You don’t need me to tell you that being on your period is a right old pain (in more ways than one!), but if you’re a runner, like me, it can really make a noticeable difference to both your physical and mental running ability.
I don’t suffer with bad or heavy periods, they tend to come and go each month with only really a few minor tummy twinges, so I’ve never really paid too much attention to it until a couple of weeks ago when I went out on a particularly bad run. It was a couple of days before my period (not that I had really twigged at the time) and I was feeling a bit bluergh, you know…sort of bloated, frumpy and a bit can’t be bothered to do anything other than sit on the sofa in my PJ’s, scoffing chocolate and watching TOWIE, but it was running night and I knew I would feel better afterwards, so I forced myself out.
And yes, I did it, but boy was it much harder than normal. My legs felt like lead, I felt heavy and sluggish and worst of all for the whole 30 minutes my head was telling me NO! Then to hit that final nail in an already cranky coffin, Strava hadn’t started, meaning there was no recorded proof that I’d done the run and no little ‘yay you’ve done it’. What a load of pants!
I went home feeling even more grouchy than before, convinced that my physical ability had seriously slipped and that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this running lark after all.
Two days later, lo and behold Aunty Flo arrived, which explained EVERYTHING! But it begged me to ask myself the question, when I’m on my period should I even bother trying to run, or am I perhaps better off just giving myself a week off?
Stages Of Your Cycle
There are four different stages to your monthly cycle and each one affects your running in a different way.
Let’s start with the day you stop menstruating, this is known as the…
The follicular phase starts on the day your bleeding stops, which if you have what is defined as a ‘regular cycle’ will be anywhere between day 7 and day 22 of your cycle. From this point on your oestrogen levels slowly start to rise and the follicles in your ovary begin to mature.
But what does this mean for your running?
Well, the shift in hormones causes your metabolism to start using up fat rather than carbs as its main energy provider. I’m sure a lot of women out there are thinking ‘yay fatburning!’, and rightly so because if you go for a run now you are going to be burning fat like no tomorrow. At the beginning of this phase, when oestrogen levels aren’t yet too high, the body is able to break down glycogen a lot more easily, for quicker more efficient energy. You may notice that you run faster, stronger and just generally feel more positive in your runs during this phase, as though you could literally do and achieve anything.
Take advantage of this phase because as oestrogen levels rise, we start to enter…
Ovulation is when the eggs leave the ovaries and considering they are the WHOLE point of us women having periods, you’ll be surprised to learn that ovulation only actually last between 12 to 48 hours!
During ovulation you shouldn’t really notice too much difference in your running, however one thing to pay attention to is that as progesterone levels start to rise so too does your body temperature, so it’s really important you stay well hydrated. If you are prone to water retention, you may also notice that you start to feel a bit bloated, but exercise actually helps with this and should definitely be encouraged.
On the flip side, if you are trying to get pregnant, experts recommend that you don’t over-exercise as this can result in a drastic reduction of oestrogen and progesterone levels, which may delay or even stop ovulation altogether.
Progesterone and oestrogen levels continue to rise until they hit their peak, ovulation is complete and we then go into the…
If ever you’re going to experience a bad run, it will be during this, the luteal phase. Whereas during the follicular phase the body went for the fat, during the luteal it’s after all your protein, which is bad news for fit folk. You are likely to feel bloated, hot, irritable constipated, emotional, yep…all those PMS symptoms we know so well. Which means your run will feel…
- Harder – because you feel sluggish and heavy (lead legs).
- Hotter – because plasma levels drop and it is the plasma that allows us to sweat.
- Harder to get your breath – because of slower blood flow.
- Slower – because of the build up of lactic acid.
- More mentally challenged – because you don’t feel your best and your gremlin comes out to play!
However, as we all know, exercise helps with the release of mood-boosting endorphins, so if you can fight through all of that, you may actually come out the other side feeling a whole lot better – both physically and mentally!
Which leads us onto the messy bit…
When your period finally arrives, you may still be experiencing cramps and heaviness, but with it there also come a sense of release. And whilst you may not think this is a good time to run, it’s actually incredibly beneficial. After the first couple of days the pre-menstrual bloating and the lethargy and general ‘mehness’ starts to disappear and as hormone levels start to rise again so too does your speed, performance and desire to run.
However, if you experience heavy periods, where the blood loss, for whatever reason, is higher than average it is likely you will feel even mare fatigued due to a higher loss of iron. If this is the case, it is worth seeing your GP, as it could be that you are anaemic and you may be prescribed iron tablets to help with this.
And of course, if you do have a heavy flow, there is the worry that you may leak. It may have been OK for Kiran Gandhi during the London Marathon in 2015, who ran without any sanitary protection during her period to help raise awareness for women who lack access to feminine care products, but I’m not entirely sure it’s gonna be OK running along the Southbank! Plus, it’s not just the embarrassment of turning into a walking advertisement for tampons, there’s the fact you might ruin your expensive fancy running leggings too.
We’re all different right, so when I asked the question ‘should I run during my period?’ the answer I get isn’t going to be the same as every other woman out there.
For me personally, I know it’s fine to run during my period, in fact it helps and makes me feel better…afterwards. But what I do need to be careful of, what I do need to stop myself from doing, is being so god damn tough on myself. I need to accept that when I’m on my period it isn’t going to be my fastest, longest or easiest run, but a run is a run none the less and that should be rewarded in itself.
But maybe you think you’re someone who would benefit from taking a week off during your period, and that’s fine too. Do whatever makes you feel comfortable and whatever works for you, just make sure you’re not using your period as an excuse to get out of running!
Most women either keep track of their cycle or instinctively know when their time of the month is, but I would suggest keeping a running diary as well to help note down information such as time, distance ran etc. but also to write down how you felt. After a couple of months you’ll notice some correlations between the quality of your runs and where you are in your cycle and perhaps then you won’t be quite so tough on yourself.
How Does Your Period Affect Your Running?
We’d love to hear your experience of running during your period; do you find it tougher or do you find yourself making all kinds of excuses not to get out there? We’d love to hear from you, so get in touch!
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