Maria Pali: Marathon Running with Your Period

Running with your period

I first came across the idea of environmentally friendly sanitary care back in the 1990’s via the Women’s Environmental Network. They had a nifty sewing pattern to make simple sanitary pads using a plate as template. The idea stuck in my head but it was when I was on a six month trip to India and ended up spending great chunks of it wild camping in the tribal heartlands of Orissa and Madyhur Pradesh that I realised that I simply had to be a responsible tourist. India does not have an infrastructure to deal with waste and anything that the cows can’t eat, (and you’d be surprised what a cow will eat) the Dalits or untouchables scrape up off the road to burn. And so I gave myself a nice little sewing project and made my own pads to use. Sadly segregation of women during menstruation still occurs in India, often in highly unsanitary huts because they are considered unclean. It’s common practice with the Khond tribal people whom I spent time amongst. I would certainly not have met any menstruating women, even if I was ‘unclean’ myself.

Those pads lasted years and my current set of homemade pads have been washed a reused for at least 10 years. They don’t seem to have a use by date. In 2003 I went on another epic backpacking tour of South America and as I’d recently heard about menstrual cups, I decided to purchase one. And so started my affair with the Mooncup and I can vividly remember taking a bottle of water into a field of corn in Bolivia and pouring out blood onto the roots of a plant and feeling proud that I was nourishing the earth rather than polluting it.

I’d like to be able to say the Mooncup changed my life, but it’s not been the perfect solution for me. I have really heavy periods and am prone to sudden flooding of large quantities of blood in the first 2 or 3 days. So I have to wear my pads alongside the cup because of leakages. I also had sizing issues because I’m very small and despite being a mature woman, Mooncup advised me that I might try changing to the smaller cup size. This seems to fit better, but the smaller cup needs changing more often. The Mooncup has made me aware that I really do have very heavy periods.

Taking up running however has changed my life and positively affected my periods. They only began to regulate when I started running seriously at 45 years of age although I suspect that at 51 years of age, I’m perimenopausal as they’ve started to become erratic again and I’ve been having a lot of night sweats. They are also very much less painful since I’ve been a runner. I find that I can still run well during a period but when premenstrual I’m sure I’m slower and my body feels heavy and my back aches and I have to grind my way through the miles.

I spent a lot of time researching running and periods when I first became a runner as it was a topic that affected me and every woman on a monthly basis. I’m hope things have improved but I was a bit shocked as a rooky runner wanting to know more to find so little on running websites and magazines about it. There’s plenty on the need for a sports bra but it’s not uncommon to go to a section on women’s running and find nothing about menstruation. Women’s health and running and yet often nothing about menstruation. …Seriously? Are these pages written or edited by men obsessed with the firm breast but still finding menstruation a taboo subject?

In those few years I’ve run 120 marathons and still counting. Last year I became one of a dozen or so women in the UK to run 52 marathons in 52 weeks. I now have a best marathon time of 3.36 which I’m pretty proud of and intend to beat that in 2016. I’ve also run many ultra distances and plan to run my first 100 mile distance this year.

I guess I’ve run a fair few marathons whilst menstruating. It’s really tricky for me in the first two or three days as even if I’ve just washed and changed my Mooncup, it may not last the distance. I can’t be stopping mid race to get a bottle of water and go through the process of washing my cup so I tend to wear a towel and have to carry an extra towel too. So not quite the TV image of a happy woman wearing white pants for me when I’m running. If you’ve experienced a leakage while running, it’s not pretty or fun and can cause dreadful chafing. I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t have my period during my 100 miler when I’ll be out running for at least 24 hours. I need to think about it and make it part of my race plan. It’s an extra thing that every woman runner has to consider so I’d be interested to hear how others deal with it.

Maria Pali is a member of the 100 Marathon Club and Vegan RunnersUK. She is a massage therapist based in Brighton. Her website is

Read more on the Mooncup Blog

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