Running A Marathon While Bleeding Freely Doesn't Advance Female Runners

by Melissa L. Fenton
Originally Published: 
A close-up of four people running a marathon on a sunny day.

As a runner, I’m always encouraged when I read feel good stories about women, young or old, tackling their first big race. Usually they are centered around things like weight loss, overcoming an illness, running in honor of a friend or relative fighting a disease, or raising awareness about a cause or the mission of a nonprofit near and dear to their heart. And then there’s 26-year-old Kiran Gandhi, who ran the London Marathon in April while having her period. Literally, she ran the race while shedding uterine lining. GASP!

I’ve run a marathon on my period. Big whoop. I am woman, hear me roar and let it flow. It’s a natural biological function of the female body, and honestly, it doesn’t need a stage. Sure, it took some strategic race planning, the stashing of tampons in my sports bra, and a keen awareness of where the medical tents and porta-potties were. But was I overcoming some huge hurdle? Nope. The only huge hurdle I had overcome was the months of training prior, when I had to consistently tell myself not to feel guilty for leaving my kids while I went for a sanity-saving run.

But then there’s Gandhi. Did I mention she ran the marathon while bleeding freely? As in, not a feminine protection product to be found within five feet of her lady parts? She wrote on her blog that she decided to run without a tampon to highlight period-shaming and the language surrounding women’s menstrual cycles. “I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day.”

I can’t help but wonder what my grandmother, who grew up in a house with four sisters and no disposable Kotex, would think of this. She would probably think, Why on earth would you not use a product that I would have been overjoyed to have and is now easily available to you? Isn’t that what progress is all about?

I often get confused by how feminism is translated so differently by women. We want equality, we beg for it, women before us spent lifetimes fighting for it, and yet, we have a woman choosing to make a statement about how periods are something we have to overcome every day. I don’t have to overcome it. I have to keep it from spilling out onto my pants, but overcome it? Not so much. It doesn’t oppress me, shame me, make me feel less than, unequal, or disenfranchised. It makes me want French fries, a nap, elastic-waist pants and early menopause. And it also makes me proud to have been given a female body, complete with a uterine lining that can hang out and help me make a baby, or go away when I don’t need it to. It’s menstrual magic, not a menstrual handicap. And being the mother of four sons, I will admit to feeling lucky I get to skirt around the period topic talk. And yet, I haven’t hidden from them the fact that, yes, I have a period, and yes, their wives will have one too, and no, it doesn’t mean we are bedridden, helpless and lying in shame. Now if I had a daughter to explain this to? “Yes, it’s an annoying inconvenience. Does it stop you? Nope. Does the world need to have a period status update? Nope. Is it gross? Well, it sure can be. But luckily we have products for that now. Is it unfair? Well, ask your dad how unfair it is he will never feel a baby kick in his stomach. Next?”

Gandhi went to say, “On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten.” Yep. It totally can, and it totally has. Ever since Kathrine Switzer jumped into the 1967 Boston Marathon, thousands of other female runners have followed her lead. And every year since 2010, the percentage of women who have completed marathons has grown, and in 2013 females made up 57 percent of all finishers. A recent Danish study published even proved that women are 18.61 percent better than men at running with a controlled and consistent pace when comparing results for the first and the last part of the marathon. BOOM.

As a fellow runner, I can be supportive of Gandhi’s effort to tackle a marathon and her own way of trying to raise awareness of a cause she feels is important while she logs her 26.2 miles. But as a female runner on the marathon course, honestly, I just want to be seen as a runner. I am well aware that as a female I may have an issue I need to deal with during the race, but who doesn’t? Everyone has their battles out there. I want to be seen as just another runner, not a woman who is somehow handicapped by her biological functions and must overcome it. Oh, and I’m pretty sure other females (and males) running next to me don’t need to be exposed to my personal bodily fluids. There’s enough of that on a marathon course already. Trust me.

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