Amenorrhea and My Relationship with Running
I started running about 10 years ago and never looked back. Challenging myself through intervals and long runs, meeting new friends through running groups and races, and having that precious time to myself, happily huffing away on the sidewalks and parks of my neighborhood is a huge part of my life. It’s my hobby and who I identify as; it’s been a wonderful relationship so far. This spring, that relationship changed, and it’s taught me a lot.
In April I went to my OBGYN with some questions. Well, one big question. I had gone off The Pill in February and had yet to have a period. What was going on? We did blood work and found nothing alarming about my hormones (I wasn’t pregnant, I wasn’t going through menopause), and my thyroid function was fine.
After ruling out all of these scenarios, my doctor asked about my running. Running is exercise, and exercise is healthy, though! Right? Well, it’s not that simple. Long distance running – did I mention my 7th marathon was one month before going off the pill? – is a common cause of what I learned is Exercise Induced Amenorrhea.
Exercise Induced Amenorrhea refers to the lack of monthly periods caused primarily by intense exercise. It is caused by alterations in gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) production from an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus…These hormones then regulate the menstrual cycle, and female fat and hair distribution.
With intense or excessive exercise, the GnRH secretion is abnormal resulting ultimately in abnormal ovarian function and hormone production.
It is this imbalance of intense exercise and increased nutritional demands compared to decreased weight (mostly inadequate body fat and decreased available nutrients which formulates the classic picture of exercised induced amenorrhea. –Virginia Commonwealth University Health
While she suspected my low body weight was not helping (I happily upped my peanut butter intake after that appointment), she advised taking the intensity and endurance aspect of my runs down a few notches. To be honest, this was not easy to hear. I love a tough run, I push myself in races, run 5 days a week, and do a long run of an hour+ nearly every weekend. What would life be like running only 3 days a week and nothing over 3-5 miles?
The first week was weird. Taking the intervals out of my Monday runs felt like I was slacking, and when I woke up Saturday to do 4 miles it nearly felt like a rest day. But this is my health, and a missing period is a red flag that something is not right. So, I pressed on.
Here I am 6 months later – a former 25-30 miles per weeker – now a 10 mile per weeker, running 3 times a week. Here are 3 things I learned:
I Will Always Be A Runner
An injured friend posted this months ago and I never forgot it; “I haven’t run in 5 months, but I’ve been running for 20 years”. I regularly tell other runners who say they aren’t “really runners” that if they voluntarily lace up and go out for a run, they are a runner. The volume I do and pace I hit isn’t what makes me a runner. The face that I enjoy running, I run when not training for anything, and can’t imagine a life without running in it, makes me a runner.
Running Doesn’t Define Me
While I will always be a runner, that’s not all I am. I’ve realized how much emphasis I put on my running – how far, fast, and often, how many races I had done and was signed up for, etc. – and the identity I had tied up in it. If I had planned to run that day and couldn’t, it would have wreaked havoc on my mood. Now I make time for more things in my life and don’t force it in just to put the miles in. I am still a dedicated runner, but I’m more dedicated to a balanced life.
I Truly Run For My Mind
Since I’m not gunning for a faster 5K, another marathon, or any measures like that, I realize how happy running makes me. I feel my mood lift and it’s not because I’ve hit a fast mile split, it’s because I’m doing what I enjoy, because I enjoy it. I realize why I need running in my life and it has nothing to do with looks, weight, or stats.