This blog is going to get graphic and detailed, so if you can’t handle reading about a woman’s female issues you may want to skip this one. I do highly recommend you read this if you are a woman or know of a woman that runs. I will also discuss a few female solutions to some non-running related issues that a woman can face such as BV (Bacterial Vaginosis). Good info if you can handle the blog.
The time of the month affects some women more severely than others and I am one of the unfortunate women that it can knock me to my knees. When you become a runner and enter more and more races it is inevitable that you will be running/racing on a particularly difficult day. This has happened to me many times as you may have read about in my race report (Tunnel Hill). I would like to describe what happens and then how to battle the issues. First off is the debilitating cramps that feel like an alien is twisting your intestines from the inside of your body. That goes well with a sudden cramp that is so intense that I have actually passed out, always in the worst places to do so like a restaurant, airport, people’s home. The blood loss can make you very lethargic and weak which does not work well during an ultra-race. This is all in addition to feeling uncomfortable, cranky, not sleeping well, irritable at a drop of a hat, starving or no appetite, SO BLOATED, achy breasts, back pain, emotional, and angry to name a few of the main feelings we experience. It is a pretty miserable experience and I would have surgery to have a partial hysterectomy in a heartbeat if I could find a doctor who would do it (no kids and my age=NO), and if I could afford it. I would get another job to have it done. That is how much the problems related to menstruation affects my quality of life.
So how do you deal with all this and still put on a smile, run your race, and have an amazing experience? Well, this takes some experience and practice to overcome. Due to the cramps that are so painful, I have to take Ibuprofen to prevent passing out. This is critical and I carry Ibuprofen everywhere for when those moments creep up on me. It is the only thing that helps the cramps and is essential to take when the bad cramps hit. Ibuprofen is a blood thinner and that makes managing the flow even more of a challenge. When you run it gets everything moving and flowing even more so don’t count on not having a problem….it will happen. My first piece of advice is to use a DIVA cup. You can get them on Amazon and don’t even feel them after you insert them. The Diva cup will require a bathroom with a sink to use so make sure your race has these facilities. You can leave a diva cup in for an extended period of time which is a little easier than a tampon. Read the directions so you are aware of how it works. You will have to figure out how they work on your own, sorry. You can also use tampons if you have access to bathrooms or port-o-potties. It is not fun to run with a pad but is necessary if you have a heavy few hours and you know you are going to go through a tampon or diva cup. I have made the mistake of thinking the Diva cup would be enough and have had some embarrassing moments in the race. In the instances where you bleed through your pants, there is not a whole lot you can do but to keep going.
I always bring a change of clothes, or few, to change out of if accidents happen. I put them in a little backpack and give it to Mark or my crew to give me during the race when I need to change. Always wear black…hides the accidents better or at least until you can change. When these issues occur I will take my time to go to the restroom and change clothes. I feel so much better after I get all cleaned up and ready to race again. If you are not racing to win or place then I find it better to be comfortable. The good thing about all the menstrual pain is that it makes us tough and able to handle the pain you encounter during ultras. Women have to handle this pain every month so we seem to be able to push through the pain and discomfort of a difficult race. Men can as well of course, but women do have the monthly practice for sure. For the record, I do not think that women are better racers or runners than men. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
You may be weak because of an Iron deficiency. This happens from blood loss and is very prone to female endurance athletes. I found this out the hard way when I was feeling so tired and weak while training for a race a year and a half ago. I went to the doctor and had blood work and sure enough, my iron was very low. I started taking an Iron supplement and have been good to go since. I feel it when my iron is getting low and am sure to take iron around my menstrual cycle time and close to race dates. So be sure to take Iron if you are a woman and do any sort of endurance activities for a prolonged period of time. I also take a Maca supplement that helps a lot with regulating your mood and hormones. The great side effect of Maca is that it increases your sex drive. You can buy it on Amazon for less than $15:
Hormones are an issue and seem to be a little more extreme during these times. Just plan for them and know they will come. This will include some major highs and lows during the race. Bring a few things to handle it easier when the wall hits. Bring caffeine, food, a pacer, chocolate, or whatever you crave. Most of the time when I hit ‘the wall’ I just need to talk out some feelings or emotions and then I’m good to keep going. It’s ok to express your emotions and they will pass quickly. The harder you try to hold them in the stronger they will come out, especially during an ultra. It’s ok to be upset, emotional, angry, or whatever you feel. Get it out and get back on track. Or write things down in the notes section of your phone so you can let them go and worry about them later. Notes really help.
What to wear as a female runner? Wear what you train in and what is most comfortable. I wear a sports bra that is not too tight and is usually cotton. Bras that are tight will restrict your breathing too much and become uncomfortable after a while. Be sure you train in it first so you don’t chafe. I prefer a shirt that is not too tight and helps me feel I can move easier. I like to have my hair in a ponytail and use a band to keep my hair down. ‘Bondi bands’ are the best and doesn’t slip off my head, but there are many good brands out there. A visor is also good to wear and I’ll put it on over my band. Most races are warm outside so the visor works better for ventilation on your head and to keep the sun out if you want to avoid sunglasses which I usually do.
Underwear! Should you wear underwear or go commando? I have tried both ways and both seem to work so go with your preference. I prefer to wear a thong and have a few that I know will not chafe that I will race in. Commando is good too but be sure you use lube so you don’t chafe. I like coconut oil to prevent chafing and apply it everywhere….yes, everywhere. That includes the armpits, butt cheeks, bra area, and in-between the legs. Coconut oil is great because it lasts a long time, is not powdery white, and does not irritate my skin. You can also keep a little tiny container of coconut oil in your pack to reapply if you need to. Be sure you shave before a race. I have discovered that if you don’t shave before a race that you will chafe, even with coconut oil. I’ll shave the night before a race, or preferably, the morning of the race. The smoother the better and that leads to less chafing, very important.
When and where to go to the restroom during a long race can be a challenge, especially for women. It’s good to make sure you are urinating on a regular basis to make sure everything is functioning properly. If you notice you have stopped urinating then let a medical person know and that could be a sign of a serious internal problem. I prefer to go on the trail as I feel the urge. I’ll make sure no one is around and then take care of business right off the trail and keep going. I’ll use a port-o-potty if one is available but it is usually quicker to go in the woods and keep moving. This has taken practice to master but once you go a few times it isn’t too bad at all. They do make a female urinating device (by GoGirl) for woman that is silicone and can be used while you stand up. You can buy one for $12 on Amazon and I have tried it but don’t like to carry it with me so I don’t use it, it’s an option though. Here is the link:
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV):
Here is a helpful piece of advice for any woman that has ever dealt with odor down below. After a lot of research and experimentation, I would like to share with you what I have learned on this rather embarrassing subject. Be sure to see your doctor for any medical issues or concerns of course. This is written as an idea and from what I have learned on the issue. You don’t have to be a runner to benefit from this information. Ladies, if you have ever had an unpleasant odor below the belt and have ruled out a serious medical problem such as a yeast infection then it could be bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is very common and is only an unpleasant odor caused by an imbalance in the PH in that area. There should not be any pain or discomfort, just the odor. I lived with it for years and tried everything to clear it up and nothing worked until I discovered how to fix the PH imbalance that was causing the problem. You are not doing anything wrong or are unclean to cause this issue so don’t blame yourself or hygiene. I wish someone had told me many years ago what it was and how to fix it so I hope I can help a few ladies out by this way to fix it.
All you have to do is get some boric acid capsules and they will clear up the imbalance. You can buy pre-made boric acid capsules on Amazon or you can make your own. I prefer to make my own. Here is the link:
Or you can get the supplies and make them yourself. Here are the supplies you need:
Here is how you put them together and use them: (best tutorial)
I would like to stress that you should not ingest (swallow) boric acid. It can be toxic and dangerous if you do so. Watch the tutorial and be safe about it. I hope this helps. Feel free to contact me with any further questions on the topic if you need to. It will cost you less than $30 and last you 2-3 years. You only have to insert one when you notice your scent being off. I also use one after my menstrual cycle when the PH can be out of whack. I typically use 3-5 a month and have not had a problem since. Hope this all helps!