Tell Me Tuesday: Dealing with Your Period on Race Day

What we--and the Boy Scouts--recommend for dealing with your period on race day. (Get it..."be prepared.")

One of my favorite anecdotes in Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving--and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity is from Megan, who tells of getting her period on marathon morning. She was so ticked off, she pushed hard enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. (Nicely done!) It's happened to us all: You train your butt off for a race, then Aunt Flo shows up for the ride. No fun.

Given that we are pretty much in the height of training and racing season, I figured it was time for some tips for dealing with running on the rag--or how to avoid it entirely. (An obvious warning: TMI ahead!)

-Shorten the string. Women have complained to us about chafing from a tampon string. (Yeah, we hear it all--we love nothing better than a good overshare!) One mother runner, Christine, told us cuts it shorter so that no string hangs outside her body. I took to knotting my OBs and snipping the string--then wondered why it took me 20+ years to figure out that simple trick. Another chafe-avoiding tactic we've read about online: Liberally apply BodyGlide to the string hanging outside your body.

-Investigate the Diva Cup, a menstrual cup used in lieu of a tampon or pad. One can hold the flow for up to 12 hours so bring on that ultra or 70.3 race. (Like the next option, this one isn't for the squeamish.) Another mother runner Christy Zuzelo is a fan; here's a post she wrote about it.

-Go with the flow. Monica complained about the discomfort of wearing a tampon on a long run (we didn't ask for any more details--had something to do with, um, drying her out). So when she runs long, or races, on lighter flow days, she pulls the plug right before she starts running (and wears black bottoms so any spotting isn't visible). Not an option for neatniks, but when you figure your capris get pretty nasty with sweat, little blood isn't going to make that much more of a mess.

-Consider changing the timing. You can't rejigger the day of a big race, but you can alter the date of your period, if you're on birth control pills (or the patch or the ring). Instead of taking the placebo pills for a week, start a new pack instead; this will make you skip a period. Our favorite mother runner OB/GYN, Amanda Hurtubise, recommended this one, saying, "Any nurse at your trusty OB/Gyn's office is an expert at this--call her for further instructions if this doesn't make sense." For a longer-term solution, you could also look into Seasonique, a birth control pill that makes a woman only have four periods a year, or an IUD.

-Pop pills. Dr. Hurtubise gave us this news-to-us suggestion. "For women who are not on hormonal contraception a great trick is, 'scheduled ibuprofen.' Take 600-800mg three times a day, 1-2 days immediately prior to and during the period. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) constrict the blood vessels to the uterus and can significantly decrease menstrual flow. The key is to take it consistently 3x daily prior to and during bleeding. It won't work if just taken haphazardly. This trick will also help with any cramping."

-Don't forget supplies. Pack some spare tampons in a baggie and stash them in a pocket or hydration belt. Also, learn from a gross-out tale from Jennifer, who got her period as she jetted off for the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World. In the excitement of back-to-back races, she "lost a tampon in my innards." (Yikes!) She visited the doctor, who told her the case of the wayward tampon was not uncommon. Lucky for Jenn, it emerged on its own nearly three months later. (If tampons could talk....)

Now, it's your turn to overshare: What are your tips for dealing with your monthly visitor during a long run or race?

55 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: Dealing with Your Period on Race Day

  1. Has any one used a medicine to delay period? Not the birth controls but a specific medicine which when taken doesnt let the period happen but when you stop taking it, the period starts 2-3 days later. I have a HM coming up this sunday and thats the day im supposed to have my period too. Wondering whether to take the period delaying medicine but worried abt it side effects as havent taken it before! Running while wearing a pad ain’t an option cos of chafing and not too comfy with tampons either. Any suggestions???

  2. Recommending anti-inflammatories before racing is a very bad idea. It can lead to kidney failure and is extremely dangerous at the levels you suggest. Research it a bit more.

  3. Woah this blog is magnificent i really like studying your articles. Keep up the great work! You recognize, a lot of individuals are hunting round for this information, you could help them greatly.

  4. I have PCOS and don’t ovulate at all. So I don’t have periods at all. Is this the pay off for the struggle I went through to be a mom?

  5. I’m glad some of y’all spoke up about ibuprofen and its dangers. I strongly urge people to avoid it before running for several reasons. Besides the systemic risks it carries, anti-inflammatories may mask or delay symptoms of injury/stress-related pain. Pain management should come after a hard workout. Also, I found that ibuprofen magnified depression and/or fatigue. I no longer take unless it’s my only option and it’s for a headache. Never during my period.
    I have to say the tampon discussion is very disconcerting to me, who still remembers the toxic shock syndrome outbreak. I have only used them for swimming and very rarely for that.
    I think if pads didn’t work for me for a race, I would use Poise pads or Depends.

  6. Wow, these are all awesome tips…I’m gonna consider the diva cup too. However, will it effectively deal with heavy bleeding and (totally yucky TMI) lots of large clots? I think my endo is causing this for me and it is totally out of control when I run as little as 3k!!

  7. I got Aunt FLo on Friday am before a Sunday am race. I was relaly upset, but dealt with it (Sunday would ahve been the heavy day) It was only a 8 mile race, but AF disappeared during the race and dind’t come back. WHERE IS SHE? When will she appear again? will it be amonth or next week???

  8. I also became a divacup convert…and will never ever go back. I was unable to use tampons after having children-almost immediate chills and cramping upon insertion. I’ve been using mine for 3 years now, and just ordered a second (they do stain no matter how well you clean them) but will keep my older one in an emergency location (my running bag? my desk at work? not sure yet) I DID have issues when I got my period during a bout of the stomach flu (I was also not at home…stuck in a hotel room. NOT awesome) and had to send my husband out for pads. I was just too ill to get the diva cup in. I initially chose the diva for use while running, but have since fallen in love with the way it doesn’t interfere with my body’s natural process, or the environment. It’s a fantastic choice! And, although it might seem pricey at first, I calculate it’s saved me a couple hundred dollars over the past 3 years!

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