Anna Boniface has a big reason to celebrate as she continues her recovery to full health and returns to running.
Periods. The monthly female event that most dread. The barometer to hormonal health which disappears when the body is starved. It’s absence ignored until bones break.
After months of anticipation waiting for something to happen, it did. Finally. I told my family (my brother is still mortified) called my closest friends, text my coach and emailed my doctor.
Relieved and a little proud of myself, it was like I was announcing I was pregnant and my friends joked of a period party. A sign of health at last and not just a one-off fluke, as I’ve now had two periods.
Having a period is a great sign that my energy availability is coming into balance. My nutritional intake continues to improve with an increase in carbohydrates and daily calories. Consequently, I’m feeling energised and look better than I have in a long time. I’m embracing being told I “look well”, this isn’t a bad thing!
I’ve been under the misconception that carbs increase body fat and reduce muscle mass, however by restricting intake putting the body in a starvation state causes the opposite to happen. Metabolism slows in means of energy conservation and body fat increases.
Previously, I struggled to gain muscle mass, but now that I am fuelling well, muscles are appearing out of nowhere and my metabolism is kicking back to life. Muscles need feeding to grow (and hormones!)
As for running, the 20 minutes of run/walk twice a week has gradually escalated into something that’s starting to resemble that of an endurance athlete. Now running six days a week, I feel like a real runner again, particularly with a 70 minute ‘SLR’, the best run of the week.
A little bit of threshold running is proving that despite being sidelined for months, fitness is still there. Years of aerobic base is never lost. It’s clear how much of a benefit strength and conditioning has played and I’m now reaping the rewards with a smoother and more powerful form.
A review with my doctor this week was positive. She was happy to hear of no injuries or illness and a period. My recent blood work from Medichecks generally showed a healthy array of markers. My IGF-1 (Hormone Growth Hormone) remains steady with the increase in running and free T3 (a measure of thyroid function which is usually low in RED-S) was normal.
Unfortunately, my Oestrogen and Leptin has dropped, which in isolation indicates an energy deficit. Perhaps running has been more taxing than I perceived? My liver enzymes were also raised, which is a common response to strenuous exercise.
Fuelling myself improves week on week, but there are still times I don’t quite nail it. As indicated by my bloods, running is taking a lot out of me, therefore I have been unknowingly burning more calories to recover and repair. It’s useful to have this insight but I’m also becoming more in tune with how my body feels.
A key indicator when I’m under fuelled is not being able to hit heart rate zones in morning workouts. I lose that training intensity. Fuelling properly enables you to train harder.
With my recent blood tests and increasing running, I continue to work very closely with my dietitian, Alex (@thesportsdietitian). A particular concern is ensuring I go into morning runs with enough energy that won’t send me into the red later in the day. This involves close collaboration with my coach and I’m really lucky to have such a great team working in unison around me.
I’m also starting a new physiotherapy job, leaving the NHS for the first time. This transition and establishing a new routine around a new training schedule will undoubtedly be stressful, hyping up my already elevated cortisol levels. Appreciating a flexible approach in the work/life/training balance is key to ensure that my recovery isn’t compromised during this adjustment phase.
For me, one of the most important aspects of recovery is a nightmare – my sleep is terrible. Within the new plan, a rule of “no laptop, no phone” after 9.30pm has been set to ensure of those all important eight hours of sleep (full permission to kick me off social media if you see me active after curfew!).
As for returning to competition, the start of the cross country season with the Hampshire Cross Country league will be the mark in the sand for my return. It’s where I started as a naive U17 in basketball shorts. It was my last race since my injury.
The Hampshire League donning my Reading AC vest holds a lot of sentimental value, it’s my bread and butter. I’m incredibly excited to get back racing. I feel like a new runner again with the slate wiped clean.
With periods, pasta and no pressure. We progress onto a plan. Patience.
RELATED: The ‘P’ word
Anna Boniface features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2018’ and over the course of the year will share her running journey. You can read Anna’s previous posts here and further information about the ‘class of 2018’ can be found here.