Something different: I started taking female hormones on June 6 and just ran my first race. What happened?

Well, thats quite a title isn't it?

And now, for a very abrupt break from blogging about the climate :) ....

As the title states, on June 6 I began taking 20mg of intramuscular estrogen injections every 2 weeks. Nearly 2 months later - yesterday, July 31 - I ran my first race since beginning this transition. I'm a scientist by trade, so what follows is a way-too-in-depth analysis of this experience.

For those of you previously unaware, I have been an avid runner since my beloved father (thanks Dad!) first introduced me to running when I was a wee 12 years old. I ran my first race in November 1996 - the 4.78 mile Manchester Road Race in a quite impressive 38:31 (for those keeping track at home that's 8:03 per mile. Not bad for a 12 year old!)

Throughout middle and high school, I used running as an escape. My only true safe space, where I could escape the nagging feelings that had plagued me since early childhood, was when I laced up a pair of Asics/Saucony/NewBalance/Nike's and hit the rural roads of my small hometown in eastern Connecticut. In high school, with the help of a fantastic coach, I got quite good. In 2001 ran a 17:44 cross-country 5K, and in 2002 I ran a 2:04 800 meters, a 4:49 mile, and a sub-11 minute 2-mile. 

I continued running into college and beyond. Since high school I've managed to clock a few more sub-18 5Ks, a marathon in 3:23 and two half marathons in 1:31 and 1:34. My identity as a runner is probably my strongest identity as a human, and, in retrospect, I probably have "running" to thank for keeping me alive.

Which brings us to 2016. As I said, I began female hormone therapy on June 6. I knew this would dramatically affect my running. On average, women have 30% less lower-body muscle mass and 60% less upper-body muscle mass. Additionally, my size and frame, being of the masculine-type, are generally larger than the average woman and thus are probably a hindrance. On the other side of the ledger, my lung capacity is probably slightly larger than the average woman, and my ability to manage running in hot weather has dramatically improved now.

All that said, I have noticeably lost speed after 2 months of injections. My testosterone levels have fallen well into the "normal female" range and the effect on my muscle mass has already been quite dramatic (more to come, I'm sure!)

Below is a comparison between the last half marathon I ran (on November 21, 2015) and the half marathon I just ran (on July 31, 2016). 

As you can see, my pace was nearly 80 seconds slower despite running almost 10 more miles in the previous 30 days and 25 more miles in the previous 60 days and my average training pace being only about 5-10 seconds slower. 

Big caveat: The race I ran yesterday was in Mexico City, which sits at about 7,400' altitude. Using the NCAA altitude adjustment formula, this probably results in an 8m 47s negative adjustment for a 90 minute race.

Adjusting for this and for the slight increase in elevation gain in the Mexico City race (about 2 minutes), we get the following graph, which is probably more representative of the change from hormones alone:

Here it seems that there has been about a 7 second/mile decrease in my average training pace (though, tbh, it's probably more since a month ago the effect from estrogen was likely more muted) and about 20 second/mile in my race pace.

Two things fascinate me about this: 1. what is going to be my lower limit? At what point will I stop losing muscle and my slow-down will taper off and 2. are these "altitude adjustments" accurate? Can I actually run a half marathon at the 7:30 adjusted pace (vs. the 8:20 pace)? There is some evidence suggesting yes: The 1968 Mexico City Olympics were included in the analysis that helped determine the altitude adjustment formula.

Either way, despite the incredible hormonal changes, the 7500' altitude, and the hills for dayz, I felt very strong during my run and really look forward to continuing to track my progress as I continue on this journey.

Thank you, running, thank you, Mexico City, and thank you faithful readers, for indulging me.

Be well. Find peace. x Mick.


Mika ToscaComment