As we come into holiday season, the number one fear for many of us runners resurfaces – that we’ll lose all of our hard-earned fitness if we take a week off training, or even worse if we dare to take two!
For those of you who do worry about this, I thought I’d share some interesting stats from an article I’ve just been reading. They are not specific to menopause, or indeed women, but are useful for us all to be aware of:
it takes between 2 and 6 weeks of no training for any significant loss to the conditioning of your body (including heart and lungs)
it takes at least 3 weeks of no training for your muscles to reduce / strength to be lost
after 15 days of inactivity, your VO2 max will decrease by just 4%
So, if you are worrying about losing your running fitness while you are away, don’t! Your body needs a complete break from time to time, otherwise it will just get fatigued and become more susceptible to injury, illness and burnout. Your mind will also benefit from some time off too; it’s so easy to become bogged down in the expectations we have of ourselves when it comes to our training.
Whether you choose to spend your holiday having complete rest – reading a book on the beach or enjoying the hot tub – or doing some kind of gentle activity such as paddleboarding, easy hiking, or swimming, you’ll be doing your body a favour. When you return, you’ll feel mentally and physically refreshed, and ready to start running again.
Lets’ face it – there are loads of training plans out there for runners, absolutely loads. Whatever it is you want to train for, be it your first 5K or your twentieth ultra, the chances are you will be able to find a plan that claims to be able to get you to the finish line. But many of these plans have one feature in common that many runners are not aware of – they are based on an approach to training that suits young, fit men. Whilst some women, and some older women, may be able to use them well, if you are going through menopause, they may well not work for your body. Too much hard or fast running, too little recovery time and not enough focus on the strength work that your body needs may result in fatigue and injury for you, and that finish line becoming out of reach.
So how can you find a training plan that might work for you? Here are some things to think about as you look for the ultimate plan:
Remember that the main aim of a plan is to help you get to the start line of your chosen event in as healthy and fit a state as possible, so rule out any that will definitely be too much for you. If you know you only have the energy, or time, to run 3 times a week these days, choose a plan that’s based roughly on that. Be realistic about how much training you can do, and, more importantly, how much recovery time you need
Look for a plan that is based on training by effort (or heart rate) rather than pace, because this will help you to keep much tighter control over how hard your body is actually working. Likewise, find a plan that is based on running by time and not distance. That way you know exactly how long you’ll be exercising for rather than wondering how long you’ll need be out to cover 5 miles, and how much that might take out of your body
Be prepared to be flexible. Listen to your body and swap things around within the plan if you need to. Consider carefully which days you do the runs on, keeping the longer and harder ones for the days when you feel pretty good, and saving the shorter easier ones for the days when you don’t
Take extra rest if you need it. If you plan gives three rests days but on some weeks you need four, take four. Remember, it’s always better to be slightly undertrained than to be overtraining, risking injury and burnout
If you can’t find a plan that you think might work for you then put one together yourself, based on what you know you can manage, or ask someone to do it for you. Having a coach tailor one to your goals and needs can be a smart move
Most of all, remember that a plan is just that – a plan, a plan for how things might be done. It’s not set in stone, but rather there to guide you along the way, giving you suggestions as to what you might do to achieve your goal. Adapt it, tailor it, and never be afraid to rip it up and start afresh if it’s just not working for you.
… that the impact of menopause on your body could affect your running in so many ways? I’ll be the first to admit that I was very ignorant of all this – ignorant and naive. I’d never thought about menopause at all until it was happening to me, and I certainly didn’t make any connection between it and my running. I just attributed my slowing down to the fact that I had put on weight, and that I thought was purely because of my very stressful job. Likewise, I assumed that the increased niggles and injuries I was getting were because I was heavier. It was only with hindsight that I realised that may not have been the cause.
It’s only since I started the ‘Running through menopause’ Facebook group that I’ve really started to appreciate just how many ways the hormonal changes that menopause brings can impact on running. The list is long, and ever growing; it seems like every week I learn of something new to add. Some of the effects are experienced by many, and some by just a few, but it seems that few women experience their running being completely unaffected.
So, in no particular order, here are some of the most common ways that hormonal changes impact on running. Some you may be aware of, some may be new, and as it’s far from an exhaustive list, you may have your own to add too. Whatever the impact menopause is having on your running, you are not alone, that’s for sure. Someone else out there will be experiencing it too.
muscle loss (and therefore loss of strength, power and acceleration)
body fat gain
loss of balance (leading to increased tripping over)
increased recovery time needed
intolerance to sugary sports drinks and foods
loss of awareness of thirst
loss of motivation
increased injury risk to muscles, tendons, tissues and bones
thermo-regulation (overheating or being too cold)
loss of self-confidence and self-belief
loss of bladder control / needing to pee more often
“I wanted to train for a half marathon but now I don’t even have the motivation to run 5K”.
“I used to enjoy running with my club. These days I can’t summon up the enthusiasm to go”.
Sound familiar? Do you recognize yourself here? If you do, you are most certainly not alone. A loss of motivation is one of the most common issues I hear talked about by menopausal women who run – or who used to run. Sometimes it’s a total loss of mojo, meaning they’ve stopped running altogether. For others, whilst they’ve summoned up a little enthusiasm to get out and run something, it’s not really what they’d seen themselves doing. Perhaps they are struggling to get round an occasional 5K when in their ideal world they’d have been training for a marathon.
If this sounds like you, please be reassured it’s normal, completely normal. Losing mojo happens to us all sometimes, no matter what age we are or what stage of life we are at. No-one can maintain the motivation to do anything all of the time – or if they can, I’d say it’s pretty rare. Whether it’s running or anything else – from work to doing the cleaning, from family life to the hobbies we love – there will always be times when our enthusiasm for things ebbs and flows.
Adding menopause to the picture complicates things a bit. As the oestrogen levels in our bodies start to fluctuate and decline, the brain is one of the areas commonly impacted. For some of us, this might materialise as brain fog, or memory loss; for others, it may cause anxiety and/or depression. Loss of motivation is in the mix there too – it can be a direct result of those hormone levels changing. Bear in mind that it can all become part of a vicious cycle too; you lose mojo, so don’t run, then you lose fitness and gain weight (because of other menopausal changes) so feel you can’t run, and so it goes on. It’s all interconnected. We can’t see a lack of motivation to run as separate to everything else that is going on.
So what can you do?
Accept it, don’t fight it. It’s normal, and it’s OK. If your body and mind don’t want to run for a while, that’s fine. Let them rest or do something else that they do feel motivated to do. When your body and mind are ready to run again, you’ll know.
Stop looking at, and worrying about, what everyone else is doing running-wise. Just because the people you follow on Strava are training for marathons, out running 5 or 6 times a week, or getting 10K PBs doesn’t mean you should be, not at this time. They may be younger than you, older than you, male, and not going through menopause, or not with the same symptoms as you. Social media has some great uses, but using it to compare ourselves to others and beat ourselves up over what we are not doing is not one of them. You be you, and let them get on with being them.
Listen to, and look after, the whole of your body and mind. Work on reducing as much stress as you can from your life, get the best sleep you can, and feed your body well. If you need support with coping with your menopause symptoms, go and speak to someone about HRT. The better you can get yourself feeling overall, the more likely it is that your motivation will return.
Think quality over quantity. If you do feel like getting your running shoes on and heading out of the door, do everything you can to make it a good one. Meet up with someone you love to run with, or choose your favourite route. Making it special will mean that you are more likely to want to go again soon than if you are dragging yourself out of the door screaming every other day for a mediocre run that you don’t enjoy.
At the end of the day, it’s a good thing for us all to have a break from running every now and again. Our bodies and minds need it, and if we don’t get it, we can become burnt out, injured and stale. So if your menopausal body is telling you it needs some time off, listen and act. And whether it’s a week or a month or a year or longer later, it will tell you when it’s time to come back.
It’s that time of year again; that time when training plans are starting to kick in as you start to prepare for events ahead. Increasing the distance of your long runs can feel quite intimidating at the best of times – even if you have done many before, building back up again can feel a bit scary. It can feel like an impossible ask of your body – and that’s without the added challenge of dealing with menopause.
As you move into peri-menopause and beyond, it’s pretty common for fatigue to strike. For some, it’s a fatigue that makes even the thought of a long run feel overwhelming. For others, that deep-seated tiredness makes recovery much slower. And then there’s the increased risk of soft-tissue injuries, as fluctuating and declining oestrogen levels impact muscles and tendons. All in all, putting your body through the stress of a long run can feel, and be, a big ask.
There are, however, ways and means of making your long runs manageable and minimizing stress on your body. Firstly, check that you have the basic conditions for a long run sorted:
Have you had enough rest and recovery time since your previous run? You want to be starting off as fresh as you can
Did you run at a genuinely easy effort? You should be able to talk pretty normally – or even sing.
Did you fuel the run adequately? Check that you’d taken on enough fuel both beforehand and during the run.
If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to all three and still find a long run too much, it’s time to be creative. The purpose of nearly every long run is to build endurance, conditioning your body so that you can spend more time on your feet. Whilst most training plans follow a very similar pattern in how they get you to do that (increasing distance by around 10% a week, running it all – and even doing it on a Sunday) there’s no reason you have to do it like that. More importantly, if your body can’t do it like that, you shouldn’t try. So how can you approach it instead?
Here are 6 strategies that could work for you:
Forget it – that’s the idea that you have to do one long run a week (after all, a week is just an arbitrary block of time). Perhaps a long run every 10 days might work better for you, or even once a fortnight
Flex it. If you can, be flexible when you attempt your long run. If you wake up one morning and feel great, go out and get it done then if you can. Likewise, if you set off on your planned long run day and feel dreadful, call it a day. There’s little to be gained from pushing through.
Walk it. That might mean walking some of it as part of a planned run/walk strategy, or hiking the whole thing. It’s still time on your feet but without the high impact of running.
Cycle part of it. Triathletes often ride and then run to build endurance whilst minimizing impact on the body, and this could be a great strategy for you too. If your planned run is, for example, 2 hours, cycle for an hour (or even 90 mins) and run the rest. It’s all building endurance
Split it. Do part of the run in the morning and the rest later in the day, giving yourself some recovery time in the middle. For even more rest, run the first part later in the day and the rest the next morning so that you have a sleep in the middle
Miss it. If you are really fatigued despite trying the above, there’s no harm in giving it a miss. If your body needs rest and recovery time, it’s unlikely to take any training you do on board and could likely have a negative effect.
The model that will work for you may take some experimenting to get right. You may also find that what works for you now won’t be so effective in a year’s time and may not be needed in a year or two’s time – menopausal bodies change so much. Try them out and see!
Let’s talk muscles; muscles that, as you age, you start to lose. Did you know that from around the age of 30 you can lose around 2 to 3% of your muscle mass every year? Just think about it – 2% to 3% EVERY YEAR! That’s loads. And then you hit menopause.
Menopause comes with potentially more muscle loss again. Oestrogen has a key role in muscle protein synthesis – that’s the process by which the body builds and maintains muscle. When your oestrogen levels start to fluctuate and then decline, one of the main drivers for building that muscle is gone. If you want to maintain those muscles, or even build more, another stimulus is needed.
Here’s where strength work comes in, for it can provide a stress response that replaces what your your oestrogen used to do. Coupled with eating good quality protein, and enough of it (that’s the other key component of the process needed), a good strength programme not only builds muscle, it can also improve your:
Body composition (increasing lean mass, decreasing body fat, and raising your metabolic rate)
Joint strength and stability (if the muscle surrounding the joints is stronger, it supports them to move well)
As a runner, all of those benefits combine to bring another real advantage – together they reduce your risk of becoming injured. That’s music to any runner’s ears!
So, what type of strength work should you do, as a menopausal runner? There are so many to choose from! In an ideal world, you need to:
Choose something you enjoy (simply because if you like what you do, you are more likely to do it regularly, and, just as with running, doing strength work consistently is key)
Start with bodyweight work if you have not done strength work before, but progress to a level where the weights you are working with are heavy for you. That means using weights that are heavy enough that by the 6th rep (in a set of 6) you can barely complete the rep. Low weights and lots of reps may have worked in your younger years but for menopausal women, higher weights and fewer reps are needed to get a strong enough stimulus for muscles to build
Build time for strength training into your week, just as you do your running. Once a week is better than not at all, but you may find that more, shorter sessions have a better effect. If you are thinking that you can’t possibly fit strength training in as well as all the running you want to do, then look at dropping at run to make time. You’ll quite likely be a better runner for it
Get advice on good form if you are lifting weights – you don’t want to injure yourself doing the very thing that is supposed to help reduce injury risk
Include some running-specific moves if you can – those exercises that mimic the movements we make when we run. Lunges, squats and so on, including on one leg, will help you fine-tune your body to run well
Eat good quality protein, and enough of it, to support the strength work you do
Good quality, consistent strength training can transform the way you run through and beyond your menopause years, it really can. It may well change your body shape too, and give you a love for a new form of exercise that can be enjoyed in its own right.
I was asked a great question by one of my regular clients this morning. “What’s been your biggest coaching success?” she wanted to know. That put me on the spot! My gut reaction was to mention a couple of women I’ve worked with who achieved great results – from non-runner to a decent marathon time in just a few months, and from injured 10K runner to a big PB. But driving home, the words that had come out of my mouth just didn’t sit right with me. Yes, those were great successes for both the runners and myself, but were they the ones where I’d really helped make the most difference? Were they examples I found most rewarding? In a nutshell, I decided no.
It’s the small things that I consider to be my biggest successes. It’s the work I did with the runner who was about to give up – forever – because she was feeling so tired all of the time. Working through what she was doing and making a few tweaks here and there gave her the energy to be able to carry on. It’s the suggesting how to add strength work to a runner’s training week that helped reduce the fatigue in her legs and allowed her to keep going with the long off-road runs she loved. It’s the talking through how to fit running into a busy and stressful life, helping the client to make best use of the time she had. And it’s the supporting a runner to have the confidence to go and seek medical advice when needed. Each of those small things made a massive impact on the runner and enabled them to keep going, happy and injury-free. As a coach, it’s those small things that fulfill me the most.
When someone requests to join the ‘Running through menopause’ Facebook community, one of the pre-approval questions asks how menopause has had an impact on their running. And the most commonly written answer? It’s fatigue, or some variation of. Sometimes it’s fatigue when running, sometimes it’s fatigue from general life; sometimes it’s both, and sometimes we just don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s common, though, very common amongst menopausal women, but it needn’t mean the end of running – there are ways and means of working through it.
If fatigue is impacting on your running, it’s worth working out what is going on. If you can identify what’s causing it, you can look for a solution. Some causes may have a relatively quick and easy fix, maybe training or diet-related: others may require a longer, possibly medical, intervention. Knowing your body well, though, will start you on the journey to finding whatever it is your body needs to keep running – and running well.
Here are 5 key questions to ask yourself that will help you to understand more about what is happening to your body.
Is there a pattern to your fatigue? Does it change over the course of a day? Is it worse when you are running or is it there all the time? What does it feel like over a week, or a month, or longer? If you’re not sure, it’s worth starting to keep a record (alongside a record of your exercise too, and your periods too, if you still have them). What you find might be quite revealing.
Are you eating enough to fuel your everyday life AND the running/training you do? Do you eat good quality real food? What do you eat and when? Again, it may well be worth keeping a record – we often eat differently in reality to how we think we do!
Are you running/training too much or too hard? Do you have a balance between ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ days, or are you always exercising in that ‘grey zone’?
Do you get enough rest and recovery time (including sleep) each week? What about each month and over a year? How do you feel after that rest and recovery time – refreshed, or not really?
What other stresses do you have in your life? Work? Family? Covid? These can have a massive impact on anyone’s ability to run, never mind a body that is going through menopause too.
Welcome to the new ‘Running through menopause’ website and blog. If you’ve found your way here, the chances are that you are a runner, or would like to become one, and that you are either going through menopause or are expecting to very soon. Whichever you are, you’re very welcome, and you are not alone. With the numbers of people taking up running increasing significantly over recent years, the number of women who are running through what can be one of the most challenging times of life has increased too. Whilst some women sail through the transition with little or no impact on their running (or life), for many it is a time of frustration. Body shapes change, energy levels can plummet, injury potential increases, and it’s easy to feel like giving up. But with better understanding of how your body works, some tweaks to how you train and run, it’s possible not only to keep going, but also to keep improving if that it what you want to do. In this blog I’ll be sharing some of the strategies I use to keep myself, and my clients, running well, in the hope that they may help you too.