This is Part 1 of Ruth's personal story:
My name’s Ruth and I’m a recovering HAer. I have just had my third natural period, after three and a half years with no cycle. My story isn’t that special, and my journey has not been a simple one – there are so many interwoven layers that I honestly don’t know where to start, and to tell you everything would need a whole novel. What I will tell you though is that I am a much better, stronger, balanced person because of it (well, I’m getting there anyway).
It started innocently enough. I was overweight throughout my school life, despite always being into sports. I was shy and used food as a way to deal with feelings and stress. I was a type A high achiever – top marks in all my classes, involved in as many extra-curricular activities as I could fit in, liked well enough by teachers and other students but never one of the outgoing, cool kids. I was never a runner. The only way I would run is if I was chasing a ball around a field. There are many factors as to why I had major body image issues. II was bullied by the boys in primary school, I grew up listening to my mother constantly talking about going on a diet and how much weight she lost before she had kids, all the popular girls were slim and athletic, and seemingly happy.
As I said I was always involved in sport but I still had weight issues. Towards the end of high school I started really getting into my exercise, I lost a bit of weight and started to feel good about myself. When I moved away for uni I continued to study hard and play sport – but there was also that party atmosphere that you get living with a bunch of other uni students and for the first couple of years that took more of a priority than I care to admit. By my last year of uni though, I got over being hungover every weekend and feeling disgusting. I just wanted to finish my degree so I could move back home and be closer to my family and my boyfriend (long distance relationships are hard). I started running a little because I wanted to be fitter, lose a bit of weight and be better at soccer. At first I would sneak out of the dorms and hope no one would see me. Eventually I got better and didn’t care so much if people saw me. I started running with one of the other girls in the dorm. I was going to the gym most days as well and feeling pretty good.
My little sister was getting married a week after my final uni exams finished. Now, exam time was notoriously a time when everyone put on a little weight – high stress, lots of sitting inside studying, brain food (ie lollies, sugar, chocolate). Of course, when you are about to be a bridesmaid at your little sister’s wedding, that is not what you want. The thought in my head was “I don’t want to be the fat, ugly, unmarried older sister”, never mind the fact that I had just finished my degree with great marks, had 3 awesome job offers, and I had been in a long-term, long-distance relationship for over 4 years. I was also only just about to turn 22.
I talked to my mum and she said she wanted to lose a couple of kilos as well. So we started on this low carb, high protein diet together. Now I didn’t want to lose a lot. And I didn’t weigh myself a lot. I was keeping up some exercise as stress relief. It worked. I lost a couple of kilos, got through my exams and made it home for the wedding feeling great.
After the wedding it was coming up to Christmas so Mum and I took on the “Maintain, don’t gain” challenge at our gym. I lost 3kgs in 4 weeks. And from there it all snowballed. I lost more weight. I exercised more. I was feeling and looking great. I don’t know where but at some point I crossed the line from “healthy dieting and exercising” to “restrictive eating and overtraining”. And I to be completely honest, it was not that fun.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. I was fit and strong. I enjoyed the hard work. I got complimented for my discipline, my healthy eating habits. I especially loved when people would tell me how tiny I was. My running was going great. I was running further and faster. I trained with my PT once a week, but I did all my running programs on my own using Adidas miCoach. I didn’t really know much about pacing or recovery or speed work. I started running big PBs, and I realised I was actually kind of good.
2013 was a big year – I finished my post grad study, I was working full-time, my boyfriend and I bought a house, my boyfriend broke his ankle 3 weeks before we moved into our new house, my best friend got married, oh and I also trained for and ran my first marathon. By the end of 2013 I was so tired and stressed out. On top of all that I had been restricting my diet more and more, cutting more and more carbs, calorie counting. I was training more than an elite athlete, not giving myself rest time and probably not eating enough to cover my basal metabolic rate. I did not know that at the time of course. And I was probably so under-fuelled that my ability to think clearly was suffering as well. I had digestive issues – I felt bloaty, and gross, and I was convinced that was all due to food intolerances that I never knew I had.
In December 2013, two things happened that have been pivotal to my recovery. First, I joined a running group under Coach Peter Hoskinson. Second, I stopped taking OCP (birth control pill).
Being part of Pete’s running group was one of the best things to happen to me. I found an amazing group of like-minded people and finally felt like I was part of the running community. We set goals and we all worked hard to achieve them. My training partners became like my family. I started to focus more on my running and believe in myself and what I could achieve. I grew an amazing support team around me. Our tough training sessions not only gave me physical strength, but mental strength and determination – without which I doubt whether I would have found the courage to start the recovery journey.
After 6 months without OCP my menstrual cycle still showed no signs of reappearing. I went to my doctor and was sent to an OB/GYN. He sent me off for blood tests and an ultrasound to make sure there was nothing physically wrong. When the ultrasound came back clear, I was told my lack of cycle was due to my running and low body fat. The advice was two options – eat a little more and run a little less, or try a different OCP to get the estrogen to protect my bones. I didn’t really like either of those options but I agreed to go back on the pill. That lasted about 2 weeks, and I don’t think I even got a withdrawal bleed.
Fast forward to 2016. Running was going great. I had ramped up my weekly mileage. I was super fit and super fast. In the first half of 2016 I ran PBs in every distance from 1k to Full Marathon. In April, I won the Canberra Marathon in a time of 2.46. I had changed jobs and now in a less stressful workplace but doing shift and on call work. I had been making changes to my race nutrition and it was working, I’d added in some more carbs in my pre-race meals and more gels during my long races. Everything was going to plan. I thought I was doing everything right.
In July 2016 things came crashing down.