Understanding My Body and Training Through Menstrual Cycle Tracking

By Alexi Pappas, Garmin Pro Athlete and Olympian

As an Olympic runner, understanding my body is key. I have grown accustomed to listening and paying attention to the patterns and markers of health – or fatigue. My menstrual cycle, including my period, is one of the most important indicators that I am on track and healthy. I know that my period has a relationship to not only my bone health, but also my mood and sleep, which, in turn, will affect my overall well-being as an athlete and person. 

Understanding my period goes beyond health and actually impacts performance. Did you know there are certain types of workouts and exercise that are more optimal for an athlete at certain times in her cycle? It’s true! There are times in our cycles when it’s best to focus on speed work and other times when it’s ideal to focus on longer tempo workouts.

Before I was introduced to the Menstrual Cycle Tracking feature in Garmin Connect™, I wasn’t always sure where I was in my cycle. This meant I wasn’t letting my cycle lead my training. At times it was challenging to complete workouts, which I now understand is totally normal based on specific times of the month.

Understanding my period not only let me run proper workouts, but it also made me kinder to myself because I understood my body’s needs better. We athletes are typically more inclined to be hard on ourselves before we are kind ­– the Menstrual Cycle Tracking feature allows me to be proud of where I am and also want more at the same time: the perfect combo.

Since I started using the Menstrual Cycle Tracking feature, I am able to understand my body more and therefore optimize my training. I log my daily symptoms just like I might my daily mileage in training. For me, incorporating this into my routine was like welcoming a new teammate. And who doesn’t want a new teammate? 

As an Olympian, I am aware many young athletes look to me as a role model. One of the areas I get asked the most about is my period. I understand this is a tricky subject, and I hope I’m a model of what we strive for as runners and well-rounded people. For a young athlete, and really for any athlete, this element of our life – the period – is not separate, but actually very linked to our longevity in the sport.  

The words I try to use are “durable, capable, and strong” rather than just fit. I feel the most important thing is that we are 100% healthy and 80% fit, rather than the other way around. And the answer as to where we fall on the “health” spectrum can, in part, be found in taking care of and monitoring our cycle.

Unfortunately, though, not all coaches or athletic programs are set up to guide a female athlete to understanding of her body over her fitness. I am so glad there is a feature on my watch that can fill in some of the gap that exists in current female athletic programs — from the high school level all the way to the professional level.  

Using the Menstrual Cycle Tracking feature allows all athletes to have a teammate as they grow and find a path toward their goals. I look forward to continuing to use this feature and guide others to do the same!