Running and periods: an athlete challenges the stigma

Athletes like Scotland's Eilish McColgan are trying to encourage a more open conversation about something that all women deal with every month until menopause

August 20th, 2019 by | Posted in Health & Nutrition | Tags: , , , , ,

Managing their period and menstrual cycle, for some women, is just routine–a minor inconvenience that happens over a few days every month. But for others, especially those with a busy racing schedule, it’s not just a major hassle, but occasionally it can seriously affect their performance. This week, in The Scotsman, Scottish middle-distance runner Eilish McColgan, who finished third behind Canada’s Gabriela DeBues-Stafford in the women’s mile in Sunday’s Diamond League race in Birmingham, called out for more openness around the issue.

 

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So I was tempted to just pretend last night didn't happen and continue on that running is all rainbows and unicorns, but then I thought why do athletes avoid their bad days? Everyone loves to boast about the good days – but sometimes we just have shit days! 💩 – 5 days before the race, I picked up a shin injury from absolutely nowhere. Training had been good and then about an hour after I received a text from a UKA physio asking how things were – I got a sharp pain in my shin. (That's voodoo doll sort of stuff..) – I was advised not to race but after 5 days of icing my leg like a lunatic – it started to ease a little. And Michael acted like some sort of magician with a tea spoon, massaging it the night before which reduced the pain too.🧙🏾 I warmed up with my leg essentially gaffer-taped together by K tape & Walmart compression socks and felt it was manageable to race! – During my warm up, I then took my period.. Whichever God created ovaries is an arsehole. 99% of the time when I take my period on race day or a few days before racing/training – I run like dog shit. Feeling heavy, flat and like a walrus trying to run around in circles. 🐳 I took a heap of painkillers to stop my stomach from feeling like a horse was kicking me in the ovaries and set off in the race hoping for a minor miracle to get me round 25 laps. – In all honesty, the shin held up pretty well, I commited to the race and followed the pacer, but my legs were getting heavier and heavier after just a mile. I think I made it to 5 laps to go before calling it a day. I called my mum, cried a little, walked to McDonald's where they refused to serve us at the drive thru because we didn't have a car, proceeded to walk to Safeway and bought a $8.99 Red Velvet cake for my tea before sitting up to 5am feeling sorry for myself and over thinking every day of my life for the last 28 years. I then woke up this morning, posted a picture on Instagram and proceeded to move the f&^$ on! So there you have it – an honest account of a professional athletes life when they have a bit of a shit day! This doesn't even rank in the top 5 shitty days of 2019 so far.. so let's take that as a positive. 😂🤷🏼‍♀️ #realtalk

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The issue is, generally speaking, hidden, except when someone like McColgan talks about it. It comes up from time to time in women’s athletics, and it still causes a stir because of the shame and taboo that many (women as well as men) still attach to the issue of menstruation. Some athletes deal with heavy periods that always seem to start at the most inopportune times. For some, like McColgan, the issue is pain from abdominal cramps and fatigue that can derail a race.

RELATED: Exercising on your period: changing the conversation

The paper recalled McColgan’s Instagram post of May 3 when she talked about dropping out of the 10,000m at Payton Jordan the previous day. She had been battling a shin issue, but she also got her period during the warmup:

 

Photo: Canadian Running

“Ninety-nine per cent of the time when I take my period on race day or a few days before racing/training–I run like dog shit,” McColgan wrote. “Feeling heavy, flat and like a walrus trying to run around in circles. I took a heap of painkillers to stop my stomach from feeling like a horse was kicking me in the ovaries and set off in the race hoping for a minor miracle to get me round 25 laps.

“In all honesty, the shin held up pretty well, I committed to the race and followed the pacer, but my legs were getting heavier and heavier after just a mile. I think I made it to 5 laps to go before calling it a day.”

RELATED: Olympian opens up about getting her period before competition

Many athletes use the birth control pill to regulate, schedule or even eliminate their periods altogether, but not everyone can do so. As McColgan told The Scotsman, “There are so many aspects and one little pill doesn’t fix all because everyone reacts differently.”