Life After 40
I find it hard to accept that I am in my 40’s…and I’m 44 so I’ve had plenty of time to get used to it.
It’s not that I’m unhappy with where my life is. I’m not. It’s that I was only just in my 20’s and I simply cannot believe that so much time has passed. I swear I was only just at university. I am prepared to accept that the 1980’s are long gone, yet 2003 sounds not all that long ago to me. 2003 was 17 years ago.
I had pretty much settled into just ignoring my age and not thinking about it unless I actually have to state it, which didn’t happen very often.
However, it would appear that my age is catching up with me.
I had lots of cycling planned for 2020. Racing, a return to regular club runs, and a 2-day sportive. Sadly, Covid-19 has cancelled all of that. In some ways this might not be a bad thing as I am realising that I need to rethink how I train.
Towards the end of 2019 I bought a new power meter, dug out my training plans, and set up my turbo. Since my aims hadn’t really changed all that much, I was just going to follow the same training plan I used before. If it ain’t broke and all that.
The way I train hasn’t really changed in years. Since having children I don’t have the time I used to so I train less hours and less distance, but I get away with it due to a generally active lifestyle and the fact that I tend to race short distance criteriums. I follow a plan and use a turbo trainer and a power meter to make sure my sessions are the highest quality for the time I have available. I aim for a minimum of three sessions a week (ideally 4, occasionally 5) and I try to avoid tough sessions on consecutive days.
My diet is another thing which really hasn’t changed much over the years. I enjoy cooking and am the main cook in our house, so most of what I and my family eat is cooked from scratch. We (or at least the adults in the family) eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and not all that much meat. It’s not perfect as I have a massive sweet tooth, I like to bake cakes, I probably drink too much coffee, and I love red wine. A few years ago I decided to give up caffeine, sugar and alcohol (yep – all at the same time – I wouldn’t advise it!). It was an interesting experiment but I didn’t last. Nowadays I accept a principle of eating and drinking the right things around 80% of the time and the wrong things the rest of the time. Personally, I think it’s a good compromise.
My approach to training and diet has always worked for me, more or less.
But now it wasn’t working.
I kept hitting a wall in training. I couldn’t reach my targets. I had to take extra rest weeks because I felt exhausted or lacked the motivation to train. I got stressed and depressed easily. I found that even 3 sessions a week were enough to wipe me out for the following week. I got into a vicious cycle of trying to complete my planned sessions and struggling, so backing off for a while, then forcing myself to get back to the very same plan that I couldn’t follow.
This was incredibly frustrating. I put it down to having a lot of other things going on in my life and carried on doing the same things.
At the same time something strange was going on with my body.
I have never been skinny, and I never will be. I am definitely built for power and this has served me well. I have largely accepted my shape and have only really ‘dieted’ after having children (apparently being pregnant is not a license to drink unlimited amounts of chocolate milk without consequences!).
But this was something else. As 2020 started, I went to my GP. I was convinced that something was wrong. I was prepared to accept that I had put on weight over Christmas, but I looked in the mirror and saw me….at about 20 weeks pregnant…and I definitely was not pregnant. It was like someone was blowing up a balloon in my stomach. Obviously, being in my 40’s I leapt to the conclusion that I had all kinds of devastating illnesses.
The GP found nothing wrong. Blood tests found nothing wrong. No devastating illnesses. Obviously good news, but it still left me wondering why I didn’t feel good.
So I carried on. Life was hectic and I just kind of got used to being round and my training not being great. I got used to being tired and moody.
Then Covid-19 hit and everything ground to a halt. With events cancelled there didn’t seem any real point in training. Besides, I now had a six year old and an eight year old at home all day every day so my days were filled with home learning, meal making, crumb sweeping and argument refereeing. Uncertainty, stress, fear and bulk buying didn’t have the most positive impact on my diet. Suddenly red wine seemed like a staple and I was baking like a fiend (and calling it maths lessons) and eating everything I baked. Obviously I was putting on weight.
It was bad enough feeling fat and unfit. But my sore knees were getting more sore. The big toe of my right foot ached and wouldn’t bend (apparently this is arthritis related) My occasional back pain was becoming more than occasional. I kept getting migraines. I struggled to get to sleep and I woke up feeling exhausted.
The grey hairs weren’t making me feel great either – I miss my hairdresser.
I felt like I was becoming either a hypochondriac or an old woman.
This was really getting me down. I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin.
My mum has gone on at me for years (literally years – I really don’t know why) about the menopause. I have duly ignored her, since menopause is something to do with old ladies and I am not an old lady. However, in desperation I started to Google menopause.
It turns out there is a thing called perimenopause.
It turns out that it can cause joint pain, sleep issues, weight gain, bloating, tiredness, loss of muscle…
Apparently I am neither a hypochondriac or an old woman…but my mum was right.
If you’re interested in reading more about symptoms, I found this article by Amanda Thebe really helpful.
I went back to a book I read a couple of years ago, ROAR by Stacey Simms and I read the chapter about menopause which I had skipped.
The information which stood out for me was that hormonal changes make women more sensitive to carbohydrates, and that this can cause blood sugar swings. Also that we become less efficient in using protein and sustaining muscle.
I decided it was worth trying some diet changes to see happened.
This was a week ago. For the past week I have cut out all ‘low quality’ carbohydrates. That meant white rice, white pasta, white bread – some of the staples of cooking for young children (or at least my young children anyway). I still made the same for the children, I just made a batch of quinoa, kept it in the fridge and heated some when I needed it. I have also thought more carefully about protein, mainly through switching my lunches to fish or eggs with loads of vegetables.
Considering it has only been a week, this has been something of a revelation. I just feel….better. So much better. I don’t feel like a balloon around the middle, I don’t feel as tired, I’m not craving sweet things, I don’t feel so moody, I’m not so tired all the time, I feel more motivated about everything.
I feel more like me.
As for training, I’m only training for basic fitness at the moment, since I can’t see much in the way of events happening for some time yet. I’m working on settling into a pattern that might work for the future. At the moment that is two light turbo sessions and one road ride a week. I’m hoping to gently find a way to train that works for me without all the starting and stopping.
Many of my female friends are a similar age to me and over the past week I have spoken to a couple of them about this. Active or not particularly active, it is remarkable how many of my female friends are having similar experiences of feeling no longer themselves.
These are my close friends, yet I still felt a bit embarrassed talking about hormones and ‘the change’ with them. There is a part of me which is a little bit embarrassed writing this post. (Fortunately I write for myself and don’t really think about the prospect of people actually reading it).
We have got to change this feeling of embarrassment. We have got to change the view of the menopause as something which affects ‘old’ ladies.
To do that, we are going to have to talk more about it.
Talking about ‘women’s things’ is not always a comfortable thing to do. When I bought Stacy Sims book, I don’t know why I was surprised to find so much of it was about the effect of menstrual cycle on training for sport. Really, the subtitle ‘how to match your food and fitness to your female physiology for optimum performance, great health, and a strong, lean body for life’ should have been a clue! I read it on holiday and loved it. But I felt a bit uncomfortable leaving it lying about with my husband there. (This was absurd – he was there through the birth of both our children, there’s very little left to hide!)
There was a great Cycling UK online panel discussion last week with Anna Glowinski about periods and cycling. (you can watch it recorded here). It was great to hear this as an open conversation.
As the number of women in cycling grows and we rightly insist on joining the conversation about all things cycling. Let’s make sure we talk about all the issues which are important to us…even the more uncomfortable ones!