A typical marathon training plan is 16 weeks and that is time spent running after building a solid base. For most people, getting ready for a marathon can take a year. This includes Harvard graduate, Kiran Ghandi, who ran the London Marathon in April.
In case you haven’t been following what’s trending in social media, Kiran’s story is. She has made several statements along the lines that she got her period the night before the marathon and thought it would be too uncomfortable to run with a tampon; she decided to free bleed and raise awareness for women who don’t have access to tampons and pads.
I don’t buy it. From the start, she and her friends raised money for breast cancer, one of the charities supported by the marathon. But nothing was said about raising awareness for women who are unable to obtain sanitary products. To me, it seems more that this became a charity excuse that she was using to escape some of the criticism she has faced for “free bleeding”.
Any woman running a marathon has to be prepared for her period. Somewhere in the weeks, months or year of training for that 26.2 mile race, we are bound to have it. In the same way that we train through snow, rain and heat so that we can be ready to race in all kinds of weather, we also run with our period. That gives us the opportunity to try different tampons or pads and there are lots of choices. And then we get ready for the unexpected. When I ran the Boston Marathon, I boarded the bus to the start line with pads in my bag – just in case – and was relieved when I decided that I could run without them; if I did get a “surprise”, a first aid tent would probably have a tampon or pad for me. In a menopausal year, when my period would completely throw me off-guard, I gave my husband a ziplock bag with a pad, running skirt and change of underwear and clear orders to meet me at a few check-ins along the marathon course; fortunately, I didn’t need his “support” and he could cheer me along instead. There are some women who are fortunate enough to know when they are going to get their period. I know a few who have been on the pill and changed their dosage so that they could completely avoid their period on marathon week. As women, we need to plan. We can assume that 1 in 4 women go to any start line with their own choice of “gear”. As runners, we need to be prepared for the unexpected.
When I explained the Ghandi story to people (men and women) I know, the general consensus was disapproval. There were a few who praised Ghandi’s confidence and “motive”, but most felt it was inappropriate. The London Marathon was raising awareness for breast cancer and Ghandi’s fundraising was directed toward that; drawing attention to her period distracted from the marathon’s charity. A few raised the concern of blood being a biohazard but agreed that there was probably minimal contact with Ghandi’s menstrual blood, making it a non-issue. The greatest discussion surrounded social norms. In our first world countries – England, Canada, The United States – we aren’t ready to see women bleed in the open and I’m quite sure that many of the spectators felt embarrassment or shock when they saw Ghandi’s capris and her gradually increasing red dot. I can’t help but feel for the runners, male and female, who ran near her during the last miles of the race. They’re tired, their minds are playing mental games and they’re facing Ghandi’s mess. This is selfish. She did not consider the runners around her. How would you react if you were behind? And third world countries? We’re pretty sure that the citizens of those nations don’t want to watch a woman bleed either. And if they don’t have access to the same hygiene products that we do, they would have their own ways such as rags to deal with menstruation.
Women can run with their periods. Of the almost 17 000 women who finished the London Marathon, we can estimate that 4 250 also had their periods. But they didn’t need to free Flo to show how tough they are. Call me old fashioned but the strongest women are the ones who face their period and get on with their day, whether or not they are running a marathon.