Running with your period: how to go with the flow
You might have read recently about a very brave young woman named Kiran Gandhi who ran the London Marathon, on day one of her period, with nothing to stop the bleeding. Kiran was making a brave stand for women who don’t have access to sanitary products around the world.
After I’d finished being blown away at Kiran’s fearlessness, I thought it was the perfect time to share some advice with you for running with your period, and the ups and downs you may experience with your training throughout your menstrual cycle. This can be a challenge for many, with various ups and downs.
Have you ever had a crappy run and can’t figure out why? Are you wondering if there are certain times of your cycle that are better to run? Wondering what to wear? Afraid you’ll become iron deficient through blood lost during menstruation?
There are heaps of questions around this topic.
Let’s look at some facts, some myths, and some recommendations to make your life a little bit easier. And since we’re all friends by now, I’ll share at the end how I manage mine. If it’s TMI, you can skip that part
Periods can hurt (but you don’t need me to tell you that right?!)
Yep, you might get horrible crampy pains like me, or feel like you’ve been hit by a freight train. It can really, really suck.
You will probably feel sluggish in the days leading up to your period
We’ll discuss exactly how your cycle could be affecting your running below.
It can be darn inconvenient
Yep, you need to be super organised with the right clothes, enough of them, and the right gear to sort yourself out down below. You’ll want to feel as comfortable as possible.
Everyone is different
Some women feel bad in the lead up to their period, others feel bad during it. Some women are out of action for days, while others barely bat an eyelid. Our bodies are all unique, you need to do what works for yours.
Let’s look at the menstrual cycle to see just what the heck is going on:
Your cycle is all to do with what hormones your body is producing. During the first half of your cycle, your body is full of estrogen, getting an egg ready for ovulation. During the second half, your body is full of progesterone, trying to make your uterus a nice safe home for that egg should it be fertilized.
Your period begins. Estrogen dominates the first half of the menstrual cycle, and helps your metabolism burn fuel efficiently for running. Your body temperature is also lower during this part of your cycle. Therefore, the first 14 days are when you’re likely to get your best training runs in, your fastest times, and the most enjoyment.
You’ve ovulated, and your body is now producing lots of progesterone. Progesterone is an antagonist to estrogen: basically it has the opposite effect. Your metabolism doesn’t work as efficiently, you might feel bloated, and your body temperature is higher. If you’ve ever wondered why you had such a terrible run one day and can’t pinpoint a reason, it could be that you were full of progesterone!
The bottom line: you can run in any part of your cycle. You are most likely to have a bad time or a slow race in the second half though.
If you’re looking for an even more super detailed article on this topic, Runners World have a great one.
Running with your period will make you bleed more
This one is just plain old not true. Sure, when you run your heart rate goes up and blood pumps around your body faster than when you’re not running. But the lining of your uterus does not magically get thicker and shed more in response to this.
Your iron levels drop
Okay, so I need to say that this is mostly a myth. For most women, the blood lost during your period is not enough to impact your iron levels. However, if you bleed heavily and have a long period, you could be at risk of becoming deficient. This would happen whether you ran or not! One more little caveat: if you run big distances quite often, you might have foot strike haemolysis (basically, the repeated pounding of your feet bursts red blood cells) which can contribute to iron deficiency, which in tandem with a heavy period could cause you some trouble. But again, let me stress: menstrual bleeding alone will not usually impact your iron levels via your running!
Feeling grumpy and gross with your period? Head out for a run
Running can lift your mood, as will any exercise in general. Extra bonus: you may also reduce cramping and improve your pain tolerance. So what are you waiting for?!
Keep a diary
Particularly if you think you are someone whose running is majorly affected by your monthly cycle. You might want to keep track of your heart rate, temperature, and when you menstruate. Finding patterns could well be the key to unlocking better training, and finding that inner running goddess.
Try to race in the first two weeks of your cycle
As described above, estrogen will help you run stronger and faster. However, don’t medically manipulate your cycle without some real professional input!
How to deal with leakage
The most common sense thing to do is to wear fresh sanitary products and dark pants or a dark skirt. Something you might not have thought of is a menstrual cup. Sounds glamorous (NOT), but some women find them “life changing”, and definitely require less attention. This one seems to be popular. I’ve yet to try them so I can’t give you a personal review at this stage.
Dress for the bloat
Put your tightie racing clothes away, you’ll need looser stuff. Why not keep a running top a few sizes too big on hand, and try running in a skirt with built in briefs? That will give you all of the coverage without feeling tight around your legs.
Listen to your body
This is very important. Every woman is different: some will feel energized pushing themselves during their period, others will find it debilitating. Do what’s right for you, but don’t feel afraid to run if you want to. Equally, don’t feel guilty if you just can’t be bothered for a day or so!
What I do (TMI alert)
So here’s how my cycle tends to work. I always feel sluggish and fatigued in the 2-3 days before my period begins. In fact, I always think I’m coming down with a cold! You’d think I’d have learnt by now, but no, I think I’m getting sick each month! I really feel gross.
On those days, I’ll probably go for a walk.
I just lack my usual energy and can’t be bothered with much of anything. A walk keeps me moving without feeling like a total lazy couch potato, and helps put me in a better mood.
On the first two days of my period, I bleed quite heavily and get painful cramps. These cramps are sore enough to wake me up in the night, but mild enough that popping a couple of anti-inflammatories sorts them out for me. I bleed for around 5 days.
My energy levels are usually back to normal by the time I’ve figured out I’ve got my period (not a cold), and I have no problem running with it. I always wear dark bottoms anyway, and I would just make sure that I had fresh tampons and liners in place ready to go. Apart from those 2-3 days before my period starts, I tend to be able to run pretty much as I like.
I realize that I am actually very lucky and get off relatively scot free when it comes to how my menstrual cycle affects my running. I’m very aware that not everyone has it this easy!
Are you willing to share how you deal with your period and running? Do you have any tips to share with your fellow females? I’d love you to leave a comment if you do.
Your running buddy,
image 1 by bandita, CC 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/4EWBwo, image 2 by Myriam Amri, CC 2.0, https://flic.kr/p/nzXG5i