This article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. Subscribe today for similar features on ultra training, racing and more.
Last year, a lot changed for me as an athlete and as a woman. The struggle was real – not only the actual struggle to run but the emotional struggle to let go of who I used to be, while embracing who I’ve become. I settled into a new reality, but with an edge of discontent and lack of mojo. A large part of me wanted to retire from running and racing. But for me to feel connected to my athletes and their pursuits, I needed to train and race. That left me hungry for more answers and possible supportive measures to bring joy back into my running. So, I got curious.
Signing up for the FOURmidable 50k in February kept me motivated enough to train through the dreary Oregon winter weather. My approach to the race was to meet myself where I was, embrace the running community I love and not look at my watch. I focused on the joy I experienced reconnecting with the Auburn-area ultra crowd and the trails I love, and was pleased that I had a little fight at the end. But on the 8-hour drive home, I listened to Dr. Stacy Sims’ book Next Level, where each chapter taught me something new about female athletes in the peri and post-menopause stages, and gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the aging female body. More importantly, it gave me hope for a better version of my current self.
My next step was signing up for Dr. Sims’ “Menopause 2.0” course. I joined a gym. I hired a trainer. I lifted heavy weights. I ran 30-second, gut-wrenching hill repeats while my dogs ran circles around me. I ran fewer miles. I ate more protein and more of everything. I also added a few adaptogens to my menopause hormone therapy.
Two months later, I ran a 50-mile trail race with about the lowest weekly mileage I’ve ever run in the weeks leading up to the event. While I struggled with a painful lower back (not running-related) and my slower pace, my energy and strength were solid—especially in the final 10 miles.
About three months into this new routine, something shifted. I started running again, not jogging. My stride lengthened, I had power, I had a spring in my step and could push into discomfort and actually feel rewarded. My standard loops were faster. I signed up for another 50 miler—a sort of do-over from the last one. It was fantastic. I was stronger, faster and felt comfortable being uncomfortable. I felt the excitement of racing all over again and had my mojo back.
I am not an experiment of n=1. I’m applying what Dr. Sims recommends based on data available for peri and post-menopausal athletes. She explains what the hell is going on in female bodies and how we can work with what we have, who we are, where we are, where we want to go and how to get there.
I have no illusions of being as fast as I was in my forties and fifties, and I won’t take this re-found body for granted. The lessons learned aren’t that different from any time in our running careers where we add a stimulus and respond with an adaptation. It’s just finding the new/different stimuli that allows us to adapt to physiological changes from aging.
I tend to get very excited about new-to-me discoveries and was born an enthusiastic optimist. So, when I was at the Western States Endurance Run in June, I readily shared my journey with anyone that would listen. It was astonishing to have so many women captivated by my story and mention where they were in their journey. Many of them were where I was two years ago, and I did my best to give them hope and direction. When I suggested I should write a book for this growing subset of ultrarunners, the response was a resounding “Yes!”
At the lowest of lows in this process, I had to think hard about life and my purpose. Having come out on the other side, it is clear to me that it’s to help women either avoid the hole or give them a helping hand back out. And it feels good.