Is the contraceptive pill destroying your life?

An athlete's view.

The monthly cycle is something that is always on my mind as an athlete. Perhaps it's an awareness thing, and I wasn't so in-tune before, but for a couple of days every single month I definitely see a shift in my mood and a decline in my performance.

Now, should a race or a big training session clash around the two days of the month where I am due, it's almost impossible to hit targets. My core is inflamed and sloppy for running, and cramps make hard training more of a burden than ever. The best thing to do is avoid hard days around that date, and recognise I'll be a bit grumpy for 2-3 days before that too. Oh the joys of womanhood.

Avoidance of the hard stuff is all very well and good, but not being regular to the button makes planning, particularly racing, very difficult. Last year in Budapest I was #blessed with my arrival at 7 am on the morning of the competition, due off at 9. I tried to compete, but fell completely flat. This year, my key race was to be the European championships. 2 months before the event, it was looking like the dates might coincide.

I'd heard the pill was not good for athletes but had taken it a few times in the past and not noticed the difference (or more realistically, not put two and two together). So I got organised and went to the doctors. "Give me your finest pill, if you please" said I, and my wish was swiftly granted. Now I could take two packs in a row and skip a period, never having to worry again. I went along to the pharmacy, full of the joys of life, to pick up the small packet that would seal my fate for the next month.

In the following 3 weeks, I went from loving life, to becoming stressed, knackered and moody. It was relentless. Suddenly I couldn't contemplate sessions, the smallest amount of exercise left me stupefied, and the thought of travel and upheaval made me teary and overwhelmed. I went from feeling on top of the world to struggling to keep my head above water in a matter of weeks. It was quite spectacular.

Of course, we wondered what it was. Under recovery? I had tried to train just after my last race. Over training? I'd put away a lot; perhaps I'd misread the signals and the elastic band had just snapped. Maybe I just didn't like triathlon any more? Maybe I didn't have what it takes? Maybe I was simply a weirdo?

Luckily, as everything in my life is going well, it didn't take us too long to narrow down the potential culprits. Microgynon, a regular feature in my 'turbulent twenties', stood out like a broken spoke in my wheel of good fortune. A bit of research showed I was far from alone in my symptoms.

The hormones had taken over. And not even real ones. Artificial ones that I had willingly doused myself in.

The pills got binned. Unfortunately, as I missed two weeks of training, so have the Europeans, but luckily there are always other races to focus on, and it won't take long to get ready again. What's more important is I feel better already, and know I'll be back to normal service soon.

In the future, if it so happens that a race clashes with my natural cycle, then I'll just have to take it on the chin. Good planning will help, but we can only control the controllables. I tried to control it artificially, and in doing that I not only risked my sport, but my wellbeing and relationships. All within 3 weeks!

So please be warned of the signs and symptoms if you start taking these pills (or if you already take them). Be aware that age changes our hormones, so what may have worked in the past, may not necessarily work now. Keep a close eye on any changed feelings or behaviours. For me, that's the last time I touch contraceptive pills. Period.

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