The Challenge of Being a Female Runner – Red Faced Runners Update


I am about to tackle a somewhat sensitive topic, but it’s generally my nature to take these things head on.  Besides, the vast majority (90% or more) of my readers are female, and we all have the same general working parts, so let’s not be shy.  For the handful of male readers out there, you are free to look away and ignore this post altogether.

I went out for a run this morning and it was complete crap.  It felt awful from the get-go and unlike most runs, it never got any better.  My legs felt like jello the whole time and they just did not want to work.  I completed 5+ miles, but it was with about 5 or 6 short walking breaks.  Hills that I usually conquer without much trouble were conquering me.  Mentally, I was beating myself up the whole time.  Why couldn’t I go faster?  Why didn’t I feel stronger?  Why did my body want to stop so badly?  Why couldn’t I just push through?  Why?  Why?  WHY?

Besides flagellating myself, I also did the mental checklist of potential contributing factors.  I am still working on my strength since that sinus infection.  I am taking a medication that has definitely had an affect on my running performance.  It’s dang hot out there and I hate running in the heat and humidity (give me below freezing temperatures any day!).  I ran earlier to beat the heat and maybe I didn’t take in enough nutrients.  I am getting close to the time where I need new shoes.  Oh, and it’s about 2 days before my period.  Excuses, excuses, excuses, right?  Especially that last bit, that’s just me blaming my hormones for my own weaknesses.  Right?

Well, no, in fact.  As much as we sometimes may not want to admit it, our menstrual cycles and the associated fluctuation of hormones really DO have a significant impact on our running performance.  Any female runner who’s been at it for a while will tell you that in that last few days of her cycle, before her period arrives, are some of the toughest for running.  And then, like magic, the darn thing makes its appearance and running feels easier, her legs feel stronger and faster, her breath less laboured.  Yup, it’s true.  “The Curse” really can curse your runs.

I’ve noticed this for a while now, and I decided to look it up when I got home this morning.  And I found plenty to back up the claims.  I won’t go into the whole physiological phenomenon of rising estrogen and progesterone and the subsequent physical effects.  You can read that for yourself if you are so inclined and I’ve included some links at the bottom of good articles I found.  But I think it’s worth noting, because it does provide an extra challenge when starting a training program.  If, for example, you have speedwork or a longer run slated for a day when your hormones are working against you, it may be very disheartening and discouraging to find that your legs just don’t seem up for it.  Even what might normally be a pretty basic run for you may feel like a lot more work.

But it is what it is and training schedules can be adjusted.  It helps to pay attention to your own cycle, to note the days that feel the worst and make sure the hardest runs are scheduled for other days.  Or if you get out there and the run feels like crud, relax.  Don’t push it, don’t force it.  And don’t beat yourself up about it.  Push yourself only so far as it feels right.  And then get out there on another day and push a little harder.  You just might surprise yourself.

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  1. says

    A universal “problem” with women. I have had those days when I feel like energy is oozing out even without doing something very strenuous. Recognizing that is indeed an important aspect in the fitness routine.

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