Not Thin Enough
'You aren't thin enough', a phrase I hear when I explain why I am taking time off running. You see, I'd been coaching, training and running marathons for the past four years.
It all started with a bucket list. I wanted to run 26.2 before my 25th birthday. I had been running halves since college and thought doubling the distance was an item worth pursuing. January of 2013, I signed up for a local training group and got to work. My sights were set on my city's local marathon, the Cincinnati Flying Pig. It's the first Sunday in May and happens to fall just a month before my birthday. Not to mention, it's my hometown race so I would have plenty of people to cheer me on. Perfect.
My plan was laid out. I put my head down and started training. Over the next four or fives months, I became a 'runner'; buying the gear, learning the lingo and becoming fully immersed in the city's running culture.
May 2013, I completed my first marathon. Shortly after the season ended, I signed up to be a coach for the group. Pretty quickly, I went from coaching the four-hour marathon pace group to 3:45. Not long after that, I was coaching the 3:25 group and then onto the 3:15. Each season I trained, I got faster.
I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2014, then again in 2015 and 2016. I ran 4-milers, 5Ks, Halves and 15Ks, placing in the top ten of most races. Not to mention, I was crushing my personal goals.
But, I had a secret...I was not menstruating. My last period was March of 2014. I stopped taking birth control, simply because I learned the effects of the little pill and decided taking artificial hormones was not for me. I thought, hey, I'll get my period back and move on with my life. Well, that day never came.
I talked to my doctor about my predicament. She didn't think it was a big deal. I was at a 'healthy' weight and living a 'healthy' lifestyle. As soon as I stopped running, I would get my period back, she said. Well, I wasn't ready to stop. I was running well, some even called me fast. This was not the time to give it up.
A couple of years passed, and still no period. I talked to few more doctors and the response was the same, 'you're healthy, once you stop running, your period will come back.' They would always follow up the conversation with, 'we can put you back on the pill.' Well, that wasn't going to work for me. I knew that I had to make a change.
Once again, my plan was laid out. I would stop training after completing THE Boston Marathon in April 2017.
Boston was my dream. I could not let this opportunity pass. So, I trained with the goal of completing the race but not killing myself. I went from running five or six times a week, to three. I replaced easy runs with weightlifting or walks around my neighborhood. I started to incorporate more yoga and rest days, all with the goal to stop running after the marathon.
This was a big decision for me. Running and training for marathons has become a part of my identity. I was Stef, a runner and coach. My training group was filled with friends and memories but something had to give. I broke the news to my group as soon as the spring season started. I told them about my plan to back off after Boston and explained the reason behind my decision. Most were very supportive, trying their best to understand my situation, but others were confused.
In their eyes, I wasn't thin enough to not have a period. In their eyes, Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is reserved for women with eating disorders and I wasn't one of 'those girls.' This was really hard to hear. I expected my running peers to understand, encouraging me to take time off and focus on my health but instead they pushed me to keep running. Not to give up, because I was running so well.
There I was sharing my story with people, being dismissed because I did not fit the 'mold' of someone with HA. I was encouraged to continue punishing my body because I 'hitting my peak' as a runner.
I was told that I was 'lucky' because I did not have a cycle or have to deal with the drama of having a period every month. That it was overrated and I had plenty of time to get my health back.
This was frustrating. I wanted people, my people to understand where I was coming from. I wanted them to support my decision and empathize with my struggles. But I wasn't getting that, not from everyone. It was there I realized, not only would I fight HA but I would also fight the stereotype.
Sure, I'm a 'healthy' weight, I live a 'healthy' lifestyle but I still don't have a period and that is a problem. I am here to say that I have slowed down. I am eating more and trying to be OK with gaining weight but I still don't have a period. And it's not OK, not for me anyway.
I will continue to post updates on my progress.