Running on Your Period
So, you wake up to cramps, bloating and fatigue. The dreaded monthly visitor has arrived just in time to wreak havoc all over your morning run. If you are miserable, there is no shame in skipping a run. You know your body best, and if powering through sounds about as fun as running over hot coals, then do whatever you need to feel better. (Netflix binge, anyone?) But, what if your period shows up on the day of an important race or you need to log a training run?
If only we could schedule that 5k or marathon to fall on the days we feel refreshed and ready to take on the world, not sluggish, irritable and ready to crawl back in bed with a heating pad. The good news is that the act of running can reduce cramps and help with mood swings with a flood of feel good endorphins. It’s also very likely for menstruating women to PR a race. This is due to a few factors. The body is no longer awash with a slurry of hormones that can drag us down and we are better at converting carbs into energy. The bad news is that it can be hard to get started.
Instead of cursing mother nature for her cruel and unusual punishment, try these tips and tricks:
While this is an obvious one for active people in general, it’s especially important for women about to start their period. It can help with the severity of cramps as well as the water weight associated with bloating. Shoot for the recommended daily amount of 32 ounces. If you are preparing for a race, this is crucial in the few days leading up to it. Think of your hydration intake as a marathon, not a quickie 5k. Sip water throughout the day and cut yourself off 45 minutes before running.
Take an anti-inflammatory
Sometimes H20 just won’t cut it. Over the counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen help by stopping the contractions of the uterine lining that cause cramps. If you know when you are scheduled to start, taking ibuprofen in the days leading up to the start of your period can lessen the blow on day one. If you are running a race, be sure to include a few practice runs so you know how your stomach and body will react.
Pick the right gear
If breast tenderness is a common period symptom for you, then pick an extra supportive sports bra. You don’t want to have to hold up your breasts after a few miles of bouncing in a flimsy sports bra! (Definitely not helpful for your form.) All joking aside, it’s important to have a few different styles in your arsenal to accommodate different days in your cycle. It can also be helpful to wear leggings or shorts with a higher waistband. A low rise can cut into your waistline if you are suffering from bloating and cause additional discomfort. If you are worried about leakage (gasp!) wear black or dark colored bottoms. If even the thought of this happening during a race sends you into a spiral of anxiety, and the worst actually does happen, just think of Uta Pippig as your spirit animal. She won the 1996 Boston Marathon while on her period, which was visible to the crowd. She was in so much pain she almost dropped out four miles in. Trust me, you can run through it!
Try a menstrual cup
Here me out on this one. I know a menstrual cup sounds weird and scary, but can be life changing for a runner. Tampons aren’t always reliable, especially if you have a heavy flow. Also, the act of running can intensify bleeding, making a long run feel more like russian roulette when wearing a tampon or pad. When a menstrual cup is inserted correctly, it can hold up to an ounce. It also only needs to be emptied every 12 hours. If you decide to go this route, be sure to go on a few test runs with it before using it during a race. There’s a slight learning curve for the first few cycles, but the payback is huge. Bonus points: No longer having to buy tampons/pads every month means more money for running clothes.
Keep a running journal
Ever notice that you feel great during a run one day and then terrible the next? This could be largely due to your cycle. Our bodies are constantly dealing with hormones that can make us a speed demon one day and a snail the next. Try to keep a journal making note of performance and anything that sticks out and how the period affects you. Pay special attention to when menstruation starts. If your periods become irregular or disappears altogether, don’t ignore it! Amenorrhea can cause many problems, ranging from low energy to stress fractures. It can have other causes besides running, but if you are training heavily and not able to maintain your weight, it’s possible your body is forgoing it’s normal cycle to save up energy. It’s important to put your health first and talk to your doctor about what’s going on.
Switch up your routine
Your period just started and you are feeling pricklier than a porcupine. You are fantasizing about elbowing the other people on the path. Try something different! Go on a trail run while listening to a self guided meditation. Listen to a podcast, comedy or try a different music genre. Allow yourself to stop and take a leisurely stroll if that’s what feels right. Ask a friend to join you if you usually run solo.
Lastly, don’t forget about self care! Take a bath with epsom salts after your run. Use a heating pad. Sip some tea. Use a massage ball. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad run, crappy race time, or just plain hate every second of it. Remember you are only human and half the running population is right there with you.
Learning to manage the symptoms from your period can make for a better running experience, and dare I say it-even an enjoyable one! If you can run through cramps, you can make it through any run. So pop some advil and throw on your favorite tights and Wonder Woman tank. You can do this!