Training for a marathon is hard. It takes commitment, focus and determination. The task is even harder if you’re in the perimenopause. You face extra challenges with symptoms that can vary daily and can interfere hugely with your ability to run. The British Menopause Society say the average duration of menopause symptoms is seven years with 1 in 3 women experiencing them for longer. It’s sad that many women won’t feel able to sign up for a marathon during that time.
If you’re thinking about doing a marathon or you’ve already got your place and are wondering how you can adapt your marathon training during the perimenopause then I have some tips for you.
With much hesitation I signed up for and completed the Manchester Marathon in 2023. I had so many doubts and fears due to being in perimenopause but I was curious to see how it would go. It was so important to me to prove to myself that my best running days weren’t over. I ran the race of my life and was only one minute short of my personal best set five years previously. Here is what helped me and what I noticed about my training. I hope these tips help you.
Extend your training plan
You just never know how you’re going to feel day to day with the perimenopause. If you get a bad few days in a row then that week’s training can go out of the window. I suggest extending your plan with a couple of ‘menopause weeks’ to just give you that much more flexibility. It’s hard to get through any training plan without any hiccups at all and these extra days in the bank will just take the pressure off a bit and allow you to have a rubbish week or some extra rest without messing everything up and causing you stress.
Alternate your long runs
This is just from my experience, it worked so well for me and I wanted to share it with you. Long runs make you really tired. The perimenopause can leave you feeling drained and fatigued. You’re also trying to carry on with normal life too! When I first started cranking up the miles I was finding the long runs exhausting and it was taking me pretty much a whole week to recover. This meant the mid-week runs were either suffering or not happening. We know how important rest and recovery are generally and most marathon plans will have an easier week or two built into them but I felt I needed more. By doing shorter, long runs in between building up the miles I found I was much better able to tolerate them and not be too tired to get some runs in during the week too. For example, my long runs went: 10, 11, 9, 13, 9, 16, 10, 17, 14, 18, 20, 12, 6, Marathon. That exact pattern might not suit you but you can get the gist of the seesaw pattern.
Don’t forget the strength work
It’s advisable to do some strength work during all marathon training plans. It will help you to remain strong in the final miles, will improve your running posture and efficiency and can reduce your risk of injury. In the perimenopause, strength work really becomes essential. Your body begins losing muscle mass from about the age of 40 and you can lose 1 per cent per year from age 50. You have to take action to counter-act this. Now I’m no angel when it comes to doing strength work. I have a long term love-hate relationship with it and doing it consistently is an ongoing battle for me. However, I know how important it is and I did manage to do it at least once per week through my most recent marathon training plan. There is so much to gain so try to schedule it in to the week. Do it in whichever way you can, a class, a home work out, a gym, a few minutes here and there, it doesn’t matter but do it
Focus on fuelling
You might find you need to take a different approach to fuelling your body when you hit the perimenopause. Fasted runs can become difficult and are probably best avoided. Your digestive system can change and you might start getting the runner’s trots when you’ve never been bothered before. Make sure you practice your race day strategy in your long runs. You can check that you’ll be able to eat it on the go and can tolerate what you consume. It will also give you confidence, it’s one less thing to stress over on race day when the doubts creep in. Use your marathon challenge as a perfect opportunity to improve your diet generally and give your body all the building blocks it needs to repair and recover, as well as the energy it needs to fuel your running and your daily life too.
Drink your way to success
Being well hydrated is really important for runners. If you’re someone who has a lot of night sweats and hot flushes where you perspire, don’t forget that you are losing body fluid and need to replace this. You can quite easily be a bit on the dry side before you run without intention. Have a big glass of water by your bed and drink it in the morning. Have a little extra through the day too. Here are two other things to look out for:
• Alcohol – women’s tolerance to this often reduces around the perimenopause. You might have previously been able to have a few glasses of wine the night before running and feel ok. Some women find this is no longer the case. Alcohol can trigger night sweats and interrupted sleep can have a negative effect on training. Also, you can just feel rubbish and not on top form the next day which might make getting out for a run or the challenge of a tough session harder.
• Caffeine – as well as alcohol, caffeine tolerance can also reduce in perimenopause. It might increase your heart rate or give you palpitations which isn’t good if you’re trying to train in a low heart rate zone. It can upset your gut and trigger indigestion or the runner’s trots. It can also affect your bladder, making you need to pee more, urinary frequency is common anyway around perimenopause. If this is the case for you, it’s easy enough to reduce or stop it with some great decaf options for both tea and coffee available. If you’re sensitive to it then watch out for sports gels that contain caffeine.
Care for your skin
Skin can become drier and less elastic as you age and in perimenopause it can become generally more sensitive. Skin itching can be one of the symptoms of menopause too. You may find that when you’re training for a marathon in the perimenopause, you get skin problems that you’ve never had before. Chafing can be more severe and the elements such as strong wind and sun might feel harsher on your skin. Sweat rash, hives and itching are common. Take extra steps to give your skin some love with plain moisturisers and anti-chafe and barrier creams.
Vaginal and vulval skin can experience the same issues and long runs with lots of friction can make you feel uncomfortable. Check out my blog on vaginal atrophy in runners for some tips and advice. Runners often shower frequently and you might be more prone to infections such as thrush or cystitis. Avoid perfumed products and vaginal washes and douches, plain water is all you need.
Work on your self-belief
During the perimenopause, many women experience a lot of self-doubt, anxiety and imposter syndrome. When you’re trying to push yourself physically, the running gremlins can get really loud. It’s all too easy to find yourself listening to them, thinking you can’t do this and losing your motivation and confidence. This can happen while you’re running but in between runs too and this can make it extra tricky to get out for a run in the first place. I think it’s vital for any runner to work on their mind-set when they’re training for a marathon, so much of success is in your head, but it’s even more crucial in the perimenopause. If you’re losing your sense of self, your drive and your self-belief then to succeed in your marathon you absolutely have to work on this. I’ll write a full blog on this but for now I will summarise it by saying, start noticing those thoughts and developing some responses to what they have to say. They are exactly that, just thoughts, not reality. Practice, practice, practice speaking back to them, telling them to go away and filling your mind with positive replies and thoughts instead.
It’s so important to work with rather than against your body. It’s sometimes hard to know what’s an excuse and what’s a genuine reason to miss or change your run. Try to be honest with yourself. Having said that, if you feel you need to rest then do it. Marathon training is about playing the long game. You need to stay well, allow your body to adapt to the demands you’re putting on it and be able to run consistently. Sometimes this means having an extra rest day, cutting back the miles or just doing some gentle stretches instead. That’s OK. Be flexible. Plans can be so rigid sometimes and leave you feeling like you’re failing. The perimenopause can throw up so many unusual symptoms that don’t follow any pattern and it can be very challenging to run consistently. I would prioritise the long runs and work all the other stuff around this. See how you feel and do the best you can on the day that you’re in. That’s all you can ask of yourself.
I hope these tips have helped you and given you hope that while training for a marathon in the perimenopause has extra challenges, with an open-mind, flexibility and determination you can still do it. We are most certainly not past our prime as menopausal women. Running still has so much to give us and there’s so much we can still gain from it. Let’s not lose those seven years. I would love your feedback on this post so do leave me a comment here or on social media.
If you’ve enjoyed this post you’ll love my Run Through the Menopause course. Find out more info and get yourself on the waiting list here. I’d love to have you along.
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