In 1967, Kathrine Switzer signed up to run the Boston Marathon. With a hood over her head, she ran for three miles before anyone realized she was a woman, the first woman to run Boston as an official participant. A race official tried to pull her number off her jersey, but Switzer persisted in her race. Now, girls and women run a variety of races, just like their male counterparts. Unfortunately, unlike their male peers, female runners occasionally have to cope with a menstrual period during track or other racing seasons.
The menstrual cycle is the process by which a woman's body prepares for pregnancy. Hormones trigger the uterus to build a thick, spongy lining in preparation for a fertilized egg. If a fertilized egg does not attach to the lining, the uterus sheds the lining. The process of shedding the lining is called menstruation, or your period. Your menstrual cycle is timed from the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next, and the average cycle takes 28 days. Normal cycles range from 21 to 35 days. Some women and teenagers experience heavy, crampy periods that can interfere with their athletic goals.
Long track days, heavy periods and skimpy running shorts can increase your stress for race day. Pack a variety of tampon sizes and pads. Keep an eye on the schedule and progress of events. Visit the restroom to change out your tampon or pad before your warm-up. If race day falls on a heavy flow day, consider doubling up a tampon with a pad.
Hormonal birth control can manipulate your menstrual cycle to reduce the number of periods you have each year, the duration and intensity of your periods and the timing of your periods. One method to skip your periods includes taking active birth control pills each day and skipping the week of placebo pills. Depo-provera, Implanon and the Mirena IUD are progesterone-only methods that promote thinning of your uterine lining and can cause light or absent periods. Talk to your health-care provider about hormonal contraceptive options and how you could manipulate your cycles to prevent heavy periods during track season.
Women who run often risk dropping their body fat percentages to unsafe levels, especially if they do not eat enough. When this happens, periods cease and runners have an increased risk of developing weak and brittle bones. This is known as the female athlete triad. If you find that your periods stop on their own during track season and you are not on hormonal contraception, make sure you are eating enough calories to fuel your workouts. You should also consult your doctor.
- KathrineSwitzer.com: The Real Story of Kathrine Switzer’s 1967 Boston Marathon
- TeensHealth: Female Athlete Triad
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: Menstruation and Menstrual Problems: Condition Information
- Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine; Menstrual Manipulation: Options for Suppressing the Cycle; C. Hicks, et al; July 2010