fitness · menstruation · soccer

Marginal gains and menstruation

I love the idea of marginal gains. See Tracy’s blog post about the idea here.

I first heard about in the sports content reading Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes–and What We Can Learn from Them which, by the way, is a fun book about sports performance.

The main idea as I recall it was that when you are working with elite athletes at the top of their game you aren’t going to be able to make big changes and see big improvements. All the athletes are working at near capacity. Instead you focus on making lots of small improvements in all areas.

My favourite example concerned cyclists and sleep quality. It turns out, not surprisingly, that athletes sleep better at home. How to replicate those conditions on the road? The coach had them bring along pillows and blankets from home.

But coaches traditionally haven’t much attention to women’s menstrual patterns. Until now.

See Ending period ‘taboo’ gave USA marginal gain at World Cup.

” One emerging issue in women’s sport is the menstrual cycle and its impact on performance, player health and injury risk,” explains Dawn Scott, the USWNT’s fitness coach, exclusively to The Telegraph. “I’ve known about these effects, the research, for a long time – but working with 23 players, I had always struggled to know how to accurately monitor that and how to individualise strategies for players.”

It’s a great story. Go read it! But what I love is that the coaching team decided to be open and talk about it–not keeping the competitive edge a secret.

““We want to end the taboo,” says Scott. “At the elite level, but also for teenage girls. They should feel comfortable talking about this with their coaches.” Bruinvels admits that awareness and improved education are key motivations for her work. “Often we are afraid of discussing this because we don’t really understand it,” she says. “I feel particularly for male coaches, who wonder how they would start this discussion.”

Open air stadium with soccer field

 Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta, Indonesia
cycling · menstruation

Of Period Puns and Bicycling Groups (Guest Post)

My husband and youngest son have been bicycling together for awhile now, long distances and fast, with other groups and just with each other. If you’ve been following my posts here at FIAFI, you know I sometimes cycle as well, recreational-only and mostly with Son 2 though sometimes en famille with friends. Well, this past Monday night, I took a non-family bike ride. Honestly, my first in… probably decades. I’ve met some of my husband’s cycling friends, which includes a lot of great women, and they and my husband have been talking up a regular St. Louis bike ride for women and nonbinary folks called… wait for it… The Monthly Cycle.

The first Monday of every month, The Monthly Cycle meets outside a gelateria on South Grand in St. Louis. Bert and Son 2 dropped me off around 6:30 and then carried on to their own bikes event nearby (a fast hard ride of folks who take it seriously). Women of all shapes and sizes trickled in, forming a magnificent clot on the sidewalk until the ride began at 7 pm. The total eventual headcount according to one of the organizers? 53. Several of them, some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn’t, helped me get properly kitted out with a forward beam-light and some medical tape to help fasten my helmet, which had an unfortunate buckle failure. A few were in costume for the October Halloween theme–rides are not usually themed–and ready to make 3 stops for ghost stories at allegedly haunted venues. Unaccustomed to city riding on trafficked streets, and new to riding in large groups, I took no pictures while moving. Thanks to the ghost story stops, though, I was able to snap a few shots that reflect what went on.

Not depicted but awesome:

  • the cyclists with wifi enabled speakers blasting out playlists with varying tastes; one person had a playlist of Halloween-themed music from both radio and musicals including Monster Mash and Thriller and songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show, while another was playing Rihana and Brittney Spears and Spanish-language tunes
  • occasional warbling singing-along to the tunes, while riding; hilarious when going over bumpy roads
  • the kids and families and other friendly residents hanging out on their porches in the dark who gave friendly shouts and waved at us as we passed through neighborhoods inhabited by a wide range of people (this ride made no attempt to stick to the middle class white notion of “safe neighborhoods” that so dominates cycling culture in many places)
  • the guy who, as we passed through a commercial district, stepped out onto the street to give every passing cyclist a high 5
  • the many folks who asked “what is this? it looks awesome!”–men but also women in cars and walking and riding their own bikes who we passed along the way–to hear a friendly shout of “It’s the monthly cycle! Women and nonbinary only!” with an added shout of “look us up!” for the folks who were presenting as women or nonbinary
  • the riders who held the intersections as we came through to prevent cars from riding into us as much as possible, and the uncountable “thank you”s that riders shouted to drivers who waited, whether patiently or impatiently, for the whole crew to pass
  • riders shouting “hole!” as they passed a big one in the road to alert those behind them, “car up!” if a car was coming toward the group to encourage everyone to get into just one lane, “car back” if a car was behind the group, and calling out turns or “slowing” so that folks in the back knew what was happening
  • the shared drinks and snacks at the Tower Pub where the ride typically winds up

All told, it was a little under 10 miles, total, with some hills. Enough to work a little but totally doable by someone who doesn’t bike much. It started around 7pm and I was all done and heading home a little after 10, needing only to bike a few blocks down the street from the Tower Pub to the place my husband and Son 2 had ended up for the ritual post-ride drinks and snacks at their own habitual endspot.

I am planning on hitting the Monthly Cycle up at the beginning of November with at least one friend who saw my social media post about it and was instantly all-in. I don’t know if I will stick with it through winter, given the cost of winter gear and the hazards of riding slippery roads. But the ride itself was a delight from start to finish and the folks could not have been more welcoming.

Is there a Monthly Cycle or something similar near you? A no-men cycling event or other sports community? One that isn’t anti-men, but is about a space for the kinds of relations that people who aren’t men can have with each other when men aren’t part of the group and are, at most, passed by just for a little while? What do you think the value of such groups is?

fitness · menopause · menstruation

Will this ever end? #menopause

Cate and I joke about being the women menopause forgot.

We’ve both blogged about it. See Cate’s super popular post about still menstruating at 53 and a half and my post from four years ago about being late to the menopause party.

Luckily, healthwise, it’s not a bad thing.

I was happy to read in the New York Times that there’s some health benefits to late menopause as well.

There’s actually some very good news for you if you went through menopause later rather than earlier: You may live longer.

True, late menopause is associated with an increased risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers. But “on balance, most of it is good news: Later age at menopause is associated with better health, longer life and less cardiovascular disease,” said Ellen B. Gold, a professor emeritus in public health at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine and principal investigator of the university’s Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation, or SWAN.

Those who go through menopause later are at lower risk for heart disease and stroke, and also tend to have stronger bones, less osteoporosis and fewer fractures than those who go through menopause earlier. The average age of menopause, when a woman has her last menstrual period, is 51, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Even my Garmin knows something’s up! Just today it suggested that I start tracking my periods. That made me laugh. The software knows how old I am.

Good luck with tracking and predicting Garmin. These days it’s more like the menstrual lottery.

Crossfit · fitness · menopause · menstruation

Top Ten Posts in May, #ICYMI

  1. Women, sport and sex tests: Why Caster Semenya matters a great deal
  2. On vibrators as athletic trophies, or when a prize is not a prize
  3. Sam gets told “get off the road fat bitch”
  4. I’m 53 and a 1/2 and I’m still menstruating
  5. The Latest Weird Thing About a Stiff Neck
  6. Crotch shots, upskirts, sports reporting, and the objectification of female athletes’ bodies
  7. Harassment is not a compliment (Guest post)
  8. The humbling moment when you go back to lifting weights
  9. CrossFit and Women’s Bodies
  10. End Game strikes some wrong notes for size acceptance
Image description: A calendar that says “May” on a green wall. Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash .
cycling · menstruation · Sat with Nat

Camping and cycling while menstruating. 


It’s packing day for the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally. Wahoooooooooo!

And. Well. I’m expecting my period any moment. I find the logistics of managing the fluids a bit tricky cycling. If I’m riding hard and it’s a heavy day I need to stop frequently to deal with my Diva Cup. I also need to go to the bathroom frequently as the fluid I’ve retained earlier in the week works its way out of my system. 

I’m more tired, achy and grumpy from the cramps. While exercise is supposed to help I find the pain taps out my resilience. I was super bummed out last month to realize I’d be camping and cycling on my period. It’s just a little more planning but the big thing is I have a harder time being comfortable in the saddle of my bike. My groin is more sensitive. It’s a nuisance more than anything. My back and hip ache so I’m glad I sprung for a thermarest cot for comfort’s sake. 

I’m hoping all the excitement and exercise will distract me. I’m packing lots of ibuprofen and wipes. Here’s to successfully managing the mischief!

I’m also SUPER WEEPY. I’m pleasantly taken aback by the ongoing flow of support from friends and family as I embark on this 600 km challenge. I had some serious doubts about raising the money and cycling the distance. I’m feeling pretty confident if a little nervous. 

Our team is looking for your support so please consider making a donation. I’m hoping we’ll hit $50,000!

I’m sure we’ll have updates as we go along. Talk to you all next Saturday!

menstruation · Sat with Nat · Uncategorized

Perimenopausal Period Tracking

I read this really great article about youth feeling empowered by period tracker apps, can I find it right now, nope!

What struck me about the article was the claim that period tracking apps normalize menstruation and empower youth to talk about their periods.

It’s a very different perspective than my own feelings around tracking my period. One of the main reasons I asked for a tubal ligation after my second son’s birth was being fed up with tracking and worrying about unexpected pregnancy. My partner got a vasectomy as we had agreed we were each in charge of own bodies and baby making capacity. 

Years later at a colposcopy clinic I was getting a follow-up to an abnormal pap. The nurse asked me when my last period was. I didn’t know. She then asked what birth control I was using. In the moment it didn’t occur to me that a one time surgery constitutes “using birth control” so I said I didn’t. I was then chastised for not being careful, that I should know better and how could they take a biopsie if I was pregnant?

That always bothers me, that I am, at all costs, to always take care of any potential child, to always be on guard about being pregnant. Seriously?

I then explained the surgeries my partner and I had. The nurse again pointed out I could be pregnant and not know. I replied that in the improbable scenario that I had become pregnant I’d probably clue in after a couple months. 

That was some time ago and I hadn’t really tracked my period as it was fairly predictable and had a gentle onset. 

Not so any more! After being surprised a few times by the sudden and furious onslaught while wearing beige pants (I only own one pair! How? How is it always the beige ones?) I started wearing Luna panties every day. Yup. Always ready. 

One day my partner offered that I might find it helpful to track to see if my period really was as erratic as it seemed. 

I downloaded iperiod in August and started tracking. The cutesie design instantly annoyed me. The euphemism for sex is, get this, a Love Connection with a little heart. Oh ya. No fucking here, it’s all about the love. 

I wondered about the design and the assumptions about what is esthetic ally pleasing. If you are interested here’s an article looking at the “girlie” designs of these apps:
http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/08/period-apps-where-big-data-meets-girly-graphics.html

So after four months I’ve discovered a few things. First, my cycle does fluctuate between 21 and 30 days. It is more wonky than it used to be. 

Second, I regularly get hot flashes, pimples and lower back pain and these are related to my cycle. 

I don’t feel empowered with this information, it just is. The tracking has helped me keep it all in perspective but I’m not sure how long I’ll do it for.

  

I’d be curious to hear about your thoughts on period tracking whether you are a menstruating human or not!

aging · fitness · menopause · menstruation · sleep

Tired of Losing Sleep over Menopause? HRT Could Be the Answer

insomniaxOriginally I was going to write a post about whether to try or not to try Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for relief of some of my menopausal symptoms. Most notably, the symptom that was doing me in was disturbed sleep due to hot flashes and night sweats. I used to be a great sleeper, but for the past few years my sleep has gotten worse and worse with no end in sight.

When I went to Kincardine for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon I shared a room with a lifelong friend. At night, she just put her head down and slept, then woke up in the morning. What? When I asked her about her enviable sleeping ability, she attributed it to HRT.  She just slaps on a bit of estrogen gel in the morning, pops a progestin pill at night (to counterbalance the influx of estrogen so that there is no build up in the lining of the uterus, thereby minimizing the risk of uterine cancer), and away she goes.

Bam! No more hot flashes. No more night sweats.

Besides taking care of the hot flashes, HRT has a few other benefits. According to this article, the benefits of HRT include:

 

  • less vaginal dryness, bladder leaks and recurrent urinary tract infections
  • better sex drive
  • reduced risk of bone fractures associated with osteoporosis
  • reduced risk of bowel cancer

I’ve not had all of the issues they point to, but I have lost a bit of mojo. And who wouldn’t want to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and its associated bone fractures and of bowel cancer?

But there are also some risks associated with HRT.

 

I’ve had the conversation about HRT with my doctor in the past. She did her due diligence and explained that the current state of knowledge indicates some slight increase in certain health risks. The research shows that it slightly increases your risk of the following conditions: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, blood clots (embolisms), deep vein thrombosis, and stroke. That’s not great.

In the past, I decided that rather than take on any risk for symptoms that seemed, at the time, more like inconveniences than serious health issues, I would tough it out. But the fact of the matter is that over time, poor sleep quality has become more than a minor inconvenience.

So this time when I spoke to my doctor I asked her to candidly review the risks with me again.  Given my medical history and family medical history–no breast cancer that I know of in the family–the increase in risk is akin to the health risks associated with drinking two alcoholic beverages per day. My reasoning (specious, I’m sure) was that I don’t drink at all, so there’s room to take on a bit of risk.

When the research first came out, my mother had been on HRT for 15 years. Back then, it was thought to be a magic solution that women could stay on for the rest of their lives. But when news of risk came, many women, including my mum, abandoned HRT.

The latest studies suggest that there is a safe period of time–5 years–that a woman can be on HRT for menopause and have the benefits outweigh the risks. My doctor explained all of this to me and I decided I wanted to give it a shot. So she prescribed the same thing my friend was using: estrogel in the morning and progestin at night.

I started the very same day I got the prescription, not waiting until the morning. The gel dose is measured out in pumps. The recommended amount on the package is two pumps. My doctor recommended starting with one pump a day for a week. If that did nothing, then go to two pumps.

After a week, I was experiencing no change at all, so I increased the dose. Every morning after my shower I rub two pumps of estrogen gel over a large-ish area of my body, moving to different parts on different days on my doctor’s recommendation. Sometimes it’s both arms, or my abdomen, or my inner thighs.

Two weeks went by, and still it seemed not a lot better. Then, just this past week, I’ve been seeing a change. I haven’t had a hot flash during the day in over a week. And remarkably, I haven’t had my sleep disturbed by night sweats in a few days. And despite the flood that destroyed my condo on the weekend, I’ve been sleeping peacefully, not tossing and turning nearly as much as I have been for the past couple of years.

One thing I want to make clear is this: menopause is not on its own what I would call a health issue. It’s not an illness or anything like that. It’s a change that brings with it some inconveniences. I could have put up with the occasional hot flash and for a long time that’s exactly what I intended to do. But consistently poor sleep is, as far as I’m concerned, a health issue. Things came to head for me this spring and summer when I hit a wall. If I didn’t find a solution to my disrupted sleep, I could not continue with the training I was doing. And so for the summer, I’ve really backed off on my training in favour of sleeping longer to make up for sleeping poorly.

Now that I’ve had a few days of better sleep, I’m kind of excited at the prospect that the HRT will continue to help me in that area.  I’m really glad that I roomed with my friend in Kincardine or I may never have considered revisiting the conversation about HRT with my doctor. I’m also glad to have a doctor who is willing to take the time to explain to me the pros and cons of HRT. And what a gift to be able to live the next five years with good quality sleep!

If you’ve entered menopause and are suffering because you’re not sleeping, it’s worth having the conversation with your doctor. Not every woman is a good candidate for HRT — it depends on a lot on your and your family’s medical history. But those of us who can benefit from it with only a slight increased health risk may decide, as did I, that the benefits are worth the risk.

For more about HRT, read this primer on the Mayo Clinic website.