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.
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 Cup. You 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?