Runaway Hormones – A Case Study on Training According to A Women’s Cycle

“Since aligning my training programme with my cycle, everything about my running has changed: my enjoyment, fitness and strength. I’m a fitter and faster runner, capable of so much more than I was three months ago. I’m excited to be living a life that supports my hormonal health, allows me to train with strength, enjoy EVERY run I do and achieve fitness gains previously out of reach!

My hormones have always ruled my life! Before becoming a Mum, it was just something I lived with. It’s only retrospectively that I see how much they influenced everything, including my training. 

In June this year, I stumbled across a podcast that changed my life. Literally! What initially was an a-ha moment has since transformed into a massive, holy shit, I’m forever changed!” Click here to read Nicky’s full story.

“In July 2023, Nicky and I embarked on a 3-month project to help us better understand how, as women, we can train according to the demands of our bodies as dictated by our monthly cycle.

It was an incredible three months that saw me learn how to unlock the power of a female-specific training methodology and Nicky go from strength to strength as a runner.” Charlotte Milne (coach)

Answers and A-Ha Moments

Chris and I have been training our client, Nicky, since 2020. Chris was Nicky’s lead trainer initially, but I took over in April this year. Up to that point, Nicky had done a few 21 km trail events, with her longest and most challenging event being the 24 km distance in the Karioi Challenge in Raglan in 2022. 

Nicky has always trained well and followed her programme as prescribed. However, for reasons unknown to us, significant fitness gains always seemed just beyond her reach. It was almost like she was forever running up against a wall that would rebound her back. But, in June of this year, Nicky stumbled across a podcast that handed her all the answers in a couple of powerful, life-changing hours!

Dr Mindy Pelz was the podcast guest, and her teachings about female hormones and how we should manage them made so much sense to Nicky that she felt compelled to share the link with me. We both found the content incredible. It was fresh and inspiring. EVERYTHING made so much sense! We both had a MASSIVE a-ha moment. But little did we know that we were about to make so many more incredible discoveries!

The Mission

Armed with this newfound knowledge, Nicky and I embarked on a 3-month project to help us better understand how, as women, we can train according to the demands of our bodies as dictated by our monthly cycle. During this time, Nicky trained for her first Ultra, the 50 km event at the Taupō Ultramarathon. 

The mission was to follow the principles laid out by Dr Mindy Pelz to see if we could optimise Nicky’s performance and make her a fitter, faster and stronger athlete without sacrificing what it meant to live in harmony with her hormones. 

We wanted to see if we could make Nicky fly over that wall that had been blocking her path! Spoiler alert; we did!!

Client: 

  • Name: Nicky White (mother of three)
  • Age: 48 
  • Cycle: regular  – 28 – 30 days
  • Training history: running 3 – 4 times a week for three years
  • Resources: relevant links below

All or Nothing; It’s Entirely Up to You

It’s important to note that Nicky threw herself into all three aspects of Dr Mindy’s teachings: eating, fasting and training. She learned how to manage her fasting window with her training schedule and discovered what it meant to become a fat-adapted runner – Click here to read Nicky’s full story.

The full-immersion approach might not appeal to you; the good news is it doesn’t have to. Equally, you don’t have to suffer from PMS or hormonal issues to give this a try. I have other female clients who’ve only adopted the training aspect of this methodology and have still enjoyed fitness and personal gains. 

Training Data – Three Months of Incredible Gains

It was an incredible three months that saw me learn how to unlock the power of a female-specific training methodology and Nicky go from strength to strength as a runner. But we’ll let the data do the talking.

Aerobic Zone 2:

  • 17th June 2023: Z2 run at 7:58pace
  • 21st September: more Z1 run at 7:10 pace 
  • 27th September: Z2 run at 6:38 pace 

5km Hard Effort:

  • 29:48 on the 7th April 2022 
  • 28:44 on the 8th August 2023
  • 26:22 on the 30th September 2023

Tempo Pace:

  • Month one: 6:41 pace, for 50minutes (average heart rate of 159bpm)
  • Month two: 6:18 pace for 40 minutes (average heart rate of 161)
  • Month three: 6:11 pace for 40 minutes (average heart rate of 161)

Threshold Pace: 

  • From 180bpm @6:48pace to 181bpm @5:52 pace 

Nicky Sets the Scene

I’m a 48-year-old Mum, not yet perimenopausal but waiting for the shoe to drop at any minute. My hormones have always ruled my life! Before becoming a Mum, it was just something I lived with. I knew my hormones were impacting my training, but I could never figure out how to overcome the blocks they were creating in my fitness path. 

Armed with my new learnings from Dr Mindy, I dove head-first into her fasting methodology, starting with her advised 30-day Fasting Reset. The reset began on day one of my cycle and ran through to the first day of my next period; this was a great way to settle into fasting and incorporate the different eating styles into daily life.

Click here to read Nicky’s full story.

Training Structure

Each week, Nicky ran 4 x per week. However, it’s important to note the intensity and duration of these runs changed depending on which phase of her cycle she was in. 

Running 4 x per week is what I prescribe for most clients and is how I train myself. There are too many risk factors when adding a 5th run to the programme, from increased injury risk to fatiguing too quickly and, therefore, failing to achieve quality sessions. Remember, training should always be about quality, not quantity. 

There are four phases through the menstrual cycle, each with benefits and challenges, preferred food types and fasting lengths that help you live in harmony with your hormones and get the most out of life. And, as we discovered, training too!

  • Days 1 – 10 Power Phase: Grunty, high aerobic workouts – think, let’s go, baby!!
  • Days 11-15 Manifestation Phase: Increase in strength training due to testosterone production; this is an ideal time to lift weights and build that all-important muscle for a strong running performance.
  • Days 16 – 20 Power Phase: Grunty, high aerobic workouts – think, let’s go, baby. Again!
  • Day 20 – bleed Nutrure Phase: Down tools and opt for yoga, walks or low aerobic gentle runs.

I built Nicky’s training programme to include workouts that would meet her body’s needs as the month and her cycle progressed; this included running, strength work, yoga, walks and hikes each month.

Strength Training A Focussed Effort Between Days 11-15: The Manifestation Phase

As a coach, this was a fascinating concept. I’d never thought about focusing on strength workouts over a short period each month. But on discovering this methodology, it made so much sense to sync weight training with the testosterone-production stage of a woman’s cycle.

How did I incorporate the strength work into Nicky’s training?

I prescribed four strength days during each five-day manifestation phase, which she completed and enjoyed. I scheduled the workouts in Training Peaks with links to:

  • Recommended workouts from my 30-minute Runner’s Strength Series on YouTube – simple follow-along workouts using dumbells, kettlebells and hand weights
  • A series of exercises using dumbbells, kettlebells, hand weight and body weight – simple at-home workouts

Char’s Training Notes – Month One (Day One to 30 of the Reset)

Run Training

  • 50-60 minute solid effort hilly runs 
  • Weekend back-to-back runs: 1 x 75 minutes with tempo and 1 x 90 minutes with some fast burst to finish. 

Nicky smashed her first run on day 1 of her cycle after following the principles of the nurture phase leading up to it. And the weekend sessions were easy for her compared with what was to come. However, it’s good to note that she did a 75-minute tempo run right before her period the previous month and struggled with energy. 

Nurture Phase

  • One 45-minute run with strides 
  • One 80-minute hike. 

Note: I did schedule more easy runs, but Nicky opted out of them in favour of more recovery. 

Nicky’s Diary snippets after the 30–day reset

  • Starting a new cycle after the 30-day reset, I felt great. I had no lethargy or the usual sluggishness.
  • I tested all my runs on a 17-hour fast and felt strong without experiencing fatigue.
  • Completed a 4-hour run – broke my fast 1h 45min into the run
  • Throughout this phase, I felt even, calm and full of energy. No brain fog or excessive tiredness.
  • I finished this phase with a 36-hour fast – I didn’t feel hungry.

Char’s Training Notes – Month Two (the biggest month)

Run Training

  • 45-minute threshold session that saw her run her fastest 5km @5:40pace; this was an improvement from previous 5k all-out efforts. She held a 5:20 pace for 20 minutes without falling apart!
  • Day 3 an 80-minute hilly repeats 
  • Day 4 a 4-hour progressive run with a threshold finish.
  • Day 5 a 15k hike with friends before having two days off. 
  • Day 8 another threshold session of 1.5 hours. Nicky set a new threshold heart rate of 181. New GOAL ACHIEVED! 
  • Day 9 was an aerobic run Z2 (but was more of a Z1 run) at a 7:47 pace; this was an impressive improvement after the past week’s training load. 

Nurture Phase

  • Four low-intensity runs 
  • One 2-hour mixed-tempo run
  • Yoga and Stretching 

Note: Nicky had made some significant advances in her training. On this basis, I was comfortable scheduling the mixed-tempo run into her programme.

Char’s Training Notes – Month Three (race month)

Run Training

  • Day 28 and day 5: 2x 6-hour runs. 

Note: Having Nicky do a 6-hour run on day 28 wouldn’t be advised, but I wanted her to do two long runs ahead of Taupō. I had to weigh up the cost of her not doing these runs. Delaying them would’ve meant doing a long run too close to race day, leaving her with little recovery time. 

Note: The trails around Nicky (the hilly Hunuas) aren’t anything like Taupō’s runnable terrain

  • First 6-hour run/hike: 34 km 900m elevation

Nurture Phase

  • Four low-intensity runs
  • Yoga and stretching

Note: As this was the ten days leading up to her event, Nicky was keen to do everything to ensure her period arrived on time. She opted for shorter runs and more recovery time. 

An observation I had made through monitoring my own cycle was that during days 4-6, I have lots of energy. If there is a perfect day to run an event or a race, I’d say day 6 is best. 

The Big Day: Taupō Ultramarathon 2023

Nicky crossed the finish line, smiling from ear to ear. She ran a strong race and achieved her goal of sub 7 hours. Her official event time was 6h54m!

Recovery

Nicky recovered well from the race. I had prescribed an easy week and let her determine what she completed based on how she felt. Nicky only ran once that week, choosing another form of recovery instead, a 3-day water fast, which she did in the middle of the week following the event. 

Fully immersed in a fasting lifestyle, Nicky had read about how longer fasts stimulate the body’s self-healing mechanism and was eager to give one a go. With the event behind her and her training schedule blank, this was the perfect time to fit one in. 

Nicky Signs Us Off

Since aligning my training programme with my cycle, everything about my running has changed: my enjoyment, fitness and strength. I’m a fitter and faster runner, capable of so much more than I was three months ago. I’m excited to be living a life that supports my hormonal health, allows me to train with strength and achieve those fitness gains previously out of reach! 

Disclaimer 

It’s important to note that Nicky threw herself into all three aspects of Dr Mindy’s teachings: eating, fasting and training. She learned how to manage her fasting window with her training schedule and discovered what it meant to become a fat-adapted runner.

The full-immersion approach might not appeal to you; the good news is it doesn’t have to. Equally, you don’t have to suffer from PMS or hormonal issues to give this a try. I have other female clients who’ve only adopted the training aspect of this methodology and have still enjoyed fitness and personal gains. One client has never had any issues with her cycle but notes being more aware of how she feels at certain times of the month. 

Overall, my purpose is to promote Power to the Period. I hope it becomes something we celebrate instead of keeping quiet about. 

Reach out if you want to explore your running potential by adopting my female-specific training methodology or have any questions about its suitability.

Note: No previous PMS or problem-period history is required. 

Are You Keen to Unlock Your Ultimate Potential?

If you’re keen to learn how my female-specific training methodology can help unlock your ultimate running potential, jump on the link below to book a free, no-obligation call with me.

Resources:

Dr Mindy and Steven Bartlett – DOAC podcast

Fast Like a Girl

Dr Mindy Pelz

1 Comment

  1. Emily on January 26, 2024 at 9:36 am

    Outstanding girls. Super insightful and the proof is in the pudding as they say! Will look up Dr Mindys work too x



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