Racing with Your Period

in Triathlons

There have been many, many discussions on the Tri-Fecta Facebook group (which, by the way, is absolutely my favorite triathlon-related group!) about racing with your period. It comes up so often that I thought it’d be worth a post of round-up tips from yours truly.

racing when you're on your period

When I’ve had my period on race day, there have always been two concerns:  logistical and physical.  On the physical side of things, I’m happy to report that my period has never really interfered with my ability to run a strong race.  Sure, I’d rather NOT have it on race day, but I don’t think it sucks the life force out of me or anything.


Actually, that’s a generally accepted scientific fact – your athletic performance doesn’t vary based on the time of the month.  There was a study on female rowers (both professional and hobbyists) in Europe that measured markers like heart rate, oxygen consumption, power output, blood lactate levels, and more during various points throughout the month.  The measurements were static throughout the month, regardless of the timing of estrogen and other hormonal surges (and regardless of whether the woman were on oral contraceptive or not) (Source).  Furthermore, you may think you’re losing power because you’re losing blood, but that’s usually not true (here’s a good discussion on whether your period can induce anemia, especially for runners).


Take heart in knowing that the hormonal changes aren’t turning you into a delicate little flower. That being said, you’re probably not going to FEEL your best during Shark Week, which can make race day intimidating.  You want to be careful about taking any over-the-counter pain medication before an endurance event, as medical studies link painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin and Aleve to gastrointestinal trouble, dehydration, and kidney issues (I’ve taken this stuff mid-race and not had problems, but it’s probably not the wisest move, especially for really intense or endurance events). 


Look to natural remedies for the pain of cramps and bloating. I find that a warm compress on my pelvis or back helps, as does yoga (check out this yoga series designed especially for your period).  Drinking water helps reduce bloat, so be sure to hydrate. Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, so you could try making a ginger tea by steeping a piece in hot water.  Just don’t OD on the ginger, as I’ve found drinking too much can cause stomach troubles.


And, ironically, exercise is a great way to reduce cramps.  So even if you’re feeling blah at the starting line, you may start to feel really great in a mile or so! 


Let’s talk about race day logistics next.


The #1 thing I can recommend is the Diva CupYou can read my post about the Diva Cup right here – it’s a silicon, reusable menstrual cup that replaces tampons. The Diva Cup is awesome for endurance events because it holds more liquid than a tampon AND you can keep it in for up to 12 hours. There is a big learning curve with learning to use the Diva Cup (I always tell women to give it three cycles before they decide if they like it or not), so this is not the type of thing you want to test out on race day. I also tell people to trim the stem of the Diva Cup for maximum comfort.


Obviously, if you’re choosing between tampons or pads, it’s better to wear a tampon.  I recommend cutting the string of the tampon a bit so the string is entirely internal, which will eliminate the risk of chafing (especially if you’re on a bike – ouch).


Whatever period protection you choose, be sure to bring backup on race day and CARRY IT WITH YOU in a pocket or race belt.  Also, I try to wear black bottoms just in case I spring a leak.  A supportive sports bra is super important as well, as your breasts tend to be extra tender anyway.


And last, but certainly not least, if you’re on hormonal birth control, you could manipulate your pills to skip your period. I’ve done it before with success – just call your OB-GYN to discuss logistics, potential issues, and how-to’s.


Have you had your period for a big race? Got any tips or advice?



  • Jacquelyn @justjacq September 15, 2014, 11:10 am

    I started using a diva cup after reading the post you linked to and I’ve never looked back. I notice such a difference in overall comfort (bloating, cramps) from when I use the diva cup to the random time I use a tampon (like when I’m caught off guard!). So thank you for that post 🙂

  • meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles September 15, 2014, 11:26 am

    Love this post. I talk often about periods and the effects for me and running and NEVER read about any other runners/athletes posting about it! I am the opposite though of what you say – race day is a disaster for me if I have my period. In fact, I learned the hard way in April during the Fitness Mag half that I really can’t “race” a run when I have my period. I had to drop out. I have a history of low blood pressure and at this time of the month, my symptoms are heightened. I didn’t know what was wrong actually- I just knew I didn’t feel well and couldn’t push it. Went to the bathroom after I stepped out of the race and surprise! There was the answer. I now try to base my race calendar around my internal calendar which isn’t fun but is what works best for me!

  • Audrina @ Mindfully Audrina September 15, 2014, 1:51 pm

    Wow, thanks for the informative post! It’s true, I’ve always thought that during that time of the month performance naturally decreases, but I guess it’s not true. For me, it all comes down to the cramps and mood, so I will definitely try the yoga sequence. And chocolate helps too 🙂

  • Sarah T September 15, 2014, 2:11 pm

    I have used the Diva cup for over two years and though I don’t do tri’s, I am a cross fitter. I have found the Diva cup to be an absolute life saver when doing squats, box jumps, and other high intensity activities. I try to recommend it to anyone who is into competition because it works so well and I’ve never had any leakage at all. That said, the Diva cup has also helped clear up an allergic reaction I had developed from OB tampons. I used the same kind for over 20 years not realizing the chemicals in them. Until one day I read your post about it. I bought my Diva cup later that day. Many, many thanks for all the information you put out there! It is a huge blessing.

  • Lena September 15, 2014, 4:41 pm

    Thank you for posting about this topic, which is barely discusses but matters a lot. It really depends on a kind of the period I think. My “on the pill” period is pretty light. I sometimes skip a run or the ab workout on the day one and chose chocolate over it, but I don’t think that it affects my performance. However, my “off the pill” perod involves horrible cramps, bad bleeding and a lot of painkillers. Therefore, I would probably run only if someone is chasing me on that days

  • Kinnereth September 15, 2014, 6:35 pm

    A word of caution about trimming a tampon string… Careful it doesn’t get tucked up too far! If you cannot grasp the string to pull the tampon out, it could mean a trip to the ER. I find that instead of cutting the string I can wedge it near the labia for the same effect. No chafing or weird pulling when it gets caught while I’m running 🙂
    Thanks for the awesome post! After baby I want to try the diva cup.

  • Jill Will Run September 15, 2014, 6:47 pm

    I have not raced while on my cycle, but I am learning about training with a period. I didn’t have cycles for years and years due to my eating disorder. Then I (surprisingly) got pregnant and my cycle returned when my daughter was 18-months-old. So I had never had a cycle as a runner. I forgot that you had posted about the Diva Cup, but I have another friend who just proclaimed how wonderful it is and seeing the other comments here I’m reminded that I should perhaps look into it.

  • ali September 15, 2014, 9:13 pm

    I feel like this is one of those instances when studies don’t tell the whole story. Many women can continue on just fine with exercise, work, commitments, etc when they have their period, but despite the studies that tell us we aren’t a “delicate flower”, many of us cannot. It’s not just about athletic performance or the type of pad or tampon we wear. I have extremely heavy, painful, and long (10-12 day) periods which typically keep me out of school (when I was younger) and work. Just standing up is an issue. It’s not that I have a low pain tolerance (I’ve broken my arms three times and didn’t even realize it, I laughed 2 weeks ago when I sliced my thumb and had to get stitches), it’s that it is just that symptomatic. I am now on medication to simply stop my period because it’s either all or nothing. I don’t think running a race with your period is the same for everyone and I’ll never be able to run during mine but I hope some people can benefit from the suggestions you posed.

    BTW, people still call their period shark week? Why can’t we just call it what it is and not minimize the topic? Periods are a huge issue for a lot of women and not just for moodiness. Sorry…pet peeve of mine after all I’ve been through with mine. Calling it shark week makes me feel like i should just buck up and deal with it when that’s not really being fair to those that don’t have lighter and shorter (relatively of course) periods.

  • Elizabeth September 16, 2014, 9:24 am

    I started seeing an herbalist and Mayan abdominal massage therapist (she does uterine work) after the birth of my first baby. Although I had grown up like “Title IX YEAH!” with regard to not letting my period impact my athletics, she taught me to see things a different way that’s been so helpful in motherhood: “just because I can doesn’t mean I should.” I learned that for me, since I don’t have anything to prove, I could take my “moon” as an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate. I’m very busy and motivated so it feels good to have a week where I can turn some of that off.

    For those struggling with heavy periods, she turned me on to cloth pads (sounds kind of crazy but I actually love them), which she thinks are a better alternative than anything that keeps your vaginal muscles “holding on” during a time of letting out. Her massage therapy in helping my uterus be balanced in my pelvis, the cloth pads, the rest, or some combination have made my periods lighter and easier than ever even after three kids.

    I know that when you have paid for and trained for a big race deciding to instead rest during that time isn’t very practical, but I thought I’d share my experience because it may help others in general.

  • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed September 16, 2014, 9:56 am

    I REALLY need to just take the plunge and try the diva cup. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I’m being a wuss about it!

  • Spice Chicken September 19, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Diva Cup, holla! I have used menstrual cups for more than ten years. They are life changing! The Diva Cup is comfortable, leak proof, and discreet. It needs emptying less often than a pad or tampon needs replacing, and it eliminates the need to carry those things around everywhere. I have only needed to purchase two menstrual cups in 10+ years, spending maybe $75. It would be easy to spend that much *per year* on pads or tampons.

  • Kelli May 4, 2015, 6:18 pm

    How does the diva cup hold up,with extremely heavy period like can’t leave the house heavy?

    • Caitlin May 4, 2015, 6:19 pm

      It holds a lot of liquid – so you may just have to change it more regularly than every 12 but I bet it’s better than a super tampon.

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