Jess’s Story

Long Distance Running

36 Years

Naracoorte, South Australia

Knowledge is power. Female athletes can maximise performance by understanding what the body needs throughout different phases of the cycle and preparing accordingly.

At the age of 16 I still hadn’t had my first period and was becoming concerned. Whilst I played a variety of sports and had a busy lifestyle, I could not identify an obvious cause for this. After undergoing a series of tests, I was told that I had Benign Primary Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and was advised to start on an oral contraceptive pill as a way to receive oestrogen. I started taking running more seriously at the age of 21 and for the first ten years of my running career, had full control of the timing of my bleeds due to the nature of the pill. I also didn’t experience many physical, mental or emotional symptoms around the time of menstruation. In 2019 I had fertility support in the form of ovulation induction to fall pregnant with my son Billy. When I stopped breastfeeding him 13 months after giving birth I had my first ever true period. From that moment onwards I had a pretty reliable 28 day natural cycle. For the first time in my career I was required to navigate my period during training and racing without the control over timing but I was very grateful to have a natural cycle.

One month before the 2022 Commonwealth Games Marathon I raced a Half Marathon on the Gold Coast as a tune-up effort and an opportunity to hopefully run a personal best time. According to my period tracker App I was due to start my bleed that morning and so prepared accordingly. I was wearing race briefs as usual so felt a bit awkward about limited coverage but was able to focus on the task at hand once the starting gun fired. The race started well but just over half-way through I started to feel an intense fatigue and ache in my glutes and lower back region. My breathing became laboured and I naturally started to panic which only perpetuated the respiratory symptoms. Whilst I finished the race, I was disappointed in the result and my confidence took a hit leading into the Commonwealth Games. I discovered afterwards that my period had started during the race which is a likely cause of the low back / glute ache that I experienced as this is a common symptom for me when menstruation starts.

28 days after my experience on the Gold Coast I raced the Commonwealth Games Marathon in Birmingham. I was worried that I may experience the same symptoms in this race so organised a consult with my sports psychologist to equip myself with mental and practical strategies. This helped to empower me for a variety of potential scenarios. I also read Stacy Sims’ book ‘ROAR’ to increase my knowledge about different stages of the menstrual cycle and the considerations for each eg. how could I manage my nutrition, hydration, cooling strategies and other factors to maximise performance during the late luteal or early menstruation phase? As it turned out, my period began the day before the Marathon – a day earlier than expected due to the time-zone change. I was relieved that I would not experience my pre-menstrual symptoms during the race and chose to wear shorts rather than briefs to provide more coverage and reassurance. I had one of the best performances of my career and was proud of the way I managed myself mentally in what was quite an unfamiliar situation given my menstruation history. After nearly 2.5 hours of running I was admittedly a little worried and self-conscious at the finish line about potential leakage but this fortunately did not occur. It demonstrated to me that knowledge is power. Female athletes can maximise performance by understanding what the body needs throughout different phases of the cycle and preparing accordingly.

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