This weekend, I ran Autumn 100. It is a 100 mile trail race and I was expecting it to take around 24 hours. The race consists of four 25 mile legs, each one an out and back, and it is centred on Goring-on-Thames. There are toilets at miles 6, 7, 18, 19, 25, 29, 46, 50, 75, 80, 88, 95 and 100. Al-fresco toilet arrangements are a little sparse. The first leg is largely open fields and small villages. The second leg goes through small villages, a golf course, fields and some woodland, but quite a lot of the woodland has steep drops off the edge of the path. The third leg is almost entirely open downland, with nothing more sheltered than a clump of grass. The fourth leg is more open farmland, some residential areas and some narrow paths along the river.
I know this, because three months ago, I looked at my calendar and realised that my period would be on or around the same time as Autumn 100. I considered my options.
Option 1: free bleeding
No. Never going to happen. I understand that bodies secrete and excrete and that it’s all perfectly natural. I also understand that some endurance athletes are perfectly comfortable peeing in their pants mid-race to save themselves some time. I am not one of those athletes (though all power to anyone who is).
Option 2: don’t run the race
Again, never going to happen. The thought only really crossed my mind for completeness.
Option 3: ask my GP for a chemical solution
I did consider this, partly on sanitary grounds. Trail running can be muddy, and going over a stile after 200 other runners means that your hands come into contact with a fair amount of dirt. In the end, I discounted it because I wasn’t willing to try out on race day something that I hadn’t tried in training in case of side effects.
Option 4: find a practical solution which worked for me
For it to work for me, it had to be doable without public nudity and by innuendo only. I-know-that-you-know is one thing. Being explicit is another thing entirely.
One month before race day, I knew it was likely that my period would start the day before (in which case the race would fall firmly on the two heaviest days) or during the race itself. For a shorter race I would have considered pads but for a 24 hour race I didn’t want to add in anything that could chafe. I’ve also found that pad adhesive doesn’t seem to like wicking fabric, and non-wicking fabric rubs my skin raw. I’ve never used a mooncup, so that was too much of an unknown quantity to introduce on race day. That left tampons. Non-applicator tampons are smaller and lighter, but with limited access to hand-washing facilities, felt like the less hygienic option. So the winner in my personal “best feminine hygiene product for a 100 mile trail race” category was Tampax Compak.
Before the race, I wrapped 12 tampons in little black dog-poo bags. This was important to me because it allowed me to talk to my male crew about needing another black bag please, rather than needing another tampon. I also made a schedule (of which more anon) which made the most use of the available loos. That left about three al-fresco stops to deal with.
My solution for those was the large opaque plastic poncho from my Paris Marathon goody bag. It was relatively light, didn’t take up stupid amounts of room, and covered me from head to knee. For the al fresco stops, I donned my poncho, repeated “men are comfortable pissing against trees in broad daylight, you are comfortable doing this” several times, took care of business, and carried on.
In the end, it turned out that a friend of mine was right. Having your period during an ultra really isn’t a problem. In fact, the worst moment was 90 minutes before the race started, when I discovered that I’d leaked all over my (fortunately black) shorts a mere two and a bit hours after getting up. I swore, whipped out my poncho, rinsed my kit through in the hand basin, dried it under the hand drier, amended my schedule to include 2 hourly not 3 hourly pit stops and then swore some more.
And then I went and bagged myself a PB.