Run on Periods! By Shilpi Sahu 1
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!
Can my daughter use a menstrual cup? 0
Can my daughter use a cup?
How many times I have heard this question. The answer is nuanced and there is not straight yes or no. I recommend that the parent first watches the TEDx talk - The Virginity Fraud
So if we understand the anatomy, the only difference between a virgin girl at 11 and a married one at 21 is potentially a hymen. If after watching the talk, parent makes an informed choice that they would not like hymen to be potentially damaged, they can choose cloth pads. If not, they can introduce their daughter to a menstrual cup - the easiest way to manage periods!
My sister and me were active girls. When i was in 9th standard, my mom had introduced me to a tampon as she felt that given i had done horse riding, was swimming, was doing Taekwondo, it was highly likely that i would have lost my hymen and tampons would allow me to even do Taekwando during my periods. She had spoken to a gynaecologist, had become a user for 6 months before introducing it to us. At 24, when I lost my virginity, I realized that my hymen was still intact!
Circa 2015, my elder daughter T started her periods. She had precocious puberty so started early. When she was 10, she had been a cloth pad user and was a school athletic star. I bought a cup for her based on recommendation of a popular website - i personally believe hymen is overrated piece of tissue. The cup was expensive, short and hard. My daughter tried using it few times, was unsuccessful and said that is a product not for her! When she was 11, we launched StoneSoup menstrual cups. Green cup - the softest cup we have - is the one she picked up for herself after 6 months. As I saw her trying to wear it, i also noticed her fear and clenched muscles. There was no way anything was going to get in! Since she was now competing at next level in athletics, i got tiny tampons for her. They were terrible as too small but she loved them and migrated to regular tampons. Given that she listened to my sustainable menstruation gyaan, she used tampons during her training or competitions but used cloth pads during the rest of the time.
My younger one L started assembling her period kit when she was 9.5! She wanted her periods. Colourful cloth pads, period panty and StoneSoup green cups were things she chose. An year later, she started her periods. Cloth pads is what she started with. Clenched muscles and failed cup attempt. Clenched muscles but sister guiding her and she migrated to tampons! Given that she is a gymnast, using cloth pad was not an option during daily practice sessions nor missing training for 3-4 days in a month. Tampons and cloth pads became her period care choices. An year later, i decided instead of me guiding her on wearing a cup, i will also bring her sister in. Clenched muscles and failed attempts - 1, 2,3. and then her naughtiness kicked in and we had some crazy stuff and laugh riot. As T and I were rolling with laughter, Lila tried and it just went in. She got up and said she could feel it. We got her to push it, jump around and she forgot about it soon.
Next day morning she complained it took her 10 minutes but by afternoon she was a pro! And she finished her period with cup for the next 2 days. And since then she is unstoppable, raving about the cup to her aunt in Canada to her friends in school,from her neighbors to absolute strangers, the cup-bug has caught her too. She has now donned the cape of super hero or rather super woman spreading the joy of being cup-vert to everyone she meets. The last I heard her say was "Mom ,when am I going to get periods next? I cant wait ! "
P.S - The best technique to insert the cup is laughing technique. Laugh as much as you can and then try inserting the cup (wink)
How People are going Plastic Free - Small Steps, Big Impact! 2Awareness about Plastics and its effects are not lacking, neither do people lack knowledge about going plastic free. But are you taking the next step to knock out plastics from your lives? Read this blog to get some inspiration...
Story Of A Girl From Tarahunise Village 0
Pavitra from Tarahunise a village in north Bangalore is doing some amazing work in the field of solid waste management and we wanted to document what she is doing. Fixed up an appointment with her and headed to Tarahunise early on a Saturday morning. She had invited a few women in the village who had switched to Menstrual cups to talk to me. As I was waiting for them Pavitra recounted her journey with the menstrual cup. The first thing that struck me was how comfortable Pavitra was speaking about Menstruation which was very refreshing, to say the least. For a girl to speak boldly about her personal experience with the Cups was an achievement in itself. Mostly we see women hesitant when asked about Menstruation and here’s a young woman readily agreeing to give an interview on camera. As with all first-time cup users, she too had apprehensions which vanished when she started using the cups! Now she is a proud user and recounts the inconveniences she faces while using napkins versus how comfortable she is with the cup now. Chafing, bad odour, shifting were some of her bad experiences with sanitary napkins. Along with this, she would always feel bad about throwing the soiled napkins knowing that it will be handled by a municipal worker and that it may end up in landfills or worse in drains or roadsides! She decided that she will convince other women to switch to menstrual cups based on her own experience. Pavitra is also spreading the message of segregation and waste management in Tarahunise.
As we were chatting, Shaila a 50-year-old exuberant woman who’s a grandmother walked in. She could not praise the cups enough. She loves them and her only regret is that she didn’t find the cup earlier. She has gotten her sister and her daughter to switch to cups too. I loved the way she had no hesitation about speaking about Menstruation and she like Pavitra had only good things to say about the cup. By then Roopa had joined us and she told me that her menstrual cramps had reduced considerably after she switched to Cups. She said that she would hesitate to leave the house during her period earlier but now she goes out bravely without fear of leaking and chafing. She used to have skin rashes after every period due to the rubbing of the napkins against her skin. Now she says she has forgotten what rashes are. These are all women who do physically intensive work every day and using cups successfully. Two more women who were sitting on the fence not able to decide whether to switch to cups were also there. I was amazed to see how these three cup users argued their case and convicted them to start using the cups. Wish more women were like them. They were not only choosing a healthy option for themselves they were choosing a healthy option for Mother Earth too... cup users do not generate sanitary waste which is one of the bigger problems in solid waste management. Tons and tons of sanitary waste is lying in landfills and choking many drains causing huge problems to civic agencies. Why can’t more women opt for this amazingly healthier option? Your guess is as good as mine. We need more people like Pavitra and her gang of gutsy women to change this scene. She has vowed to get as many women as she can to join her movement. We wish her all the best in her endeavour and hope that every village has a Pavitra who can change the world and make it Green...