Moving onto our next favorite TMI topic: running while on your period.
My (very unscientific, n=1) observation? The first day of my period, I feel like a rock star. My body feels lighter, less bloated, less moody, and like things are just—excuse the pun—flowing as they naturally should. My experience, though, is far from everybody’s. I actually welcome the flow, especially when compared to the teary, tumultuous cloud that follows me around the days before.
My other bit of harder-earned advice? Bloody thighs chafe. Badly. I’ll never forget a run I did in Tempe, Arizona probably about 10 years ago. I was running 12 miles, I think, and I was wearing my trendy Lululemon shorty shorts (especially short on me). I had no idea my period was going to appear during the run. By the end, my thighs were so raw and chafed, they had that road-rash look—and absolute rawness—for weeks.
So if running on your period is an issue, read on, friend. We’ve got you covered as well as…well, a super plus tampon.
Step #1: Know when your period will arrive.
Yes, I realize this is pretty basic, but if you’re not interested in procreating or just don’t pay naturally attention to those details (ding ding: me!), the arrival of your period can be unsettling, especially if it coincides with a hard training session or race.
That way, you won’t be in tears when, at the expo before your first marathon, you head to the bathroom and realize you need to make a stop at the store asap for tampons.
Or Step #1B: Intentionally stop—or slow—your period.
Plenty of runners, especially those with a history of heavy periods, have opted for an Mirena IUD. “I have a Mirena (love it) and have virtually no periods, unless I put in a really long run. When I do spot though, the cramping is awful,“ said one mother runner in this post. “Another Mirena lover here!” added other, “My 8-10 day heavy periods are now 2-3 days of very light bleeding or spotting. LOVE IT!”
One word of caution from a been-there, done-that runner: “If you have Mirena, make sure you check it monthly. Mine punctured through my uterus after 1.5 years and I had to get it removed laparoscopically.”
If you decide to go for the Mirena for birth control or period control, remember to check its placement regularly.
Done with kids but still dealing with a painful period? Investigate Novasure, a quick, hormone-free procedure to lighten or stop periods.
Finally, of course, good old birth control can help you stop the flow of race day. 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.
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 may want to look into Seasonique, a birth control pill that makes a woman only have four periods a year.
Step #2: Pick the right equipment for running while on your period.
Option #1: Tampon
If you’re a tampon user, stash an extra tampon or two for a long run in a waist pack or pocket; stuffing it in your sports bra is probably not a great call. We’d suggest including one more tampon than you think you’ll need; you never know when your fumbly fingers may drop one in a port-a-potty or you’ll accidentally “give birth” to a clean tampon when you’re clearing out your intestines.
Other ways to make tampons as unobtrusive as possible:
Shorten the string. Chafing from a tampon string: something you need to think about. Consider cutting the string shorter so that no string hangs outside your body. Sarah took to knotting her OBs and snipping the string. Another chafe-avoiding tactic: Liberally apply BodyGlide to the string hanging outside your body.
Double up: “OK, I might get arrested by the tampon police for sharing this, but I have learned to use TWO tampons at the same time,” recommended one mother runner, “My period started the day before the OKC Marathon so marathon day was a heavy flow day. After inserting the first one I just held onto the string and inserted a second one. There is absolutely no discomfort and it feels exactly the same as just one! Removal was just as easy and I was as clean as a sweaty newborn baby at the end of the race!”
Totally pull the plug: Not an option for neatniks, but if you want to keep things as simple and natural as possible, forgo everything except black bottoms. By everything, we mean undies and a tampon; by black bottoms, we mean any dark/patterned fabric that offers some camouflaged coverage.
Option #2: Menstrual Cups
Once only found in natural food stores, menstrual cups now seem as trendy as Mom jeans and white sneakers. And for good reason. Not only are they environmentally friendly, they can hold the flow for up to 12 hours. (Read: bring on that ultra!)
Since we personally haven’t ever gone the cup route, we love that that Trail Sisters did a thorough article of the basics of how to use menstrual cups and reviewed some of the most popular brands, including the popular Diva Cup.
We like that they mentioned that, “most brands offer two different sizes—one for younger women who haven’t had children, and the other for older women who have. Smaller sizes might also work better for shorter women, who tend to have narrow pelvises. A too-large cup could put pressure on your bladder or bowels, causing a gotta-go sensation….”
A bit of advice from AMR-community cup users: “It’s going to seem gross at first, but it’ll take you a heck of a lot longer between bathroom runs than a tampon will,” offers one user.
Another runner mentions that you may not have the opportunity to wash your cup between insertions if you’re out on a run and in a public bathroom, but that’s not a deal breaker. And one Disney runner offered advice on using the facilities even if you think you don’t need them: “If you’re running through a theme park with actual indoor plumbing and sinks on the heaviest day of your period, never think to yourself ‘Oh, I don’t need to use the facilities – I’m sure I’ll be fine for the next 90 minutes or so.'”
Option #3: Period Underwear
Also a growing field, period underwear—garments designed to hold the blood a tampon, cup, or pad normally would—seems like a solid call. We definition use period underwear for day-to-day wearing and sleeping, especially on the heaviest flow days, and love how they give us one less thing to worry about.
That said, we’ve never run in them. Yet. We will be doing a full review of period-inspired running gear later this month, so look for that. In the meantime, here’s a review of some of the best period wear for runners.
Most are made to minimize chafing, but we’d recommend a short run in them to both check that out and make sure they work the way you’d like them to.
Option #4: A Pad
Um, can we politely suggest one of the above suggestions? Because speaking from one awful run here here: No matter how streamlined the pad, the jostling motion of running can have it shift quickly and produce chafe on some of the most delicate parts of your body.
(That said, it’s been a long time since we’ve run with a pad. If you have another experience and/or recommendation, please let us know in the comments below?)
[More TMI Help: Everything you need to know about chafing on the run.]
Step #3: Go the extra mile with self care.
If you’re bleeding, you’re losing both liquid and iron. Definitely keep that water bottle accessible both during and before/after runs to make sure you stay hydrated. While you’re at work, try raspberry leaf tea—recommended by one mother runner—or another herbal tea that helps with bloating.
Keep your iron in check, especially if you regularly have low levels. Grab a burger after a race or run, dig into a spinach salad with pumpkin seeds a legumes, or otherwise pepper your diet with iron-rich foods. Consult with your doctor if you need to fortify further with supplements; if so, Feosol Complete with Bifera, which offers gradual and gentle absorption, and Floradix, a liquid iron and herbal supplement, are both recommendations from AMR community members.
Period-related cramps before your run bumming you out? Grab a heating pad or hot water bottle and apply before you head out. The heat on your abdomen will increase circulation and relaxing the muscles of the uterus which will ease some pain pre run.