Run Your Way Around PMS

I’m notorious for having the worst PMS and would be willing to bet money and say it’s the worst ever known to woman-kind. Besides, the mood swings, headaches, bloating, etc., it also interrupts my working out and running schedule. Two weeks prior to the start of my menstrual cycle, I lose every ounce of energy, sleep for extended periods of time and eat lots of food I shouldn’t. Unfortunately (because most women are beasts to be around) and fortunately (it means you’re healthy) this is a fact of life for all women, but at the age of 25, I’m still baffled by how a few hormone changes can reek havoc of my body. As I explore how to maintain some sort of normality during PMS, this may be a refresher for most, but I hope that you will find a few helpful tips.


PMS (premenstural syndrome), now called Premenstural Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) affects about a third of all women and can cause a variety of physical and behavioral changes. I think we all know why and how your menstrual cycle works, but what does it mean to you physically and mentally.


Thanks to Tampax’s Period Calendar, here’s what you can expect from your body during those 28 days.


Day 1: Your period and cycle starts. During Day 1-14 estrogen levels are low and our bodies break down glycogen for quick energy which makes high intensity workouts more efficient (energy-wise). You may find that during the first two weeks of your cycle you are able to run faster, easier which is perfect for pushing harder runs and races.


Day 2-6: Emotionally, you feel more chill than you have for days as your hormone levels drop.

Day 7: Your period is ending and your hormone levels are regulating. You should be feeling more sociable. It’s a great time for a party or a date.

Day 8: You have soaring energy levels and your body is preparing to ovulate (release an egg).

Day 9: You are at your least hormonal now, the perfect time for serious, level-headed chats.

Day 10: Around this time levels of the female hormone oestrogen begin to rise. This stimulates the growth of an egg within one of your ovaries.

Day 11: Another great thing about being a girl. You may notice that your vagina starts to secrete thin, clear mucus. This helps make it easier for sperm to pass into the womb and fertilize an egg.

Day 12: A rise of oestrogen means you may feel flirty and confident

Day 13: You may feel slight cramps in the lower abdomen. Not to worry, your body is preparing to release an egg.

Day 14: About now you’ll be ovulating so you’re very fertile. But of course you'll need to use contraception all month round if you’re having sex.

Day 15: If you’re feeling a tad warmer that’s because your body temperature rises about one degree centigrade after ovulation. This is another female hormone at work called progesterone.

Day 16-17: You may notice a thicker vaginal discharge that’s yellow or white. No worries, it’s totally normal. Days 16-18 are dubbed the “When is this run going to be over” phase. Although hard and fast runs will seem nearly impossible during this phase, your long runs may seem just fine due to the high levels of estrogen and its preference of fat-burning for fuel (low intensity exercise).

Day 18: You may have tender breasts because your body is producing more progesterone (which also makes the lining of your womb thick and spongy).

Day 19: If the egg isn’t fertilized, your body gradually stops producing oestrogen and progesterone

Day 20: Here’s where the fun begins. PMS. Headaches, bloating, irritability and tearfulness all make their presence known.

Day 21: You may feel a bit edgy and more emotional than usual.

Day 22: Levels of serotonin (your brain’s happy chemical) dip around now.

Day 23: Hormonal changes may affect your judgement and could make you more upset or angry.

Day 24: At this point in your cycle, you’re a lot more sensitive to pain

Day 25-27: You may see more acne because of a change in the level of hormones which affect your skin.

Day 28: The day before your period begins, ‘period pains’ will start. Aches in your back, stomach and vagina are signs that your womb is starting to cramp.


According to Runner’s World ‘Ask Jenny’ column, “Female runners train differently than men. It may look the same on paper, but female runners are constantly ebbing and flowing through the phases (and hormones) of each cycle. It’s not better or worse, its just different. Every month we push through low points in our cycle, which help us develop mental skills that comes in handy for racing. Women have an inherent pain threshold that allows for pregnancy and labor. So, although it seems like a grim sentence, good things come from the harder times of the month. All those tools can be used effectively in training and racing!”


Here’s a few ways to take advantage of your cycle for training to improve your performance:


  • Although running and exercising may be the last thing you want to do, both along with a balanced diet are essential to treating PMS. Regular exercise helps improve mood and relieves depression as well as helps with bloating and cramps.

  • Frequent, small high-carbohydrate meals also improve mood by elevating serotonin levels in the brain. Complex carbs such as vegetables and whole grains are essential. It is best to skip the simple carbs ( such as cookies and candy) and alcohol even though it’s what your body might be craving.

  • Monitor your cycle and keep track of your strong and efficient days as well as your more challenging times of the month. I use my Nike + to keep track of how I feel during each run. I note my mood, what I ate during the day, along with speed and distance. Keeping track of these key factors will help you anticipate your high’s and low’s so that you can schedule your training (and races) accordingly.
  • Try to schedule your key training sessions during the stronger times of your cycle (usually on days 5-14, 17-20). Ease up on effort levels during the challenging and symptomatic phases of your cycle. This may mean running slower or choosing an easy route.
  • If cramps are keeping you on the couch, cross-train with activity that is less jarring to your body like cycling, swimming or yoga.
  • If you’re like me the sheer thought of running during PMS is enough to drown my sorrows in a bag of Lay’s chips. To overcome your lack of motivation, schedule a run with a friend and plan ahead.
  • Include foods that are rich in maganesium, B-Complex and calcium into your diet. Also, St. John’s Wart has been proven to improve your mood during your low’s.


Finally, the most important thing to do is listen to your body. Realize, there’s nothing wrong with you and it’s something that all women have to cope with it. Training WITH your cycle is better than fighting it.


Information taken from Runner’s World: Running & Menstruation in Cycles (http://askcoachjenny.runnersworld.com/2007/07/hi-nora-you-are.html), iVillage.com: PMS: How Can I Control Mood Swings (http://yourtotalhealth.ivillage.com/pms-can-control-mood-swings.html) and tampax.com’s period predictor (http://www.tampax.com/periodcalendar0.php)





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