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Over the last three months I’ve been struggling with fatigue over the couple of days leading into my menstrual cycle or the first couple of days of my cycle. The purpose of ‘The Ash Hunter Diaries’ is for me to be open with you guys about my ups and downs along my journey towards Cozumel and my quest for Kona 2020. This has definitely been a low in my journey as it keeps interrupting the flow (pardon the pun) of my consistent training blocks... ugh! There’s nothing more frustrating than when training seems to be going on track and all of a sudden… BOOM! I’m floored for 1 or 2, or sometimes even 3 days with fatigue. Welcome to the world of being a female athlete.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve trained through this time of the month and have found some months affect me more than others and some don’t affect me at all. As of lately, though, I’ve noticed the affects three months in a row. I’ve always felt rather guilty or have beat myself up about not being able to achieve my target sessions during the pre-menstrual time of the month because I didn’t really understand what was going on inside my body. I hope that this blog helps other women who’ve experienced the same thing so they’re not be so hard on themselves when they can’t hit their targets during this time of the month. So let’s take a look at what happens to our hormones and the four different phases during the menstrual cycle and then we’ll take a look at a very simplified explanation on how and why our training is affected by our fluctuating hormones.
A quick summary – what is the menstrual cycle?
“The menstrual cycle starts with menses, when females are (unless they have become pregnant) bleeding and shedding the uterine lining. Menses is the start of the follicular phase, or “low hormone” phase, characterized by low luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), progesterone and slowly increasing levels of estrogens. This phase lasts for around the first 14 days of the menstrual cycle. Then around the "middle" of the cycle ovulation should occur, which is characterized by a spike in levels of estrogen and luteinizing hormone. This coincides with the release of the egg and is the time of the menstrual cycle when females can become pregnant. Ovulation is followed by the luteal phase and is the high-hormone phase of the menstrual cycle when both estrogen and progesterone levels are higher.” (Ihalainen, 2019)
According to author Dr Stacy Sims, when we start to get into the high hormonal phase (luteal phase / pre-menstrual phase) this is where oestrogen is inhibiting carbohydrate utilisation so therefore we can’t quite hit high intensities in training at this time. Increased oestrogen levels usually increases serotonin in the brain which causes some brain fog. The increase of progesterone increases the core temperature so we have less time to fatigue and less tolerance to heat. During the high hormonal phase we have less water in the blood so we become less efficient at getting blood to the working muscle tissue. Now that we know how our performance is slightly impeded we can use nutrition and recovery practises to overcome this.
Attempting to train when my hormones wreak havoc - slightly dramatic but keeping it real
The alarm goes off… my brain tells my body to get up, it doesn’t respond. With the sound of the alarm in the background, I feel like I’m looking at my body from above trying to wake it but it seems to be stuck in quicksand. I’m standing above my body shouting at it with motivational thoughts like, “you are ready,” “get up and slay that bike today, Ash” then I turn to negative comments to really try and get me out of bed, “you’re never going to achieve your best” or “get up, you’re being weak.” I end up having an internal battle and agree to reset the alarm for another 30 mins time. I roll over and regretfully still lay there achieving nothing because I am feeling so guilty for feeling like I’m giving in to fatigue and not being on my bike. One would think this would be a clear indicator that one needs to stay in bed. Hmmm.
Well, you see, we are endurance athletes and we’ve been trained to keep going without giving into tiredness and fatigue. Ok so I end up getting out of bed through shear guilt. I get onto my bike. Everything hurts more than usual, the spots on my saddle that usually take a few hours to get sore are there immediately, I feel short of breath, my heart rate is high, my attention span is low, where are my legs? They’ve gone! I can’t focus too long on one spot otherwise I feel like I will collapse onto the road into the foetal position and sleep there for the next 3 hours. Trying to be optimistic that I would ‘come good’ throughout the session I stayed out there 3 hours holding all of 100 watts NP (I usually sit at 135 watts for an easy warm up) which felt like a 7/8 RPE, I skipped my important backend intervals, went home and rested instead as I knew my body just didn’t feel right. I was able to train back to normal the next day. If you have ‘meat above your feet,’ (borrowing that saying from WITSUP – thanks) you may think I’m exaggerating here. Well, I’m not! I usually feel like this 1 or 2 days throughout each cycle. Life is a constant learning process and I’m just trying to work out my puzzle of the female physiology and endurance training.
Looking at fatigue
I wasn’t sure whether I was getting knocked out with these ‘fatigue days’ due to a lack of iron, dehydration, or that I hadn’t fuelled myself with enough calories a day or two before. I’d been to see a health professional about this topic to get my iron levels, blood count, B12, thyroid and a couple of other tests checked but they all came back within normal ranges. I make an extremely conscious effort to focus on hydration and have been seeing a dietitians to help with nutrient absorption and energy intake. But it keeps happening at the same time throughout my cycle each month.
Fatigue is very generalised but to me it feels like weakness, tiredness, decreased tolerance for heat training, increased heart rate, increased sensitivity, increased perception of effort and decreased mood. These symptoms seem to happen at any time throughout the luteal phase or start of menses. I could be training well and all of a sudden I hit a big wall (that seems to be built with solid bricks of emotions, sluggishness, discomfort and so much tiredness.) I then feel frustrated at myself for the interruption to my training block as I can only tolerate low –moderate intensity training and even missing a session or two due to needing the rest or not listening to my body (and also not telling my coach how I’m feeling because I just want to do the darn session… oops), pushing beyond what I should and then burying myself for a few days… doh!
After this happened for the third month in a row it’s becoming more obvious that my athletic performance can be impeded during this time of the month, maybe more so when my volume is higher. I’m pretty slow at working things out at times but I think I’m slowly starting to get it now.
I am calling this the quest to finding my menstrual cycle and exercise performance sweet spot.
Where to from here?
My coach has approached the topic with me recently, I don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before but we are going to base my training block around my cycle. We’ll use the days where my hormones are back to being stable/low at the end of the follicular phase and during ovulation to build and hit those target sessions and then do active recovery during those days when my hormones rise up in the luteal phase and get close to menses. We have been using the FITR Woman app to track my cycle so far. I will continually play around with my nutrition and keep using trial and error to see how my body is fuelled best within each phase with the help of Stacy Sims research. Each one of us are different but I hope you’ve enjoyed a rather un-talked about topic and that it may bring awareness to this topic. I am excited to start using my female physiology to my advantage and get the most out of my training when I’m feeling strong! I look forward to being a happier athlete and not getting frustrated at myself for not being able to hit targets or complete sessions for reasons outside of my control…
Here’s a couple of interesting articles I found that will provide some more information on this topic which have links to evidence based research:
Until next time! Keep up the great work.
Before I get started on this month’s blog, “A week in the life of me – Ash Hunter,” here’s a small summary on my experience from Sunshine Coast 70.3 a couple of weeks ago.
Ironman 70.3 Sunshine Coast wasn’t intentionally on the cards this year as we were in the thick of Ironman training. BUT… 10 days out from the race I’d won an entry… Thank you to Multisport Mecca and Cyclezone for this!! How could I turn down an awesome opportunity to have a hit out and see where my current fitness lies? It was an absolutely stunning day, apart from a little wind on the bike course we had ideal conditions.
Swim was amazing with crystal clear water. I felt comfortable navigating my way around the swim course, then onto the bike where I came into T2 with my highest ever NP split for an Ironman 70.3. The run felt great for the first 8 km and then after the second Alex Hill I started to fall apart but I gave it all I had for that last lap. I was happy to be able to come home with a PB 70.3 time of 4.42:07 and 3rd place in F25-29 AG. I hadn’t given much thought whether I’d take a spot to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships held in Taupo 2020, until after the race.
Over a quick lunch with my friend, Sarah and brother, Jordan I’d kind of made up my mind. I didn’t think there’d be 3 spots in my AG but I came to the decision that If there were 3 allocated spots then I would get the trusty old credit card out to pay for the entry + the 8% active fee ha ha. Waiting at the roll down ceremony I heard Pete Murray announce, “25-29 Female age group has 3 + 1 allocated spots” Whattttt???!!! I looked over to my bro, trying to contain my surprise and excitement. Although, I may need to work 2 jobs over the summer holidays to pay off that one! A super unexpected result and qualification but I’m looking forward to heading over to Taupo in November next year for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
A Week in the Life of Me – Ash Hunter
Have you ever wondered what a week looks like in the life of an Ironman athlete?
Let’s go behind the scenes and find out what’s involved during a typical week…
Also, if you’re tuning in for the first time, welcome to The Ash Hunter Diaries. I mentioned in my first entry that I’m going to be sharing my journey with you over the next 18 months in trying my best to qualify for the Ironman 2020 World Champs and then racing to my potential over on the Big Island. I mentioned something about “even if it’s just my Dad reading along…” well, turns out it’s more than just my Dad… Hi Mum, now I know you read these too… ;-) Ok, back on track with the diary entry… so you want to know what a week in the life of an Ironman athlete looks like.
If something isn’t working, change it!
In my last couple of Ironman preparations, I found that when I’d work full-time hours I’d be pushing boundaries and found I wouldn’t be able to get as much out of myself during training compared to when I’d work casual hours. Don’t get me wrong, working full-time and balancing Ironman training is achievable which involves less training stress and many early mornings waking up between 3-4am. Going forward in the lead up to Ironman Cozumel I want to put a focus on other aspects of Ironman training such as recovery, body maintenance and eating properly… Recovery is EVERYTHING! According to Budgett, (1998) being under-recovered over a longer period may not necessarily lead to overtraining, although it will lead to progressive fatigue and underperformance. Optimal performance is only achievable if athletes are able to balance training stress and adequate recovery (Kuippers, 1998). So I’ve made a couple of lifestyle changes to enable myself the time to recover adequately to avoid progressive fatigue and therefore underperformance. Until the end of November, I’ll only be available to work (supply teaching) 3 days per week during peak high volume build weeks. During recovery weeks I’ll make myself available for work 4-5 days per week depending on how I am feeling. I am lucky during the school year to be flexible like this with my work. I just need to let my faithful schools and supply teaching agency know what my availability is and I’ll find out the night before or the morning of when and where I’m working. So, with a couple of little lifestyle changes this is what my week will generally looks like until Ironman Cozumel.
Alarm goes off at 4:30 am, I’ll have a quick bite to eat (usually a Clif Bar) and make a coffee to sip on for the 38 minute drive to Nambour pool where I’ll start swim squad at 5:30am. My swim coach, Lisa is an absolute legend, she juggles stop watches, constantly gives feedback to athletes and also answers work phone calls for me to ensure I have work for the day. Thanks Lise! I’m usually out of the pool by 6:45-7:00am depending on where I’ll be working for the day. I’ll get ready for work and eat breakfast at the pool. Supply teaching usually consumes every second of your day requiring you to have eyes and ears EVERYWHERE and you’re either trying to put out metaphorical fires, work out what you need to do next and how you’re going to deliver the next task. So 8am-3pm tends to go by pretty quickly at work. By the time I hand in my paperwork at the end of the day and drive home it’s around 4pm where I’ll have an afternoon training session. I’m off the wind trainer or finished my run by 6:30pm and can cook dinner and prepare for Tuesday morning’s ride.
I’ll set the alarm for 5-6am, however, I listen to my body on Tuesdays as I generally have the day off work. If I need the extra sleep, I will happily take it! The morning is spent on the bike, I’ll head west to try and avoid as much traffic as possible.
Straight home for lunch where I’ll make a banana protein smoothie and some real food – eggs, sweet potato, spinach, avocado and mushrooms. Legs into the Normatec boots for an hour where I’ll focus on hydration and catch up on any emails or computer work. After recovery in the boots I’ll have a 20-30min nap followed by another meal. Between lunch and my afternoon training session I’ll either be booked into some kind of body maintenance appointment such as a massage with Di’s Massage & Fitness or an acupuncture and shockwave session with Vanessa Ng who is a Senior Podiatrist at Innovation Podiatry. If I don’t have any appointments, I’ll do some foam rolling and use the time to catch up on house work or grocery shopping as I don’t usually have any energy to do that stuff on the weekends. I’ll then get ready for my afternoon session which is a run and can range from 1 hour to 2 hours depending on the week of build. Home to make dinner and get ready for the next day (pack my lunch, get my training and work clothes ready for the morning.)
Wednesday – up at 5:45am for a core and range of motion session at home. I’ll have the phone ready to answer for a day of work. They usually call between 6:15am-7am if I’m not previously booked in and then I’ll find out where I’m off to for the day. I’ll need to be out of there by 7:30am to get to work on time. After work I’ll head home and quickly cook dinner so it’s ready when I get home from my swim. Swim squad is at 5:15pm to 6:45pm at Nambour pool. It’s usually only a handful of us on a Wednesday night. I get a lot out of our squad environment as everyone can have a laugh but when it comes time to doing the work everybody genuinely tries their best which lifts each other. Home around 7:30pm for dinner that I’d cooked earlier in the afternoon. Pack my bike and swim gear with a hearty breakfast for the next morning.
4:30am wakeup for swim, squad up at Nambour pool. Quick bite to eat, (oats soaked in water, honey and fruit with a couple dollops Greek yoghurt on top) change into my bike gear and head off for the rest of the morning my bike for hill repeats and some TT efforts. Pack everything back in the car, quickly drink a protein shake and head home for feed, sleep and put the legs into the recovery boots. Catch up on any emails, unpack the car, and get ready for the afternoon run session. This run session is my mid-week long run. Home to cook dinner and pack the car/bags for Friday morning swim and work.
Fridays are mostly an active recovery/rest day. Each week I usually alternate between a morning swim squad session at Nambour and an open water swim in Mooloolaba bay with the T:Zero crew. I pack my own breakfast but I love sitting down after Friday morning swim for a coffee with the gang! Off to work for the day and then I’ll use the afternoon to catch up with family after work and/or prepare for the big weekend ahead getting nutrition and training equipment ready. I like to have a big diner on a Friday night to prepare me for the weekend.
3am wakeups as of late, to be able to have a proper breakfast & coffee and get on the road to beat the traffic. I’m extremely lucky to live around some pretty awesome guys who love to ride and are bloody good on the bike too. No matter how early it is, there’s usually one of them there at least ready to start the ride with me, if not join me for the entire 4.5 - 6.5 hour ride. I’ll get home around mid-morning for a run off the bike with race pace efforts. Make a choc protein banana smoothie and a big healthy brunch. I’ll then crawl into my Normatec boots and stay there for an hour while napping. After an hour it’s time to head to the pool for a recovery swim. The hardest part is getting in the pool after the big morning but once I’m in, I actually really enjoy this 1.5-2km of active recovery and feel so much better.
Sunday is NO ALARM DAY! Sleep in, usually until 7am. Chuck the bike in the car for a long run-brick session. I like to drive up to Mudjimba for this session because my 1 hour bike before the run is a build ride and ends up around threshold at the end so I’ll head north to avoid the traffic. After the 1 hour ride I’ll chuck the bike in the back of the car where my run shoes and run nutrition is waiting (Clif bloks and Crampfix shot). I’ll then head on out for my long run anywhere between 20-34km depending on where we’re at with the build. I like to run up and over Maroochy Bridge and then follow the esplanade until it’s time to turn around. This route is great because there’s plenty of opportunity for drink taps when needed. Sunday afternoon I’ll take the pooch to the creek or dam and have the afternoon to relax before the next week starts. I try to get out of the house here and do something fun with people who put a smile on my face. In the afternoon it’s time to pack the work bag for the morning and prepare some meals for the week.
In the lead up to this race, I’ve backed off work a bit to be able to train smarter and rover better. I guess, I’m still trying to find a balance that works for me to be able to make a living and afford to travel to races while trying to be the best athlete and person I can be. Having a coach who understands my individual needs and goals is significant in improving my racing and training through safe and systematic training methods. I am very lucky to have Richard Thompson from T:Zero Multipsort, coaching and guiding me to achieve this balance. Every day is a day of learning and I’m excited to see what we can achieve by adding in more training, sleep and recovery to my week.
Thanks for reading along. :)
Budgett, R. (1998) Fatigue and Underperformance in athletes: The overtraining syndrome. British Journal of Sport and Medicine, 32. 107-110.
Kuipers, H. (1998) Training and overtraining: An Introduction. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 30(7): 1137-1139.
I’m Ashleigh Hunter AKA Ash Hunter, a long course amateur athlete (currently in the F25-29 Age Group). I started this sport back in 2015 coming from a powerlifting and team sports (soccer & touch football) background. I went over to the Big Island of Hawaii to spectate the 2014 Ironman World Championships which is where I became inspired to start triathlon. How could I not gain inspiration through watching my partner, Damien Collins place 4th in his AG and Mirinda Carfrae take out 1st female?
I started with T:Zero Multisport in April of 2016. In the 3.5 years I’ve been coached by Richard Thompson we’ve been able to achieve some pretty cool things in this sport; AG Ironman and Ironman 70.3 champion, Ironman Asia Pacific AG champion and 16th place in my AG at Kona. Looking forward, I’ve set a goal to have a crack at qualifying for the 2020 Ironman World Championships and then race to my potential back on the Big Island.
I have been asked to share my journey with you by posting a blog once a month. This makes me feel pretty uhhh… vulnerable but I am also really excited to be open with you and share some of the ups and downs of what’s to come. Even if it is just my Dad following along ha ha. So I thought my first blog post should be about why I have chosen Ironman Cozumel as my “A Race” for 2019.
Why I Chose Ironman Cozumel
Some of you are probably wondering why on Earth I would travel all the way to Mexico for an Ironman considering; I’m an age grouper, it’s such a long way to travel and Busselton Ironman is on at the same time on year… in my own country.
Well, here are my reasons for choosing to race abroad for the 2019 Ironman Cozumel
Race-cation / World Class Travel Destination
The biggest attraction for me, travelling ALL the way to Cozumel for an Ironman is being able to add on a small holiday after the race in a bucket list destination. Cozumel is a world premiere diving destination, with the second largest barrier reef in the world. Not too far from Cozumel are beautiful underwater caves (cenotes) that I plan on visiting after the race also. I grew up very close to the largest barrier reef in the world and have been scuba diving for the last 14 years now. I am pumped for a little holiday after the race to wind down the year with my partner, friends and family.
After sitting down with the coach back in April we looked at the ideal time for me to build up and be ready to race an Ironman again. It looked as though November-December would be the best time considering minor injuries and sickness that seemed to be hindering my prep at the start of the year. So looking at that time frame I had a few options to ponder on… Busselton, Malaysia, Arizona or Cozumel? Considering Busselton is in Australia it’s still quite a resourceful trip and it’s still about a 12 hour travel day so why not go somewhere I haven’t been before??? Malaysia looked to be a good option and then I heard about the MONKEYS on the bike course. Apparently they run out at people and you’re not allowed to get off your bike to help other competitors if they crash (because the monkeys will attack you)… I’ve already come off my bike during a race overseas so I didn’t think that would be a good option... been there done that. That left me with the choice of Arizona or Cozumel…. They are both so far away! Then I got word that 5 other training buddies were also racing Cozumel AND Damo (my partner) could potentially be racing there too so… DECISION MADE! Let’s go to Cozumel.
Travel with Friends and Family
After breaking the news to family that Kona isn’t on the cards for this year there was actually a lot of relief as we’ve been there a few times now, 3 times for Damo when he raced AG and once for me. There’s nothing better in life than to be surrounded by people who make you feel good. I am so excited to go on an awesome adventure with Damo, training buddies, Damo’s family and a couple of family friends who are coming over to support us. I really want to put in a good prep and perform well to do the family and friends proud who are travelling across the world to support us.
The course looks great for me, being a slower swimmer, it is a current assisted swim so the less time in the water, the better. The bike course includes 3 laps around the island which looks to be a flat fast course. I love nothing more than buckling into TT position on my trusty old steed and testing the mind in that last 60km of the Ironman bike. The run course is 3 flat loops also. This will be a massive booster as I’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the people who are special to me out on course as well as on the sidelines. It reminds me of my “why” to help get through those tough times during the marathon.
Increased Experience Racing in the Heat
As mentioned earlier I want to go back to the Ironman Hawaiian World Championships and this will be a great experience to practise racing an Ironman in the heat and humidity again. I will be taking in everything that the race and travel experience has to offer.
Thanks for reading my decisions behind choosing Ironman Cozumel as my “A race” for 2019. I am really excited for the rest of this preparation because we still have so much time to develop fitness and strength over the next 14 weeks! I’ve made a couple of lifestyle changes to allow myself a better opportunity to recover from training sessions and to have more time to focus on this prep. I can’t wait to share with you my journey over the next 14 weeks and beyond.
Thanks for reading! I can't wait to give you an insight into my little world each month!
Ash Hunter is sponsored by 17 Hour Triathlon Clothing, CLIF Bar, Brooks Running Australia & CrampFix and supported by T:Zero Multisport, Di's Fitness and Massage & Cyclezone Mooloolaba.
You can follow Ash's journey here:
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!