Menopause is something that we are all going to go through at some point, but we don’t always think about how this can impact on our running. For us to get the most out of our runs, whilst also improving our bone health, we need to understand what is changing in our bodies so that we can ensure our training can align us to navigate through this natural transition in life…. So, let’s take a look at how this can be achieved by first getting clear on what the menopause is.
Menopause occurs when our ovaries no longer release monthly eggs, resulting in our menstrual cycle to end. During this time, we experience a decline in oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, whilst cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase. When a woman has not had a period for at least 12 months, she is seen to have reached menopause. In the UK, the average age for this to occur is 51 years. However, approximately 5-10 years before this, symptoms can start to become noticeable, and this is when a woman has entered the perimenopause.
As we experience a decline in oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, we can start to notice things such as pace reducing, feeling less motivated, and it is taking longer for our body to recover. One of the reasons that these changes in our running can occur, is due to a loss of muscle mass which naturally starts to decline in our 40’s and is further reduced through oestrogen and testosterone deficiencies. Additionally, our muscle recovery can become slower. This means that the training we did in our 20’s and 30’s may need to be adapted slightly for us to get the most out of our runs.
We know that running can be a fantastic way of reducing the severity of some of the symptoms of menopause, so what can we do to improve and get the most out of our running, whilst enabling our runs to be aligned with these life changes?
As our hormones reduce, we need more time for recovery as our tendons, muscles and joints require a little extra time to rest. This is also at a time when our inner critic can pipe up and start telling us we are “not doing good enough and need to train harder or more often.” However, this can have a detrimental impact on our long-term training, as it increases the possibility of being injured. During a run, we break down our muscle fibres and deplete our glycogen, resulting in our body feeling tired. This is why our recovery time between runs is important, as this is when our body becomes fitter as our muscles build back stronger and fitness improves.
A way to check in and monitor whether we need more rest in between runs is to do the stairs test. If you walk up the stairs and your legs feel tired, it can be a sign that you need to allow additional recovery time for your body to repair.
We can reverse the process of losing strength, make our bones stronger and increase mean muscle mass by including strength training into our routine. This is when we push our bodies against any load and has the benefit of reducing the risk of injury. This can include lifting weights, using resistance bands or using your own body weight as resistance such a push-ups, crunches or squats.
Including easy runs into our training program can improve our endurance and reduce stress on our muscles. This results in our body being less fatigued after a run and better prepared for when we next hit the pavement. A way to determine that you are running at your easy pace is to check if you can hold a conversation or sing a song whilst running. At the end of your run, you should be
able to feel you could go on for longer when running at an easy pace. As a guide, 80% of your runs have been recommended to be at an easy pace.
High Intensity training such as interval running is where you run for short periods of time at approximately 90% capacity and then have a slower resting period. This can be beneficial to be included into our training program as is can preserve muscle mass, increase running speed and allow the weight that can accumulate around the stomach area during menopause to reduce. One of these training sessions a week can enable improvements to your running time and efficiency and takes up less time too!
As oestrogen declines, we can experience stiffer joints and muscles so incorporating some yoga into our week can be a way to strengthen our muscles whilst enhancing our flexibility. This can be a great addition to our training plan and can be included on one of our recovery days.
Whilst a lot of the physical aspects of the menopause are discussed and HRT can be a good way of supporting the rebalance of hormones to reduce the symptoms, it can also have an impact on our mental health. During this time, it is important for us to recognise what we have achieved and celebrate our wins. Tracking changes in our mind and body on days where we are smashing it and other days where we feel we are running through treacle, can give us a sense of predictability and control. By recognising the patterns that we experience, we can adapt our training to work with this cycle and reduce our levels of fatigue.
With the changes in our hormones having an impact on our physical and mental health, running is more important than ever for us to continue to feel strong and empowering women. Whilst we move from the reproductive part of life, we can learn to look forward to productive years ahead, with more time for us to connect with what matter to us. Additionally, being able to talk to other women and not feeling you need to go through this alone is important and with a community around us like Running Woman, we can navigate, support and learn from each other.
If you would like more information about menopause, please do let us know in the comments below.
You can also find out more and gain additional support by joining the Females Feeling Fabulous facebook group.