In Health

One thing I love about trail running, and especially ultrarunning, is the chance to talk in depth about a variety of topics for hours on the trail. On any given day these might include parenting issues, the next race on the calendar, training pitfalls, injury prevention, and female body systems. Yes, I’ve been known to engage in deep convos on menstrual cycles, hormone irregularities, and all three of my pregnancies. As menopause approached when I was 49, I had already been dealing with its typical symptoms: night sweats, heavy menstrual flow, irritability. I asked my friend Martha, who had already “menopaused,” what to expect in the months ahead. Her response:

“You’ll have a huge, out-of-control menstrual flow, the Mother of All menstrual flows, and then, you’ll be done.”

Now I realize that every woman’s body is different. My own experience will be different from yours. However, I took solace in Martha’s prediction, as I was frustrated with being on long runs in the woods in the middle of nowhere while menstruating, thinking I was prepared with 6-7 super size tampons and a large plastic baggie for trash, only to go through all 7 tampons in six hours AND have people running behind me on the trails. I would have to pretend to take a pee just so I could be at the back of the pack so no one could see the evidence on my legs. YUCK, I know! I couldn’t wait for this period of life to finally arrive after years of its teasing symptoms (aka “perimenopause”). It meant no more ovulation and no more menstruation, which for us trail sisters can be a wonderful thing if we are not trying to get pregnant.

Sophie at this year’s Bighorn 50 finish, giving her hubby Rusty a high five after finishing 2nd in her age group despite the debilitating mud! PC: Meredith Terranova

Once the aforementioned Mother-Of-All periods finally arrived, I was 52. Taking a look back at my Ultrasignup results the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was also fast during those years! I PR’d at 50K, 50 miles, and 100K between the ages of 49-51. I took a deeper dive into my training logs, and discovered the following:

 

  1. I was consistent in my training with no injury time-outs. I would race 5-6 ultras during the year but take a full week off of running after each race. I also took three weeks off running in December.
  2. I ran about 50-60 miles per week leading up to a race. I always (and continue to do so) took a cut-back week every third week, down to about 35 miles.
  3. I went to the gym two days per week and focused on core, upper body, and hip strength. These workouts took about 20-30 minutes and often followed a hard workout, so that the next day was a true easy day.
  4. I always took 1-2 days off from running every week. I would swim a mile, stretch and do yoga poses on those days. Some days I did absolutely nothing and slept in.
  5. I ran a hard midweek run and incorporated quality during my long runs on the weekend. Joe Friel, author of Fast After 50, recommends high intensity interval training for improving speed as we age. My hard runs would be either hill repeats of 3-5 minutes or a track workout of 800s and 1200s. During my long runs in the mountains, I would run for time up a 20-30-minute climb in the middle of the run, sometime twice.
  6. I ate a lot — lots of plant-based foods with color, my granola/fruit/yogurt concoction every morning, tea or coffee in the morning and a glass of wine with dinner. And dessert, always dessert.

 

#trailsister Sarah Lavender Smith helping Sophie get up Grant Swamp Pass while pacing Keith Knipling at Hardrock. PC: Mark Tanaka

None of this is rocket science, and it reflects the advice from many training philosophies that we read about in books, magazines, or on social media. It is what worked best for me, so I continue to follow the basic tenets now that I am 54. I am finding that I need more time to recover from hard runs, so the pool has become a great substitute. Swimming, pool running without a flotation belt, and stretching while in the sauna are actually my favorite training days of the week!

 

As I run through my fifties, I am constantly reminded that my ability to train at this level is finite: the hamstring strain from last winter that took months to recover from; the calf strain that I got running easy on flat pavement after pacing at Hardrock set me back a few weeks. So, when I find myself in the middle of a period of good health, injury-free runs, and high energy, I thank my lucky stars, and keep doing what is working. I sign up for races that are new to me or that have been on the bucket list, and I take a day or two off, just to be safe. And I remember that 50 can be the new 30, if I’m patient, smart, and realistic.

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Showing 12 comments
  • Pam Walker
    Reply

    Thank you!! Dealing with the perimenopausal stuff, mainly hot flashes and weight gain. Not a lot of my friends in running have dealt with this yet so really appreciate hearing that you continued to improve and your discoveries will help others! Good luck and keep smashing those PBs!

    • Sophie Speidel
      Reply

      Thanks, Pam! Yes, I find myself among the “elders” of my running friends, so I was glad my friend Martha was able to reassure me when I started experiencing all the perimenopause symptoms. And it was fun to experience strong runs and races during that time — it just shows that we can keep getting faster as we age as long as we are patient (and train smart)! Best wishes to you.

  • Suzanna Bon
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story. Every month is the ‘mother of all periods’ for me lately. At 53 I keep hoping each will be my last…. but I have to admit, with enough rest and a good diet I feel as strong as ever, albeit slower. Here’s to continued health and longevity on the trails!

    • Sophie Speidel
      Reply

      Suzanna,

      I know that feeling. Ugh. And from following your fast running over the years, I have to tell you that you continue to inspire me! Wishing you all the best!

  • Amy Butler
    Reply

    Hooray! I am so happy to read this and thankful for the passing of your wisdom.

  • Sophie Speidel
    Reply

    Thanks, Amy. I know its a small group of us over 45+ women who are dealing with this right now, but I am hoping that it provided some solace and support!

  • Monica Ochs
    Reply

    Great article Sophie! Although hard to accept and frustrating at times (slowing times, weight gain, hot flashes) it’s reassuring to know we can get through it while continuing to do what we love. I agree with you about the importance of taking more rest days, cross training, and lowering overall mileage while continuing to incorporate higher intensity. We 45+ girls are going to be around a long time enjoying the journey!

    • Sophie Speidel
      Reply

      Thanks, Monica! I truly look forward to my days on the mountain bike and in the pool. I just ordered the book, “The Deep End Of The Pool Workouts” after reading a review in UR magazine. Lisa Henson did a great job convincing me that this is the new normal for those of us over 50!

  • Sally Gianelli
    Reply

    So glad you wrote this! I’ll be 55 on Halloween, and just ran my best half marathon time in 15 years despite hot flashes and insomnia. Although I’m sad to be losing my menstrual cycle and faster race times, I don’t miss the heavy periods, cramps and anemia that affected my running for so long.

    • Sophie Speidel
      Reply

      Thanks, Monica! I truly look forward to my days on the mountain bike and in the pool. I just ordered the book, “The Deep End Of The Pool Workouts” after reading a review in UR magazine. Lisa Henson did a great job convincing me that this is the new normal for those of us over 50!

    • Sophie Speidel
      Reply

      Sally, I know what you mean. I am glad to not have to worry about all that stuff now, even if it signals that time is marching on. My mantra this year (as I turn 55 in December) is “If you’ve got it, race it!” which translates to “If you are feeling healthy, might as well take advantage and sign up for stuff!” So 2018 will be the year of taking on some new challenges. Congrats on your half-m, and all the best to you!

  • Martha
    Reply

    As Sophie’s friend Martha (thanks, Sophie!), I love that Sophie has covered this topic…it’s a hard one to find info on. And I’d agree that post-menopausal running is pretty awesome. No more worries about where I’ll be in my cycle on race day. It may be a little easier to gain a few pounds, but as Sophie mentioned, it’s also a good time to try some new things in your training routine. I picked up Crossfit at age 53 and lifted weights for the first time ever. My running has been steady in my fifties…sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but all good. Joining the “Grand Masters” club isn’t a bad thing! 🙂

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