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Training Topic: Working With Hormonal Cycles

In our next athlete article Kasie Enman talks about how women can benefit from working with rather than against their natural hormonal cycle, to get the most out of their training. 

In the area where I live, I have the pleasure of directing a program called First Strides Vermont that brings together women who are beginners to running or fitness walking with experienced mentors. Many of these women don’t consider themselves runners YET, but want to give it a try, or who “used to be” runners but fell away from it and are looking to return. It’s rewarding and reinvigorating work for me, someone who has been in the sport for multiple decades, to be around people experiencing the surprise and joy at being able to run a single mile for the first time. Most years we have around 150 women and 20 mentors who meet weekly to work out together. During these runs and walks we get to talking about a lot of different topics and, because we are a group of women, many of the topics end up being female related like pelvic floor strength, sports bras, and balancing working out with family obligations.

On a recent session, the group I was mentoring got onto the subject of how sometimes we feel great on a workout, moving with energy and ease, while a few days later the same workout feels impossible to complete. “Why is that?” my group asked. We all agreed it has happened to us. I suggested this might be attributable to hormonal cycles. I shared that I have started to track my own patterns of when I feel at my best, worst, and other observations like: ability to handle heat, energy levels, breathing rate, or other notable changes - throughout the entire month. Paying attention to our bodies and taking note of these observations in a calendar or phone app, helps bring light to patterns that help us understand the natural happenings of our bodies.

Personally, knowing this stops me from going down negative mental rabbit holes. After a rough training session, instead of thinking something must be terribly wrong with my fitness, I now look to see if I have a pattern of feeling off at that same time of the month in the past. More often than not, this is the case. As with many issues of women’s athletics, there has only been a relatively small amount of scientific research done on this topic, but there is a growing amount of information becoming available. I have been most interested in learning about ways to use some of the basic tools available to me like nutrition, hydration, sleep, and knowledge of how I might need to adjust my training so I can work with instead of against my body’s natural hormonal cycle.

A few resources worth a look or listen:

How the Menstrual Cycle Impacts Running—and What You Can Do About It

Female Physiology in Endurance Running

Trail Runner Nation Podcast: Ask the Coaches (Krissy Moehl's input)

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