My 2017 track season wasn’t what I had expected. Not in the slightest.
BUCS with no sprint finish
I’d gone to university, met an amazing group of people and was doing more training than I ever imagined possible. It seemed to be going well and progressing my running – I ran a 5km PB in February in training, then officially in May at the road champs in Edinburgh. But that was that. Things started to get slower, more difficult and enjoyment was a rare spectacle as I’d get dropped straight away by everyone.
The circles I move in through having ran in England and now in Scotland means that I have lots of friends, all of whom Bobby’s article has touched deeply. Not only do her words resonate with a large proportion of the female runners I know, but also with me.
Views I am missing right now (Arthur’s Seat)
Firstly, I thought I had been overtraining for the last few months – which perhaps I was. However, the tiredness never subsided; the fear of going to the track and being last; the worry of running with others and not being able to keep up; the confusion when racing, placing miles behind where I was 6 months ago. I was worried that I had over done it, everyone around me was concerned. My continued effort was being rewarded with nothing, only times which got slower and slower, and interval sessions which got harder and harder. Scottish Uni Champs was the day I realised something had to change. I was running myself into the ground, and at what cost, I didn’t know.
I was encouraged by close friends to go for a blood test, to check various things and just see whether there was in fact something else as the root cause of my difficulties. I was (and still am) struggling with day to day things, let alone a big session. The stairs to my flat were becoming increasingly difficult, short walks were tough, and the fact that I was trying so hard at training and getting nothing was really bringing me down. Running is meant to be fun – I got too caught up in the intricate details.
Turns out, iron deficiency anemia was the cause of my backwards motions. And overtraining, without a doubt. This means that the fact that my ferritin levels are so low in my blood, that my system, in trying to keep everything in balance, has begun to use up the stores of iron within my haemoglobin – crucial for blood carrying capacity. All the more crucial when running. So when I was racing and would get 1km into the run and be absolutely blowing, barely able to run an 8 minute mile, biology can now explain why. If I haven’t got enough capacity to carry oxygen, when I exercise I’m not getting oxygen around my body therefore fast pace, strength and endurance can all be waved goodbye to.Running in the Pentland Hills with my friends.
My easy runs have just got slower and slower progressively as the deficiency got worse and worse. I was (and still am) tired, emotional, and above all tired of being absolutely exhausted. As a result, I have been prescribed ferrous fumerate tablets 3 x per day. 69mg of pure iron in each of those bad boys – lots of steak, spinach and of course, Scotland’s finest black pudding.
Could this be down to the fact that, in the same way as many distance girls, have struggled with amenorrhea, and in trying to put it right, the endocrinologist put me straight on the pill. He told me in April time this year that his “worry was not for my fertility, but for my brittle bones. with no oestrogen, your spine will be the first thing to start crumbling.” Thank you Doctor. Absolutely scared to death I went home with my new prescription. Nervous to begin such a dramatic change and also not really feeling wholly confident with a method that would merely mask the underlying problem and artificially induce my monthly cycles. Support from the best club ever: Braids 2017
I abstained from starting the pill until July. I was adamant that my cycle would come back of its own accord. I was eating more for sure (not that I was ever not doing so), however the doctor also told me “eat more nuts… etc. and maybe it will return.” Yet with the primary worry being my bones, as soon as I got a small pain in my left leg in June (calf… between the two bones), I got straight on with it. No more delaying. Luckily the pain was nothing and subsided fairly quickly. BUT. Not the point. It could have been. Could have been what all these girls are now bringing to light. I ran the best race of my life with no period, being the slimmest I have ever been. It’s such a shame that this is the case.
So the fact that I’ve now been taking the pill for 6 months to artificially incur a period each month, by losing so much iron, where my body is not naturally thinking it is losing it… the stock replenishment ain’t happening. Trying to put one problem right within this vicious circle has caused me to jump right into another. So I am luckily now receiving oestrogen necessary to support strong bones. I had one period in the space of two years.
Athletics weekly came through my front door two weeks ago and I couldn’t find the page Bobby had written fast enough. I was in awe of the fact that a. she had explained her problems in such detail so publicly, and b. that so nearly could have been me.
English u20 1500m final June 2016
I raced Bobby at the u20 English national championships for 1500m in 2016, I raced her in Birmingham in March 2016 – and by raced, I mean she was on the start line with me… then I saw her at the end. She was probably starting her cool down by the time I made it over the line… but not the point. I saw firsthand what she puts into racing. Her everything. I learned a lot from that. She had a gear in that 1500m that no one could match. At 600m to go she just turned it up, again… I could no way hang on. No one could! She utterly inspires me.
I read the article and was lost for words. She hit the nail on the head with the problems that I know I have had do the rounds in my mind.
- Surely more training = better runner.
- Push yourself harder = faster times.
- Just one more maybe, tomorrow morning… then training. Yeah that’ll be good.
Yes, it works for some people, but not everyone. And at the detriment of what? In Bobby’s case her hormone levels which have led to osteoporosis; for me, my energy and iron levels, thus running success has been put on pause for a while for the both of us.
The circles within which I move in terms of athletics is full of these kinds of stories. Girls from home, girls up here… doesn’t matter who you are. The influence of social media perhaps as one of the causes. We see successful athletes who are extremely slender, reveling in success at the world champs or the Olympics. In order to be like that, we think, we must be the same, train the same, do more to be better. It’s all too easy to get trapped in this mindset. I fell foul of it. Chilling out and enjoying the sights of Liverpool after the XC with Naomi, Rebecca and Anna, November 2017
I was so focused on running a faster 1500m time, that in trying too hard it didn’t happen. My best runs have been where I hadn’t even thought too much about it. A lot of the girls I know take a mileage step up arriving at university – I did. “She’s so good and does x amount of miles per week… I’m going to do the same.” Don’t forget the 10% rule and what works for a 21 year old who’s built up to her mileage capacity over 4 years may not work for a wee fresher.
I had my mum on my case about the periods. None of us within my family knew what it meant or what it could entail – none of us are doctors. My mum and dad’s primary concern was my fertility. Who even thought that osteoporosis was something that young people could get too. “My bones should be strong… I run far all the time, they have built strength!” How far from the truth this common misconception is.Some Hare and Hounds training hard last Saturday
Within my current training group, despite her recent success, there’s one I watched struggle with injury last year – she ran through a bad shin. Stress fracture or response I’m not sure. Either way… not good. A friend of mine from my home club, also went to Toronto to run the marathon for England knowing she’d picked up a niggle that would not be made better by running 26.2 miles. It in fact left her on the curb: fibula stress fracture. A few other girls, stress fractures in their hips, metatarsals… this can’t continue!
Only now with Bobby’s help are girls beginning to speak up. This problem of amenorrhea doesn’t just exist among elite runners. Take me, or any other club runner and it is present.
How lucky I am that I acted. I still sat and did nothing about it for too long. It’s so crucial for your general health to have a period. The doctor told me to stop running all together. It’s what I love so that was something I didn’t want to have to consider. Instead it’s a question about getting wise about training:
- cut junk miles. give every run a purpose specific to your training programme and goals within it.
- eat well. food is fuel. for girls and boys. it is crucial. it is what will get you to perform better not worse!*
- sleep, rest and recover. thank you to Alex Carcas for teaching me how to do this properly. also shout out to Edinburgh University Sauna – me and Steph Pennycook have spent some good times in there for chills.
- be relaxed and chilled about your training. it will come naturally.
- it’s okay to be nervous about races – it means you care. enjoyment is crucial.
*I used to never drink alcohol for fear of it making me a slower runner and not wanting a hangover. anyone from school reading that will laugh – I’m sure as they remember 15 year old me continually turning down strongbow dark fruits. Recently I have really enjoyed a glass or two of red wine. I’ve chilled out massively – less obsessive about my diet, my sleep pattern or training. when my iron was high it was great and worked well. Now I’m in a different place but will take forward what I have learned.Learning from others.
The key to running for me is long-term enjoyment. Any of you reading this I know will want to be running for the rest of your lives. I line up with my 50 year old dad at the park run and he can still give me a good run for my money. I want that. I don’t want to cut it short, or see any successful girls my age have to cut it short due to unawareness or lack of understanding in terms of the negative effects the problem of amenorrhea can have, of which so many of us have been touched.
It’s time I think to speak up. We need to find a proper way to deal with the problem. Not mask it behind artificial hormones – or for artificial methods to be the ONLY way to resolve the problem. I feel like my granda, having four pills a day.
I think we need to come together, top level athletes and club runners alike to tackle the problem of amenorrhea head on – it’s potential causes, consequences and solutions. The running community is renowned for coming together. I think Bobby has laid out the scope for it to happen again.