The Peri-menopausal Triathlete
The Peri-Menopausal Triathlete
I’m starting a blog about my experiences with ‘the change of life’. Why? Partly, because it’s a form of personal therapy, a bit of self- coaching to help me in my quest to be the best triathlete and to help me understand, accept and describe the physical and mental changes that I’m experiencing as a Triathlete moving through the AG categories. As a qualified triathlon coach, I also want to be better informed, so that I can support my triathletes as they too progress through this transitional phase.
Each woman experiences ‘the change’ uniquely, but there are some experiences common to us all. This blog, therefore, may help you feel more fortunate, or maybe even worse off (if this is the case, then apologies in advance!) What I hope is that it will also make you feel that you are not alone. I want fellow Age Groupers and Triathletes alike to experience a sense of community, a sense of relief from having a ‘British platform’ on which to share your experiences, and find the support of fellow triathletes, as you move forward with your training and racing.
You will notice I’m writing under the pseudonym: ‘The Peri-Menopausal Triathlete’. Why? Well, like some other British women, I still feel it’s a bit of a taboo to discuss the menopause. When I’ve tried in the past, the response is a typically British one: keep quiet and carry on. If we do dare mention it, we speak in muffled tones or euphemisms when discussing ‘periods’, ‘hot flushes’, ‘mood swings’ & ‘sex’. Or we simply blush and change the subject very quickly. All the other stuff; the increase in general aches, pains and injuries as triathletes, we are more than happy to share; we empathise with humour, ‘join the club’, we share rehabilitation ideas that we’ve tried or heard of, but for the menopause, it’s strictly off radar. I’d like to change that.
I’m just about to embark upon my rest phase: two weeks off training and an opportunity to catch up with life, so I thought I start writing this blog. I think I’m about three years into the perimenopause: “the phase before the occurrence of the menopause”,
“A time in a woman's life when physiological changes occur that begin the transition into menopause..” (https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=8943 26.9.18) “The menopause is when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally”. (NHS symptoms/ Menopause 29.8.18 (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/symptoms/).
I went to see the doctor because I was struggling with my training; this was unusual for me. I was having moments of dizziness and feeling light headed. I thought this was a result of my diet and that I needed an iron boost. I also started having 'hot flushes' at night; I would wake up and within a few seconds experience a surge of heat rising up from my neck, through my face. Throwing off the duvet, I would start sweating profusely (as if I’d just done an effort on the turbo only I'd been asleep in bed!) I needed to have my hands spread out in the open air, so that my palms could sweat and cool down. This all seemed very odd and would last for about 30 seconds. Then, I’d be freezing! These bouts could happen four or five times each night leading to a fairly disruptive sleep. After some blood tests, I returned to discuss my results and to my surprise everything was in the normal range. My doctor thought it was likely that I was in the 'Peri-menopausal stage'. A what is this stage? I turned to the internet and this is what I found:
“Symptoms usually start a few months or years before your periods stop”
Well, that’s a bit vague: month or years…!
“On average, most symptoms last around 4 years from your last period. However, around 1 in every 10 women experience them for up to 12 years”.
12 years? ! Well, I suppose that’s a bonus; my mum’s seemed to last forever. She suffered permanently with ‘the change’. She had an early hysterectomy and from what I can remember, was in bad mood for most of my teenage and adult years! She struggled constantly with her moods and body temperature which I put down to her life style: on reflection, I could have been wrong.
So what are the Symptoms? “The first sign of the menopause is usually a change in the normal pattern of your periods. You may start having either unusually light or heavy periods. The frequency of your periods may also be affected. You may have them every 2 or 3 weeks, or you may not have them for months at a time. Eventually, you'll stop having periods altogether”
In my case, I had not noticed a change in my periods; they continued to be regular and heavy despite having had the Mirena coil fitted two years previously, a conscious decision based on recommendations from my triathlon team mates. They had experienced the “successes” of this super IUS:
“periods lighter, shorter or stop altogether, so it may help women who have heavy or painful periods” (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/ius-intrauterine-system/ 26.9.18)
Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way for me.
After about twelve weeks of this hot/cold flushing sequence, it suddenly stopped. I felt my usual self again, and was able to train and race as normal to my expected/predetermined Functional Threshold Power (FTP), and swim/run paces. I had a good year placing in the top 10 the European AG Champs, and even managed a few podiums finishes in local events over the season. That was 2016.
The following year, unfortunately the same thing happened. Again over winter, I experienced bouts of hot flushes, only this time during the day. How embarrassing! I can cope sweating during a training session, and afterwards but sitting down having a nice chat, not acceptable! I also found it hard to sustain my (FTP) power during bike intervals. I also started to notice how much more forgetful I was becoming. I developed tennis elbow after doing some intense gardening and a bit of DIY, but at least my Achilles seemed to be holding up. Unfortunately, my periods became an issue. Every they ceased for 3 months (result!) but then came back with a vengeance, every two weeks for about three months, the same odd spells of dizziness but this time during a few races. Something was up? Could this be more than the Peri-menopause? I went back to the doctor.
They re-tested my bloods. It hadn't been to the doctor for over a year since my last visit. As is the case sometimes, I felt a bit better after I made the appointment, and was feeling a bit of a fraud. The same tests, the same results. Once again within the normal range. I needed to know more; I was worried. Left to your own devices, googling symptoms individually is not a good idea! I wanted to learn more about what was happening to me - and how these symptoms were affecting my triathlon goals. I want a cure, but there isn’t one. I’m not ill, It's the menopause.It's a phase all women go through and get through in their own way but we don’t have to be alone in this.
The doctor discussed some of the options available: Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) (I guess I was interested because I’d heard rumours it’s a wonder drug? You feel like you have much more energy, feel stronger - further information can be found at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hormone-replacement-therapy-hrt/.) In my case, a family history of breast cancer meant that I wasn’t that keen to pursue this route. The doctor’s suggestion of the combined pill to regulate my periods wasn’t much better either. I asked about alternative medicine for example, increasing my soya intake, but she wasn’t sure about the ‘natural therapies’ route and suggested I could find out more. And that’s what I'm trying to do which has brought me to this point.
So, I’ll do my best to share what I find, and I’d really love it (as would other women out there) if you could share YOUR ideas, stories and make some suggestions or give advice on your coping strategies.
Until next time, The Peri-Menopausal Triathlete (TPMTriathlete@gmail.com)