Arriving late for my first race of the cross country season in 2017, I was already feeling hot and bothered by the time I’d dumped my bag, got my trail shoes on and made my way to the start. It was unseasonably warm weather for mid-October, warm enough for an ice cream afterwards. As we ran up the first hill I had a hot flush. It was the first time I’d had one during a race.
After that race I had to acknowledge that my menopausal symptoms were affecting my running. Was it time I did something about it?
A year before I had written a blog post for World Menopause Day (18th October) called “Running toward the menopause“. At that time I regarded my symptoms as manageable but things had got worse since then. I wasn’t sleeping well and was waking up in the night feeling hot. I felt I could cope with that but then I started getting hot flushes during the day. Not lots of them but they occurred frequently enough to make me feel fed up. Hot flushes are weird, you can feel hot and cold at the same time and you just don’t feel yourself. It’s a bit like having a very short bout of the ‘flu.
The other symptom which was starting to affect my enjoyment of running (and cycling) was vaginal dryness. Since taking up running in 2011, I hadn’t had a problem with chafing. Now my vaginal and vulval tissues were dry and the vulval tissues became sore after running or cycling. I didn’t know what I could do to relieve this. In October 2016 I went to a talk by Dr Louise Newson, a menopause specialist, and found out about the potential benefits of vaginal moisturisers. As women go through menopause their oestrogen levels dip and this can cause vaginal dryness and affect the urinary tract. After finding out about vaginal moisturisers I started using one, but although it had helped it had not completely prevented the chafing and soreness.
Before I went to Dr Newson’s talk, I might not have contemplated trying HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy). I had come away a lot better informed about the benefits and risks of HRT. One thing that she said had stuck in my mind. It was something along the lines of “You don’t have to feel bad, you don’t have to put up with it, you could feel a lot better on HRT.”
Within two weeks of that cross country race I had made an appointment to see my GP to ask for HRT.
What does HRT do?
The menopause occurs when there is a change in the balance of a woman’s sex hormones. The ovaries stop producing as much oestrogen and ovulation stops. The decline in oestrogen can lead to a number of menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping and vaginal dryness. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) relieves these symptoms by replacing oestrogen. It also helps to prevent osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) which is more common after the menopause.
My GP prescribed Elleste Duet 1mg. I felt weird for the first 24 hours but the hot flushes just disappeared and I started sleeping much better. My vagina started to feel much more “normal”, no longer dry, but I was still struggling with chafing and soreness, and getting a vaginal infection at the end of each 4-week cycle of HRT. It’s taken me a year but I hope this is finally sorted out. I was prescribed a high dose of pencillin for something else and I think this may have killed off whatever was causing the vaginal infection as well.
Has HRT improved my running performance?
Yes, because the quality of my sleep is much better. Getting more and better sleep makes a huge difference to how I feel during the day, what I feel able to do, and my mental readiness to race. My sleep is not perfect. I still find myself feeling hot at night and often wake early, but I sometimes sleep very well.
I’ve been planning this article since I started taking HRT in November 2017, but have held back partly by a reluctance to share something so intimate, and also by the fear of breaking a social taboo – we don’t talk about vulvas and vaginas. Why are they the source of so much embarrassment, when they are so important to how we feel about ourselves and to our relationships with our partners? I have been encouraged to write and publish this by the knowledge that there are people who want to know more about the menopause and running. My previous article about the menopause is one of the top five most-read articles on this site in the past year, even though I have done very little to promote it.
If you’ve found this article useful or would like to share your own experience of running during the perimenopause and menopause please add a comment below or contact me.
Dr Louise Newson’s website: My Menopause Doctor
NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) Guidance on Diagnosis and Management of the Menopause.
Hot Flush was set up by two women who found it difficult to find the information they wanted about the menopause. They say they want their website to be “like a glossy magazine that women will want to revisit, primarily for menopause advice but also for fashion, style, culture and mid-life stuff.”
There are many articles about menopause on Henpicked.net, a UK website for women over 40.
Photo of me courtesy of John Oldfield.