I supported myself on my aero bars and summoned my next breath with what felt like every ounce of my strength. I relaxed my scrunched up face and exhaled a long, slow breath holding the air out at the end until once again, I could rally the strength to take another. Surrendering to the burning inferno in my low back and deep aching pain down the front of my legs, I un-clipped my shoes and dismounted my bike. My legs had lost their strength and standing upright was no longer an option. I was having trouble feeling my feet in my shoes and I was becoming quite dizzy. I went even deeper into my breath awareness by dialing into the very start and finish of each breath to help ride what was hopefully the top of the wave. “Be unshakeable Jess”, I reminded myself, “be a master, the same in pleasure and pain.” The wave did not subside and the sensation of nausea was so strong I felt like the next step was to faint unconscious.
Almost 5 hours into my workouts on the day, there was part of me yelling to push through while the other part was reminding me that I would be that crazy athlete, going against all my core beliefs, if I were to continue on. The argument in my head got louder and louder as I stood by just wanting the noise to end. Moaning loudly, breathing intensely and reaching for counters, railings and walls for support, I maneuvered to my bedroom. Appealing to a higher source, I begged for relief as I lay down on the bed to rest. That is the last thought I remember until the bloodhound across the street woke me with her wailing bark. I looked at my watch, an hour had passed. I had surfed the waves and the pain was gone. I splashed cold water on my face and headed back down to my bike for a final hour at race pace effort. I finished strong and did a 20 min run off the bike clocking faster than normal times.
Science labels it as dysmenorrhoea or painful periods with cramping severe enough to prevent normal daily function. Being a women in her 40s, who is not on birth control, and who has never given birth moves me up in rank for painful monthly cycles. I am not a big fan of medical labels, as I feel they keep us in our dysfunction and stuck in our stories, I just know that once a month I become a pill popper for 24 hours who, despite the use of pain relievers, still experiences life halting discomfort. Thanks to acupuncture, herbal remedies and items from my list of tips below, the most powerful bouts of sensation last only 1-2 days now, down from 3-4 days. I’ve been a triathlete for 10 years and this means that sometimes my cycle lands smack dab in the middle of hard training sessions or if I’m super lucky, on a race day. This is the reality of being a female athlete and not something I see written about often, or ever, like it’s a secret that no one wants admit. I’m bringing it out of the shadows today because what I experienced this past weekend makes Ironman feel like a walk in the park.
I was lucky for many years in regards to timing but in the last 3 years, I’ve had to learn how to navigate the ill timing of my cycle. That means far from ideal pain management on race day and tampons in my bento box. For years while on birth control, which significantly lessens the intensity of your monthly cycle, I preached about alternatives to ibuprofen and the dangers of ingesting such toxins. I’ve spent the last few years eating crow on account of those tirades and feeling much compassion for women who deal with similar monthly intensity.
My ego is terrified that I am admitting to popping pills at the risk of tarnishing my purist reputation and it certainly is not pleased with me sharing that I battle with the crazy athlete inside but the truth is I’m committed to transparency, not my ego. And this is the state of my affairs. Someday I will take the raw experience full on but I know that will require I clear my schedule and I haven’t been willing to do that yet. In the meantime, besides making sure I have a pain reliever on hand, here are the other things that seem to help me get through the first 24-48 hours of each cycle. As for the picture above, that was taken after said workout this past weekend. I had just completed a 6 hour training session on my road to Ironman Cozumel via a massive practice in riding the waves of being a divine goddess in this life.
Drug Free Methods to Ease the Menses:
- Get Moving – Movement is helpful in assisting the movement of what is happening in your uterus. The feel good chemicals released from your brain during exercise will also ease your overall mindset. In my experience, stagnation in my physical body makes the pain worse and gives my mind more opportunity to create dramatic stories about what I’m feeling.
- Heat – I find this helps relax the muscles a bit and relieves some of the pain. Heat brings blood into an area and helps to move along the processes of the body.
- Hang Loose – I find non-restrictive clothing is key, Nothing tight along my belly and back feel best for me. No core engagement, just let it all hang out.
- Yoga – All poses that encourage a dropping of my belly and movement in my spine and hips is what I gravitate towards, even when curling up in a ball seems more inviting. Frog pose, seated tree, cat/cow undulations and child’s pose with wide knees.
- Ice – I’ll use this for my back because that is where the burning inferno tends to land. I’ll literally be lying on the couch with an ice pack down the back of my pants and a heating pad on my belly – killer combo.
- Eat Well – Consume lots of high vibrational food packed with vitamins, nutrients and color. I let mother earth’s abundance nourish my body temple as the wrecking ball of femininity smashes around deep within it.
- Breath – Long, slow exhales and calm, controlled inhales. I use the sound and feel of my breath as a point of focus during heightened waves of intensity.
- Practice Mastery – Every month I get an opportunity to take my yoga practice to a higher level by finding equanimity in the midst of physical chaos. I put my awareness on my breath and look after every moment with an eagle eye to watch the tendencies of my mind. Most importantly, I remind myself that it is only energy until I label it otherwise. This is some of the best Ironman training I have encountered, you could even say it’s give us gals and edge up on the men.