I've been meaning to write this post for a while but just haven't had the time to sit down and give it the attention I think it deserves to do it justice. This has been an important and recurring topic of thought in my world for several years and I've done quite a bit of not only specific logging/observation of my personal experiences, but have also done some research to find out what others have experienced or observed about it as well. What am I even talking about?? The female hormonal cycle. Lovely. But it's a real issue that is important to understand and address if you happen to not be on hormonal birth control (which would make all the observations coming up irrelevant).
So here's what I've personally noticed over the last few years... Almost immediately after my period comes, I'm on FIRE and feel awesome in training. I can handle just about any load... especially the long stuff... pile it on! I'll kill it and smile the whole time. And then do it again tomorrow. My heart rate is low, my power is high, my paces feel easy. My recovery is quick. It's awesome!
That freakish awesome phase tends to last ~2 weeks... then it starts going downhill for me. HR goes up, power goes down, effort feels extraordinary, negative thoughts creep in. I feel heavy and lethargic and pissy. WTF?!? I have definitely noticed this most on the longer workouts- 20 mile runs or Ironmans are about the worst thing I can do in the days before my period comes because I just feel like garbage and beat myself up mentally/emotionally... it's pretty much the only time I think to myself I suck at this! Then my period comes and tah-dah! I'm a superhero again. Interesting cycle, that one.
It took me a while to really dial this in... I started suspecting about a year ago (when I got my period 2 days after my disappointing race in Kona last year) that my cycle had something to do with how I was performing and feeling in training and racing... so I started making notes in my TP calendar and then I'd pay very close attention... and sure enough, it happened every month. Pretty much like clockwork. So the thing that really sucked about this was that my last 3 Ironmans (yes, all three of them... CdA, Kona, and Canada) landed 1-2 days before my period started... CdA and Kona I actually didn't make the connection until afterward but this time around at Canada I knew the timing. And I was super bummed. And I spent the two weeks prior to the race trying to figure out if there was any way to naturally make my period start like 3 days early. (Parsley tea, anyone? That was Google's suggestion.)
In the end I actually did not drink any parsley tea... instead opting to just do the best I could managing my mind and any other factor I could control... I lowered my expectations a bit... I mentally prepped myself to not feel awesome all day but fight through that crap anyway... and I will tell you, I found some interesting articles online that supported what I had been feeling. Some of what I found was contradictory but a lot of what I found fit well into what I thought I already knew.
This was the most interesting article I found via Running Times (they always have good smart articles!) It validates what I'd figured out- that performance is indeed compromised during the luteal phase- primarily due to metabolism and thermoregulation. Specifically, during the luteal phase we need to take in more carbs/hour than we do during follicular phase... this was such an AH-HA! to me b/c when I looked back, a lot of those crappy feelings I had in training and racing were eerily similar to the way you feel when you're bonking... pissy, irritable, heavy, lethargic. I had always ruled out bonking as an issue b/c I'm like a machine fueling my training and always am careful to fuel well. But in Canada, knowing that I was dealing with this luteal phase shit, I ate more for breakfast and more on the bike than I ever have before and that went a long way toward keeping me in a way better place both mentally and physically. I also did as this article suggested and sodium loaded more than normal pre-race. I think it also really helped that Canada was not hot at all- normally I handle heat fairly well since I train in it all the time but last year in Kona I did a piss poor job of handling the heat... which didn't make sense until I read that article explaining the thermoregulation thing. I remember not understanding WHY my heart rate and breathing felt so labored while I was jogging 10' pace but that article put some of it into perspective for me.
Anyway, I'm posting this here just so some of you (who are not on hormonal birth control) might be able to change the way you fuel yourselves or manage yourselves mentally/emotionally throughout your monthly cycle. Overall I'd say that the couple of changes I made for Canada were good ones and while that was not a magical day where I was on fire, it wasn't as bad as it could have been had I not understood where I was in my cycle and adjusted my plan accordingly. One of these days maybe an Ironman will happen during my follicular phase (Boulder this year was an example of that! Yay for actually feeling good for once this year in a race!) and I'll have the race I know is in me... but until then, we just have to collect the information and do the best we can with what we have on the day! Hope this helps.
I'd also be curious to hear if any of you out there have paid attention and have had similar experiences?