Shilpi Sahu is a marathoner who always ends up with a podium finish. She shares her experience on how she runs - periods or no periods!
You are a runner. The customary weekend long run is underway, when suddenly it dawns upon you at the 20th kilometre that you were supposed to get your periods today. Hmmmmmm. May be you are getting it right now, but you are sweating, your nose is running and the body is complaining, so you don’t know for sure if it is the monthly disaster that has commenced (so soon?) or whether these are the aches and pains of a long run.
If you have never found yourself in the above scenario, you are likely to be a man. Even if you are, there is no need to skip to another article in haste. Please continue to read and enlighten yourself on the added challenges faced by women runners and also how they can be overcome.
Ah, the challenges of long distance running and the prospect of menstrual blood trickling down your legs! Most women I know would skip exercise on their period days or opt for easier effort workout. But for someone training for a big race following a bare minimum running schedule, clocking *just* enough mileage to train for the next marathon, skipping of workout days may not be desirable.
While it is alright to skip your workout on a really uncomfortable day of your periods, it is also perfectly fine to exercise on the day of your period. Exercise often does not make your period any worse and gives you the same physiological benefits as any other day. Often, once one starts running, one gets immersed in the workout and forgets the discomfort of periods.
Unless, of course, you are using a sanitary napkin! It constantly reminds you of its presence by shifting, bunching, leaking, rubbing against your inner thighs and sometimes getting shredded into pieces on the job. Many women runners go for tampons but tampons aren’t great for heavy bleeders or those with low cervix and tend to slide down when fully soaked. Also, tampons are associated with toxic shock syndrome which is rare but deadly when it strikes.
Running on these days does not have to be a compromise between physical discomfort and running performance. We don’t have to choose from uncomfortable, toxic and chemical laden products like the current crop of sanitary napkins. Besides, they are also an environmental hazard. There is no good way of disposing the used tampons and pads. Luckily for runners, the menstrual cup comes to the rescue!
The menstrual cup is a device invented in the 1930s by an American stage actress, Leona Watson Chalmers. It is a soft receptacle which can be inserted in the vagina to collect menstrual fluid. It forms a seal with the vaginal walls and stays put till it is taken out periodically for being emptied and then inserted back again. With the taboos around menstruation breaking down and the growing demand for more environment friendly and sustainable alternatives, menstrual cups are gaining visibility and popularity again. They are yet to hit local pharmacies and supermarkets but can easily be ordered online.
The runner’s cup
The variety of cups available now can be a bit mind boggling. So, here are a few tips on how to choose a cup if you are a runner or in general of athletic disposition.
- Choose a medium/hard cup – Pelvic muscles of a runner or any physically active woman are likely to be stronger than a person who does not exercise, hence a hard cup will retain shape better during physical activity and would not lose seal easily. However, very hard cups may put some pressure on the urethra and can possibly make it a little difficult to pee.
- Choose capacity based on how much you bleed. A bigger cup will be nice if you are expecting heavy flow. Based on your flow, you can empty a menstrual cup at intervals of 2 hrs to 12 hrs.
- Younger women may require softer cups than older women or those who have had babies through vaginal delivery.
Every woman’s body is different, but the vagina is an elastic organ and most cups work reasonably well for most people, but if you are willing to experiment you can find the menstrual cup that works best for you.
With a menstrual cup inserted properly, one should not feel the cup at all. You should feel dry and clean without any leaks. But if you feel wet down under, then your cup may be leaking. A full cup can leak. But if the cup is half full and it still leaks, then it hasn’t opened up properly and formed a seal with the vaginal wall.
The most important commandment of cupping – A half cup doeth not leaketh! Either your cup is too soft, so it loses seal with movement or you didn’t give it the famous twist, push and pull after insertion. Very heavy bleeders may still leak a few drops – so, it may be better to use a cloth liner as back up during heavy flow.
Using a menstrual cup takes a bit of practice, but in a couple of cycles, you can master its use. You can forget the date of your next period. All you need is a cup in your travel pouch. If you are expecting your period, you can start the run with the cup, and can complete it without worrying about rashes or blood trickling down your legs. You can empty the cup, when you want to, not when you have to. No rashes, no wet feeling!
With the money you save by using menstrual cups instead of disposable pads, you can sign up for a new race every year! Or buy yourself a nice pair of running shoes. Many positives of using a menstrual cup and only one negative – you forget that you are using one!