First, I would like to say that I am enjoying the woman’s running extension of Runner’s World online, Zelle.
Recently, Zelle published this article about female runners and secondary amenorrhea. It’s the best article that I’ve seen on the topic, being both concise and informative. I wish it had been published years ago.
When I was 20, I began seriously running, and training for my first half marathon. After several months of consistently working out on the road and in the gym, I had lost extra weight pretty quickly, which I saw as a bonus. Everything in my training was going great – I felt great, and was amazed at my progress working toward my goal of my first 13.1.
I never would have connected the loss of my cycle with my running. Though I’ve never had a regular cycle, after over half a year without one, I knew it was time to see a physician.
Update: After reviewing my medical records for a completely separate purpose, I saw that I was diagnosed with secondary amenorrhea by a primary care physician a few weeks before my visit to a gynecologist. My visit to that doctor confirmed this diagnosis. The fact that I don’t remember this only confirms how unaware I was.
Just like the Zelle article says, my doctor explained to me that increased training can lead to secondary amenorrhea, and I was prescribed hormones. Perfect! I thought, this will make my problems go away, and will prevent bone loss in the future!
Well, not really. What I didn’t know is that this treatment doesn’t really target the root of the problem. Even though I wouldn’t label my running routine as strenuous, I was running about 20-25 miles per week, which was new to me. Looking back, I know my biggest problem was under-fueling, specifically a low-fat diet.
I think things were just moving too fast. Despite regaining my cycle, I still had insomnia, which the article also lists as a symptom. Once I started to work on gaining muscle, by strength training and adding more protein and nutrient-dense foods to my diet, I started to experience less insomnia. I gained back some of the weight I had initially lost, which I haven’t always been happy about, but I was also able to run more miles per week and I was able to sleep, which is such an important part of daily recovery (and sanity – I need my 8 hours!)
This wasn’t easy for me to write about, to admit the mistakes I’ve made, even if unwittingly. I guess I’m just writing about this because I have a personal interest in it, and I wish more girls were aware of what could be happening to their bodies while training, especially in a society that places so much emphasis on body image.