Running A Marathon With A Side Of Womanly Shame

by Casey McPike
Originally Published: 
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A desperate search for a valid reason to have a childfree weekend, combined with some sort of downhill-slide-to-40 crisis saw me signing up for an out-of-town marathon. My lofty goals were downgraded to a half marathon after I hurt my leg, although I didn’t mind much as it gave me great pleasure to say I had a “sports-related injury” as if I was someone who sports often enough to sustain a sporty injury.

With my parents looking after the girls, my husband and I set off on what I’d started imagining as a weekend of drinking and eating with a 21-kilometer jog slotted in. I’d usually rather give birth again than endure a five-hour car journey through winding scenery, but without kids it was pure joy. We had uninterrupted conversations the whole way. No one whined. No one threw up. No Wiggles music was played. No one demanded snacks. Actually that last one isn’t true—I demanded we stop and get a Snickers bar, just so I could eat chocolate in the car without hiding my head in my handbag.

After picking up my race pack and heading out for dinner (without putting anyone to bed first!), we had an actual full night’s sleep, and I decided that out-of-town runs were the way forward.

Then, while nipping into portable toilets for the traditional pre-race nervous wee, I discovered my body had decided to grant me with an unexpected period, just for LOLs. Band-aids, gel shots, iPod, and headphones were in my bag, but not a tampon to be found.

After swearing quite a bit, I explained my plight to my husband, and we sought out the first-aid station and patiently waited as the man in front of me was offered an array of options to help with his crotch-chafing issue. “Do you have any tampons?” I quietly asked the first-aid lady. Flummoxed, she turned to first-aid lady number two, and they had a whispered exchange: “Do we have any…tampons?” “No, I don’t think we have… that sort of thing.” I mean, they were being perfectly nice in their embarrassment, but there was an air of bewilderment, so I almost felt compelled to explain: “Look, lady, it’s day 17 of my cycle, so I’m just as surprised by this as you are.”

Red-faced and starting to panic, I furtively peered at bags belonging to women of childbearing age in the hopes of spotting one of those little flip-top boxes of tampons that have jaunty “We market menstruation as fun and girly! But it’s also gross, so you can pretend this box has something other than a sanitary product in it” designs on them. My husband actually offered to go and ask nearby females if they had any “feminine products,” and I love him so much for that…and am fairly certain he loves me even more for declining that kind offer.

The absurdity of the situation struck me: Why wasn’t I just shouting out, “Hey! Can anyone spare a tampon?” It’s not like runners and supporters would start screaming, “Unclean! She’s cursed! Drag her from this gathering place of men and women and hide her in a shed for five to seven days!”

I’m lucky to live in a developed country—the first country in the world to give women the vote, I’m 36 years old, and the mother of two daughters, yet I was hot-faced with shame because it’s somehow less confronting to talk about some dude’s nut rash than some chick’s period.

With the start gun about to sound, I decided to chance it and hope black running pants would see me through. The guy making encouraging announcements over the loudspeaker informed us that “over 60% of runner entrants this year are women!” which sent me off on a hissing tirade to my husband about how that made #TamponGate even worse, and how if fucking men got periods there’d be fucking tampons everywhere, and they’d be fucking free. But it was a quiet hissing tirade, because female shame. (Side note: I suspect the high percentage of female entrants is because the course ended at a vineyard. A run that ends with guilt-free wine is a run worth doing).

For the first part of the run, I reflected on what a whinging bitch I was being and sternly told myself to get over it. “You call yourself a feminist!” I admonished myself. “Yes, I am,” I whimpered back, “but I don’t want to prove a point with my lady parts like London Period Marathon Runner Lady, or that woman who knits from wool she stores up her vag!” (However, I should make it clear that I really respect the messages they’re sending). I’m not a lover of periods and won’t pretend to be. Each one worsened my endometriosis as a teenager, and the arrival of each one through most of my early 30s made me cry because it confirmed I was not pregnant yet again. The only time I’ve ever loved my period was when it would arrive in time to get me out of swimming at school and that one time I forgot my minipill when our second baby was 6 months old and wasn’t sleeping (like, at all).

I just wanted to run a half marathon, nail a bottle of wine at the end, and not worry that I was going to cross the finish line looking like an extra from that scene in Carrie because it’s too embarrassing to ask strangers for a tampon! Is that so much to ask?

My body must have realized how royally fucked off I was by #BonusPeriod and put the brakes on the whole situation, which left me to enjoy running through some seriously spectacular scenery and then see one of my best friends cross the finish line of her full marathon. Then we got to nail that bottle of wine I’d been visualizing ever since 10 minutes into the run when I realized that, while a half marathon isn’t as far as a full marathon, it is still quite a long way.

Bonus points forever go to my husband. While I was casually jogging through vineyards and olive groves with a few thousand people, he went shopping so he could meet me at the finish line with everything an unprepared lady might need. I’m beyond thrilled he’s my co-pilot in guiding our two little girls to becoming confident women who will ask around unashamedly if they need a tampon.

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