Menopause versus Marathon
When we were children Mum used to say ‘Right you two, I am going to bang your heads together if you don’t pack it in.
I have to say I never found the prospect of heads being banged together particularly constructive .I imagine mum didn’t have the time or inclination to explore viewpoints.
Funny now, 50 years later , I am reminded of that phrase of mum’s as I go through the menopause whilst trying to train for an Autumn marathon. The menopause and the marathon . These two facts of my life feel so completely incompatible , part of me wishes I could bang their heads together. How will my running goal co exist with nature’s plan for me at this time of life ?
The marathon and the menopause are not easy bedfellows. The marathon makes many demands physically ,psychologically (and socially. )The menopause can compromise your ability to manage those demands. But just as growing siblings have to find a way to co exist so I have needed to allow for these two parts of my life to find a way through together.
I ran my first marathon 25 years ago and have accumulated some experience over the years. I have read many books and got many T shirts .
But the menopause . For some reason I did not think that would affect me too much. I felt I knew all I needed to know or wanted to know. So when it came I was unprepared . I thought it was just hot flushes and periods drying up.
I think back to when my periods first started . I was pretty un prepared for that too. It was not a subject for discussion . There was in fact little that was up for discussion in our family. I thought the start of periods was just about bleeding . I did not realise the powerful changes that surging hormones would bring about as you leave the first part of your childhood behind forever. There were problems at home and at school. I wanted to run away.
I remember thinking the bleeding lasted for about 20 minutes . I was shocked and devastated when I discovered it went on for days .I did not know how I was supposed to cope. I was aware of tampons but didn’t understand them or my anatomy and anyway my mum wouldn’t allow them. When Mum gave me looped sanitary towels which came with a belt and I was horrified.
At that time I had started running. This involved tagging on best I could to my brothers when Dad took them for training . I wanted to be trained too but Dad could not see the point. The running club did not admit girls. There were no road races for girls and Dad was probably worried running could distract from his chosen path for me to go to medical school.
Years later Dad said that in his view , I had brains but my brothers would never come to anything so he wanted to exploit their obvious talent for running , to give them confidence. Unfortunately this expectation backfired ,causing my younger ,more athletically gifted, brother to retire from racing before he became a senior with undiagnosed stomach pain. My eldest brother stopped after blowing up at his first and only (London ) marathon in 1982.
Although of far more mediocre athletic talent I really wanted to run. Not just so I could fit into my jeans. I liked the feeling I got from running . I felt alive , free, alone and strong. So after school before training , once my periods had started I would hurriedly sew pieces of plastic bags into my running pants, with one eye watching out for my brothers being taken for their run. As I ran after them I remember feeling awkward and embarrassed at the noise that my home crafted plastic lining made in my pants.
Starting my periods was just another obstacle
Over 40 years later as those same hormones now leave my body and family issues are revisited after Dads death, I felt similar overwhelming urges to get away.
I wanted to train but it started to get harder . At first I put it down to a bad day , then a bad phase. I started to dread running. In a different way from usual. I just didn’t feel I could run. It became ridiculously hard putting one foot in front of another. When I tried to push through my head throbbed . My limbs ached at night like I was an old lady . But I had not done anything .I blamed the mattress. I looked for blame all over the place. I could not believe this thing was my natural process.
Then one day I set myself a session of 2x3 miles. One mile into the second repetition I realised I couldn’t go on . Not just with session, but at all . I was seized by an urge to get up to the Bridge over the A27 as quickly as possible and jump off. Tom came back for me and I told him what I wanted to do. I was lucky enough to get a telephone appointment with in a few days with one of the fantastic lady GPs at my surgery .
That was seven months ago.
I am expecting this year’s marathon , the 2021 Yorkshire marathon to be my slowest marathon for years and possibly one of the hardest . But it will be my first post menopause marathon. Only we know what challenges we have overcome to get to our various start lines.
This year I will remember the 14 year old me who ran against the odds . Who sewed plastic into her pants and chased after her dad and brothers ,only to be largely ignored. And my 16 year old self who watched in awe and wonder at the strength ,determination and speed of the ( mostly male) field at the 1982 London marathon and wondered one day if she might run there.
I absolutely believe my Dad did his very best for me . But I have since learnt that girls can run and do other things besides. Lots of things. And Running can be an enabler through difficult times. When it feels tough that maybe because life has become tough. Stopping running is not necessarily the answer. Running has given me the confidence that I should have had as a younger woman but for what ever reason ,never did have. Running takes us away from ourselves when we need space and towards ourselves helping us feel real.
Not every woman experiences impediment around the menopause but many do. None of us know which camp we will fall into . We may be told it is all in the mind. Athletes tend to know their bodies more intimately than non athletes. We sense change and look for answers when things are not right. I may have been wrong this year and my difficulty with running and suicidal ideation may just have been a reaction to life s events . The fact I was having other menopausal symptoms may have been a coincidence . I don’t know. It’s a job to know what to do for the best. When things go wrong and take an unexpected turn we look to blame this and that. We are somewhat lost in un familiar territory .
This year when I run ,what may even be my last marathon , I will think of the 14 year old girl who kept doing what felt right despite the barriers and isolation. In particular the expectation that she could not have it both ways. She could not have it all. I look back to her for my answer today. And as I remember her ,I will send her all my love and appreciation for what she went through for me . I will hold her in my heart as I run ,and as I do , I will try and finally forgive whatever needs to be forgiven .What should have been long since been forgiven.
The menopause is just another obstacle.