Sunday, April 9, 2017

Running with Lady Cramps: A Special Kind of Hell

Preamble: I've hesitated to post anything too female-specific on this site, but seeing as more than half the population is made up of women, and all women have similar issues on this front - and betting that the majority of my readers are female - here we are.

Dudes: this post may be TMI (too much information) for you, depending on your comfort level with lady-specific issues. Proceed with caution. 

Menstrual cramps = the worst. Am I right, girls?

I've always thought it grossly unfair that women should have to endure such discomfort month after month: cramps, headaches, mood swings, nausea, bloating. Need I say more? (Stupid men.)

© Getty Images
In actuality, the menstrual cycle causes variations in hormonal levels throughout the month, with high levels of estrogen pumping through our systems right before ovulation but dropping really low during premenstruation - causing all sorts of great symptoms like many of the ones aforementioned, as well as sluggishness and fatigue. However, once menstruation starts up again, estrogen levels go back on the rise, resulting in energy going up as well (Kowalchik, 1999). 

About running while on a period... as running author Claire Kowalchik puts it, "Even if I'm feeling like I really don't want to run--the running seems effortless once I get going. In fact, I ran my fastest and easiest marathon on the first day of my period one year" (Kowalchik, 1999, p.140). 

At the risk of even more TMI, I've got my period right now. In the past, I've suffered debilitating cramps and menstrual headaches which would put me out for days, if not longer. So, this morning, and in the interest of deciding whether or not to give today's long run a try, I pulled Kowalchik's book off the shelf, flipped through her chapter on "Special Concerns as a Woman: Menstruation" and (re-)read her quote above. Buoyed by her experience, I decided to head out there... and also because I knew the alternative would be sitting on the couch, wondering if I should've at least given it a try. 

Long story short: SO UNCOMFORTABLE.

I deliberately chose a route that would keep me close to where I could bail and call a cab if things got really bad. While escape-by-cabbie did not end up happening, I came so close to doing so on multiple occasions. 

The first 40 minutes or so I thought - initially - were the worst. The menstrual cramping was bad, and so I just focused on breathing and throwing my feet out in front of me, one step at a time. Eventually, the cramps subsided... but then they came back... and then they subsided... and then came back. 

There seemed to be no pattern to it; they just came and went, seemingly as they pleased. And each time they came back, things got a little worse because I was getting longer into the run and more tired as the morning went on. 

At some point I realized there was nothing more important than focusing on running through the pain of my menstrual cramps. Pace, heart rate, gait... basically, all the things one should be concerned about while running... none of these things mattered more than just getting through this current cramp.

And then - it started to rain. And I cried. I couldn't help it. I was tired, uncomfortable and barely keeping my shit together as it was. So when the rain started, it kinda broke me a little.

But then I got over it - and lucky too as, soon after, I bumped into a friend who was also out for her run. Last thing I'd want while out running is to see someone I know, while bawling my eyes out. That's not good for anyone. 

Fortunately, after my mini-breakdown and bumping into my friend, I was about 6 km from home and towards the end of my run - just a bridge and a very familiar route left. 

But then, with about 3 km to go, the oddest thing happened. 

I realized I was going to be short on my run - by about 1/2 a km - and instead of living with it, I decided to stay out a little longer to make the distance for today. 

Fortitude. Who knew? It shocked the hell out of me to discover I had some left. 

Post-run was all about the protein and painkillers. And now - I sit, eat and will generally do nothing the rest of the day after publishing this blog post. I believe I've earned it.

Any of you ladies ever run while on your period? What was your experience? Hope it was better than mine. 

Journal entry for today
Today's run: 26 km. The schedule actually called for 29 km, but I decided to compromise given Aunt Flo was in town. My typical 29 km route would have taken me out to places where I couldn't call a cab if things went bad, so I opted for my 26 km route instead so I could have the option to abort if need be. Weather: the forecast called for partly sunny and no showers. Guess they got that one wrong. Feeling: glad to have done my run and finished so well, but I'll probably never run while on my period ever again. Strangely enough, even with all the menstrual cramps and negotiating with myself on whether to stay out there, I still felt better about this run than last week's 23 km run... the bad mood of which, I realize now, may have been due to depleted estrogen stores in addition to the massive hangover. Live and learn.

Kowalchik, C. (1999). The Complete Book of Running for Women.

1 comment:

  1. Well done you! I've found exercising can help alleviate cramps, but I usually end up doing a lot of stopping and starting before it gets to that point. It is so hard to work through- congrats for getting through it!