at least 2 km in, even if some people can walk faster now :). I think this is a difficult time in our lives as we are now the "sandwich generation"; our parents are elderly, and, at least in my household, I still have a teenager in the house!
    I have noticed, however, that avoiding sugar seems to help. But why am I craving chocolate?
    Thank you so much for letting me vent. And thank you to everyone who commented; very insightful!

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    1. I am so glad you commented! It just shows that none of us are alone. I too avoid sugar--it's like crack when I eat something sweet. And no matter how bad I feel, just getting outside and moving, even slowly, always makes me feel better.

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