Does Free-Bleeding During a Marathon Really Help Women?

Before you read this post, I want to start by saying that I don’t actually have strong feelings about Kiran Gandhi’s free-bleeding London Marathon. I really don’t. More power to her for doing what she wants with her body and shedding some light on important issues. That said, I wanted to voice the opinion of how Gandhi may’ve missed the mark on this one. Most women I’ve spoken to about this have reacted with “Ewww…why?” but the majority of news outlets have framed the story differently. I don’t disagree with the coverage, but I don’t fully agree either. Here’s my perspective. I am totally open to other opinions. Did I miss the mark?  

On the morning of my goal race, the Marine Corps Marathon, I got my period. Crap, I thought. By no means an ideal situation. But I lined up and ran my race. I wasn’t about to put four months of early-morning long runs to waste because of my period.

I ended up running a PR, and it was awesome. That’s not to say I wasn’t doubled over with stomach pain afterward. That part wasn’t so awesome. I was still pumped that I’d run my fastest marathon ever given the circumstances.

So when I read about Kiran Gandhi, a 26-year-old who ran the London Marathon free-bleeding, I was a little confused. On her blog, she says she got her period the night before race day, and she was afraid that running with a tampon could be uncomfortable. During her months of training for this marathon, had she never run wearing a tampon or pad? That seemed nearly impossible.

But it was more than that. She writes that she viewed this as an opportunity to raise awareness for women in developing countries who don’t have access to sanitary products or live in countries where having your period is considered tabboo. I do applaud Gandhi for bringing to light those issues. They need to be addressed. But you can still be an excellent example of a woman who can finish her first marathon while on her period without literally bleeding down your leg.

Gandhi goes on to say that women shouldn’t have to hide their periods, saying the fact that women can’t talk about their periods openly—regardless of where they live—is a problem that needs fixing. Gandhi seems to think her act was a way to “transcend oppression” and to “run a marathon in whatever way you want. On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose.

“As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don’t exist,” she added in her blog. “By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50 percent of us in the human population share monthly.”

Since when did wearing a tampon become a symbol of oppression?

The fact that she brought up the issue in such a blunt manner only perpetuates the stigma of getting your period—yes, it’s gross, yes, it’s uncomfortable. But most women just deal with it. And why wouldn’t we? Isn’t that the point? Having to manage a totally natural, albeit annoying, bodily function and still be able to tackle the marathon proves we, as women, are pretty badass, right? Isn’t that the message we want to send to countries who ostracize women during their periods?

During my marathon, I did my best to channel other women I knew who had raced—and raced well—while on their periods. Paula Radcliffe broke the world marathon record while enduring period cramps. In college, I witnessed one of my teammates, who always seemed to get her period during big meet weekends, overcome debilitating cramps to go and win her races.

Not to mention other runners don’t want to look at it. It’s unhygienic and in some ways, disrespectful to the other runners. We’d rather not watch someone vomit during a race, but it happens. That’s not controllable. Containing your period is.

Just because it’s a thing only women get doesn’t mean we should share it with the world. In this case, hiding it is absolutely OK. This is why we have bathroom stalls. Sure, I might feel embarrassed to have it leak onto my pants, but who wouldn’t? I’m proud and amazed that my body has the ability to do what it does. If dealing with my period once a month allows me to one day have babies, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. And I’m beyond grateful that I live in a world where tampons and menstrual cups and super-absorbent pads exist. Those things enable me to run.

I feel like there are much more important topics to address in regards to sexism. (Equal pay, anyone?) Managing my period isn’t one of them.

(Also, the fact that I’m totally OK writing about this private matter in public proves we’ve at least made some progress toward advancing women and women runners.)

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9 Comments

  1. I applaud you for trying to make this deeper than Gandhi did. My biggest issue with her “awareness” campaign and the surrounding media coverage was that it seemed to trivialize the very real and complicated struggle women in developing countries face in regards to their periods. While Gandhi is granted access to tampons/pads/cups and CHOSE not to wear one, women in some parts of Africa are literally wringing out used pads for reuse to hide their menstruation and will miss school if they do not have a way to hide their bleeding. In some countries where sanitary pads have only recently been introduced, girls are told that the ancient, often plant-based methods they’ve used to deal controlling the flow is unsanitary and should not practiced (which may or may not be the case). So indeed, it is a travesty that women are harassed for something natural–but I don’t think these women are asking for acceptance of stained behinds. And I agree that, in the developed world, most of us do not want to run around (or just walk around) without a way to control or hide it. We’re not being shamed–we’re just trying to get through those annoying few days. To me, she did little to advance the conversation because there was no research done on the issue(s?) she decided to support. It’s a missed opportunity. So thanks for your thoughtful interpretation!

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  2. Great story but yes – gross! You did a great job writing it – yup you’re all grown up. Luv u! (And as always – so proud! )

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  3. To each their own, but at the end of the day, we live in a country that has tampons and pads available so I’m going to use them and be thankful. Running a marathon alone makes us sweaty enough- I always body glide the shit out of my upper thighs… Just wondering if having a free flowing period would make chaffing worse? Plus staying clean and dry is important for our lady parts in order to avoid infection such as UTI and Yeast infections… At the moment I am expecting my first baby and now more than ever I am in awe of what the female body is capable of. I love being a woman.

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  4. She wore a tampon but got rid of it after some time for some reason. I don’t think it was ‘premeditated’ activism. Just something she thought of at that moment. It is, ofcourse, gross. As gross as male athletes who pee on their bicycle during long distance cycling. Either ways, strong reactions to this has brought about a much needed conversation about the issue. I think it turned out well in the end.

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    1. From what I could tell, she didn’t wear a tampon at all on race day, and yes, it appears not to have been premeditated. I agree there are good things that came out of it as far as bringing to light important issues. I just thought it was a bit much to infer that all women are “oppressed” because of their periods. But thanks for your input! A good conversation was my main goal of posting. No one is entirely in the right or wrong in this case.

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      1. Hi. I read up on this and she DID plan it before the race. I am finding this totally hilarious but in a good way! Haha.

  5. I reckon it would have been more uncomfortable (not to mention the possible chafing) being damp down there, rather than stemming it. And yes, ewwww!

    Reply

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