Running Through My Menopause!

Since the birth of my daughter Ella in 2001 I suffered from reoccurring ovarian cysts which were not life threatening or incapacitating but were an inconvenience, causing pain and bloating.

Over a 14 year period I underwent 4 operations and eventually it was decided, an ovarectomy was the answer………..Great I thought at the time, but it wasn’t quite as simple as that. This forced me into the surgical menopause, something I knew very little about

The menopause is a taboo subject for some reason, unless you are surrounded by women of a certain age experiencing similar issues and then it’s the most talked about subject!

I feel strongly that it’s not something that should be ignored, it’s going to happen to all women at some point in their life unless they are extremely lucky and it indirectly impacts on partners and families. You just don’t realise how big until it happens to you, I certainly was not prepared at all.

Running combined with my own research and some sound advice has saved my sanity!

I don’t think all menopausal women will want to become an athlete or a yoga guru in their middle age, but from my experience you can turn this period of turbulence and into a positive and become a stronger person.

This is my story and how running helped me. I hope it will be of interest and help to other women

It’s not time for big granny knickers and blue rinse just yet.

The Start

It all began Friday November 17th 2015. The small grape like organs were whipped out and made a swift exit to the medical disposal unit via the biopsy clinic (all was well on that front I am glad to report!) but little did I know what huge impact those tiny organs (or lack of them) could have on my mental and physical wellbeing!

Darkness fell

At first I was not alarmed all was going to be fine, HRT……I was going to be a new woman, rejuvenated and happy with my lot, that’s what you read. The Gynae Consultant issued the prescription immediately and put me on the strongest dose and stressed the importance of taking the HRT medication for a minimum of 2 years. Ian was packed off to get these life changing tablets, not that I felt any different yet but I couldn’t wait to get them inside me scared of the implications of not taking them.

At first the pain from the op was all I was aware of, no real noticeable change. It was Winter; I couldn’t train; my usual social and manic work regime was suspended so things were bound to be different and difficult for a while.

The first big change was I was sleeping like a log, this had never really been an issue before but I did awake early and often several times through the night but this had stopped and I was sleeping like a baby…. great I thought!

But before too long, reality hit home, I was becoming a different person and not for the better. I had lost my spark, had very low self-esteem, short fused, depressed, every negative word you can think of, that was me……I was not fun to be around. Having a teenage daughter in this era is a challenge in itself without the added complications of being a menopausal Mum. It was not a harmonious cocktail, hormonal teenager + menopause Mother + Winter blues!

The temperament failed to improve and was becoming very noticeable at work. Renowned for being a level headed, conscientious and fairly rational colleague, it was starting to appear I had taken a few truth pills and was telling colleagues and customers, as things were, rather than what they wanted to hear…..this was not the Helen Duggan everyone knew!

Desperate to get back to my usual training regime, I was advised by the nurse to take it easy and remember I was 50 after all! That reminded me of a Neurologist saying to me 2 years earlier following an MRI for a back complaint, “I suggest you pack up the gym and try picking up a book”, this annoyed me and only made me more determined to get back to the gym again.

Weeks of volunteering at parkrun, which I adore, was starting to wear a bit thin. I wanted to be out there joining the masses, pounding Millennium Field on a Saturday morning.

Facebook also wasn’t helping seeing post after post of running selfies and running commentaries of friends’ latest achievements…. I was depressed on that front.

When I was able to resume training and run again, I picked up niggle after niggle and seemed to taking one step forward and two back. Sore this, stiff that, throbbing the other!!

The iPad by this stage was constantly warm from googling every injury and condition! Having been a gym fanatic for years, I was getting increasingly downhearted that exercise which had always been my ‘motivator’ and mood enhancer, was now actually causing more issues.

Was I now officially old and past it and kidding myself that I was going to be able to continue running and training? Was it time to ditch the trainers, turn the alarm off each morning and maybe even pick up a book……..!!

In complete despair, after 3 months of feeling I had turned into a depressing, aggressive, argumentative old nag, I felt enough was enough and marched off to the GP only to see a GP (Locum Dr who looked about 12!) who showed no sympathy or understanding for what I was experiencing. I am totally appreciative that GPs are very stretched but I was feeling less understanding as he only looked up from his PC twice, just to tell me there was no alternative, HRT was the answer but they would consider additional medication should the condition continue. Totally disillusioned and dissatisfied, I left the surgery feeling more depressed than ever!

A further black month passed, weight gain, running had ceased, another injury and I was feeling at the lowest ebb ever!

Not happy with my last GP visit, I booked up to see another GP hoping for a more sympathetic approach but this time I was apparently ‘definitely clinically depressed’ and within 2 minutes I was out the door with a prescription for anti-depressants and advised to book up to see a “Counsellor” and the female GP at the Practice who came highly recommended, this could not come soon enough!

In the meantime, weeks of misery and absent mindedness passed. Renowned for being dizzy and forgetful at the best of times, in a 2-week period, I had lost my mobile twice, credit card, keys and the worst occasion was when I left my handbag containing all of the above in a meeting in Birmingham which was discovered 1 hour down the M6!

Arguments and unrest continued at home, the low point had to be when I was told by my 15-year-old daughter to sort myself out and get help at which point I sat and sobbed in despair, was this going to be like this forever!

Ian’s love of sport generally, but running in particular, which I would normally support was starting to grate significantly. Why was he able to enjoy huge success and fulfilment whilst I as the finishing line holding the coats, it should be me!

The long awaited appointment with the third GP finally arrived and desperate to be helped, I spurted out my issues in an emotional manner. I almost hugged her when she looked at me and responded sympathetically and said I should never have been prescribed HRT immediately and certainly not anti-depressants. She was LOVELY, she understood, she was my hero!

Throw away the medication, she said, let’s see what happens, music to my ears… why didn’t I do it before, at least someone listened to me! This was the turning point but other factors had a big impact! I allowed several weeks for the medication to dissipate from my system. Obviously determined to notice the difference, I was constantly thinking, did I feel different? In the meantime, the windows were still open at all hours of the day and night!

The next chapter of hope was when a friend who had also been experiencing issues of a different nature, recommended herbal medicine accompanied by acupuncture. Was this the answer to my problems??

Off I went to meet a Herbal Dr, a £50 pound consultation then herbal prescription…..nasty beyond nasty but I was prepared to do anything this was going to be the answer to all my problems. But….still pacing up and down at 2am in the morning, watching documentaries I would never have normally considered, waiting for the alarm to go off at 5.30. 300 pounds and several weeks later, I crossed this remedy off the list, but at least I had tried it!

In the meantime, I was still attempting to get back to running but every time it would end up with me hobbling home with another few weeks’ setback. Back to my friend Google, trying to find the reason for my latest injury. It had to be the menopause, this was really the end of me and exercise, the one thing that had kept me mentally strong for the last 2 decades!

The next chapter which has to be the happiest of the last 11 months and turning point in my physical wellbeing was meeting John Reynolds, soon to be known as “God”, who came highly recommended by Ian.

A Soft Tissue / Bio-mechanics Specialist who, as well as being an expert in his field, totally understands, appreciates and is empathetic towards people who really have a desire and need to exercise.

No picking up books in JR’s world unless it’s to strengthen the mind and body. He recommended a number of strengthening exercises which I have developed over recent months and have seen noticeable results. He also recommended yoga, and whilst this is only a recent addition to my training programme, already I can see how this is going to be highly beneficial and also noticed a significant improvement in my sleeping patterns on the days I was able to do it.

JR also made me understand the importance of icing, cold water therapy, stretching and also rest. In my eyes, icing was for the professional athletes…..WRONG…’s for everyone and is essential for tissue repair, alongside a stretching and strengthening programme.

This has not been a quick road to recovery, it has taken quite a few months, but with JRs guidance and support and my own determination and perseverance, it has enabled me to strengthen my body which has had an invaluable and unbelievable positive impact on my mental wellbeing.

JR’s famous catchphrase is ‘if your core is strong, you can do anything’ and this is now my motto as it’s so true.

I’ve begun to attend FRR club sessions when I can and even enter some races.

Every day I am at the gym with my essential gym buddies, the magic ball, tennis ball, squash ball, rubber band…. religiously I have followed the exercises JR recommended including walking like a crab around the gym, falling off the bosu doing my “’superman’” pose, which has got me some strange looks but I have persevered!

Initial goal was to get round the Woodbridge 10k ( my first time in a FRR vest) and getting back to regular parkruns, with longer term aims being the Twilight 10K and the Coastal 10. Could I really do these, was I being unrealistic?

Ian’s and JR’s encouragement told me that I would get there with patience and focus.

I managed the Woodbridge 10k and had been getting back to parkruns but still had one or two niggles.

Eventually we found it appeared my gait had changed – possibly because of my strengthening programme and this was causing an issue, off I went to see an Orthotics Specialist, recommended by JR, to have a gait analysis. 2 weeks later I was equipped with new orthotics and ready to go but this was just 3 days before the Twilight. JR rubberstamped it, so I was doing it, provided I took it steady and didn’t go mad.

I did feel great, standing at the start line with hundreds of other competitors and even more amazing to feel my strength and determination increase mile by mile. I took it steadily for the first loop and felt able to increase the pace throughout the second and was delighted how I felt strong at the end given how far I had come!

This for me was the stake in the ground… I could do it, no need to slow down and hold the coats once you’re 50 and menopausal! But you have to work at it and dedicate time to become stronger and healthier. At the end of the day, only you can be responsible for getting yourself on the path to recovery. Not necessarily pounding on the machines in the gym, but more quality than quantity that matters.

I am currently feeling strong and positive; my parkrun times have been falling with a run of PBs – currently 24.05 – improving by more than a minute in the last month.

I am signed up for a sprint triathlon in September and the Coastal 10 now seems a realistic goal, – I WILL achieve these!

I feel strong and firing on all cylinders mentally and physically. I know I will still have occasional niggles, but I now know these are not insurmountable and can be treated providing you listen to your body and to advice. Please excuse the cliché, but I do feel like a ‘new woman’, the darkness has lifted and I intend it to remain this way.

I am not suggesting that running is the answer to resolving all menopausal symptoms and HRT does work for lots of females, it just wasn’t for me.

I felt at a very low ebb and discovered running with a base of strength and flexibility benefited my mental and physical wellbeing and I believe this can be applied regardless of age and stage of life.

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3 Responses

  1. Ali says:

    Thank you for posting this Helen. So many people can be helped by more awareness of the options at menopause (and less by old-fashioned doctors who still think once you hit 50 you should stop strenuous exercise and take up gentle walking and knitting!).

  2. Saoirse says:

    A great piece Helen. You’ve given me courage to carry on through my peri-menopause, sweating profusely. I wasn’t able to run in heat, but with my own internal body working like a furnace, I’ve learnt to cope. To other women, don’t give up & regular running helps to keep hot flushes at bay, or reduces their severity.

  3. Kirsty says:

    A really interesting read Helen. Always interested to hear how others cope with the problems of menopause as I try and decide whether to give the drugs a try or not! I’ll be continuing the running anyway and at 52 trying to get further and faster each year. Bring on a category for over 60’s, or even 70’s women in the coastal 10M – I think some of us will still be going for it then!!