Over the past ten years I have developed a deep love of running, gradually increasing my (typically) daily runs from 30 minutes to 45-60 minutes, sometimes longer. My burgeoning joy of running seemed to develop alongside my career in which I now spend the bulk of my days sitting at a desk. After long periods in front of the computer, my back and shoulders begin to ache and my legs twitch in anticipation of movement. Over time, I grew to desire the rhythmic flexion and extension of my limbs, the breath in my chest, and the breeze on my skin. Running helps me clear my mind, and gain some clarity and perspective on issues of the day. It also gives me a sense of connection to the people and places in which I live or temporarily reside. Sitting back at the computer after a long run, my body may be fatigued but I feel refreshed and enthused to revisit the words on the screen.
When my monthly menstrual periods slowly disappeared, I didn’t think too much of it. After a few months passed, I lost track of the ‘cycles’, and to be honest, I didn’t really miss the monthly interruptions. Many of my fellow physically active friends had similar experiences and told me not to worry, supposedly ‘it’s normal when you’re running most days’. For a while, I accepted their explanations. I felt great, I seemed to embody ‘good health’, and I was happy in my body. Yet I also had a growing sense of unease, it just didn’t seem ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ to me. So, I followed up on my niggling uncertainties with a couple of doctor visits. But, I became increasingly frustrated when doctors in both New Zealand and the UK dismissed my concerns. A doctor in England told me I was ‘very healthy… it’s probably just a bit of stress from moving overseas’, and two doctors in New Zealand also told me it was nothing to worry about. I was disappointed by their apathy and seemingly simplistic understandings of ‘health’, whereas an ‘obese’ body is a sign of instant alarm, I wanted them to respect my concerns about the internal functioning of my visibly ‘fit’ and thus supposedly ‘healthy’ body.
The more research I did, the more concerned I became about the health of my bones and future fertility. I wanted to be able to run (or at least move freely) into old age, and my partner and I were considering having children in the next few years, so I followed this up with a series of blood tests to measure my hormones. Rather than accepting the medical ‘experts’ advice to use the contraceptive pill or other drugs to artificially trigger menstruation or take drugs to help me get pregnant when I wanted to conceive, I forced myself to run a little less and eat a little more. Somewhat ironically, I started policing my own running practices; when I pushed away from the desk, tied my laces and stepped out the door for my daily run, I was disciplining myself not to run too long. Throughout the run I would worry what it was doing to my progesterone and estrogen levels, and the longevity of my bones. I no longer felt good upon returning from a long run, rather I felt guilty. Over time, it became easier, and with a bit more weight and a little less exercise, my regular menstrual cycles returned. I have to admit, however, that I continue to struggle with achieving the balance between exercise and sufficient energy intake. It’s a daily battle with my desire to control my diet, my body, and my life.