Racing a Triathlon. With a Period.

Racing a Triathlon. With a Period.

This is an incredibly hard post for me to write … mainly because it is embarrassing. But it influenced my race and I hope that someone might benefit from the tips I got and what I decided to do.

WARNING to the men in my life who read this blog: It is a girly topic, so bail NOW if you want to! 


Since that line gave it away – my BIG personal first that I mentioned in my Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon race experience – yep, I had my faithful but unpredictable, annoying, monthly visitor with me on race day. So big first olympic triathlon and … extra steps needed to get through the race. 

This wasn’t a completely new thing for me. My PR marathon in New Orleans was on one of the worst days dealing with stomach cramps and everything else that comes with the territory. (And weirdly I’ve had to go with the flow (pun intended) on all my running races this year!) But this was my first experience in a triathlon since I started participating 2 years ago. Strangely, never had to deal with it on long bike rides (shorter trainer rides are easier to deal with). Swimming – I’ve discreetly moved it around to nearby days (with permission from coach) without arousing suspicions. 

So when I realized that race day was going to be my initiation, well … it was time to make a game plan! 

 For the girls: Racing a Triathlon during your period

1. Do not Panic

There is no point in panic. It is a part of life and all you can do is figure out what to do! Some of the best sports performances have been recorded on those days and I had faith in that. It annoyed me no end, and I ranted about it quite a bit to myself. But NO panic. And I didn’t really care much either way, but for the fact that I’d never gone through swimming and then other activities, I was a little concerned about the logistics of making myself secure.

2. Make a Plan

Not something I would go to coach with (I’d die of embarrassment and I can’t still believe I’m writing about this for everyone to read), I was on my own here but I could talk to plenty of other women who had probably faced something similar in their years! I asked in Ironwilled and Women for Tri, the women’s only FaceBook groups.

So the plan was for me to use the portapotty at the last possible minute before the swim for a fresh tampon (super) and then again in T2. I “prepped” the tampon by using body glide very liberally on the string; chaffing from the bike ride was the last thing I wanted! I also had a little aquaphor tube that I planned to carry in my race number belt for that quick nip into the portapotty in T2. (I vetoed the Diva cup since I didn’t want to test it on race day)

3. Watch your Nutrition

From the day that I knew I was going to have to deal with this, I added in an Iron supplement. I doubt it could work magic in just 2 days, but it couldn’t do me any harm either (I have earlier trained through iron supplements when I was dealing with severe anemia. Even now, I tend to go low sometimes and hence I’m always rejected during blood donation camps.). Increasing hydration with electrolytes worked as general pre-race hydration and also to keep me from feeling bloated.

4. Be prepared for the worst

The days are sometimes accompanied by GI distress. I’ve had that especially during running. There was nothing I could do to prepare against period induced GI distress, but just to not be caught unawares and to make sure that everything I ate the day before and during the race was easily digestible. (Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with it)

I also had to deal with the cramping and headaches, but I trusted that race day excitement/nerves would help me through. For the worst unbearable case (which I honestly did not expect to face, I feel soreness around hips but I very rarely have unbearable I-want-to-be-in-bed pain these days), I had an ibuprofen stashed in my bike kit and my run belt. Those of you who know me well know that I avoid painkillers (and other meds), but desperate times might call for desperate measures.

5. Don’t forget the days/week leading up

This was where I missed the mark. I was a MESS the couple of weeks *before* the race. I attributed it wrongly to late hours and extended training and a loving family who pushed the perfect buttons. I had my mini meltdown and I blamed it on me being me and a girly reaction. I never once stopped to consider that part of the mini meltdown was actually because I WAS a girl !

If I had figured it out, I would’ve eaten (more) healthy and added in some ice-cream/chocolate treats, and I would’ve scheduled in some nap time instead of wondering why I was still tired after sleeping from 9:30pm – 4:30am. And I would’ve cut myself some slack instead of being hard on myself for reacting the way I did and for not wanting to do those hill repeats (I did them, of course!)

So come race day, I was prepared. Still annoyed but prepared. Just like I was prepared in all the three sports.

Everything went as planed but I never stopped at T2. The excitement carried me out of T2 before I realized. And then when I did realize, I had to made a call whether to stop or take chances continuing. I took my chances and I had my trusty sparkleskirt as an extra layer of coverage over black tri shorts. (Another score for a skirt!) I had to dash out to the portapotty as soon as I was done though. Mr. FauxTriathlete’s rolled eye reaction at that was enough to tell me that men could never ever understand what us girls go through. 

But we do go through it – the physical and the emotional aspect of it. And we march straight ahead and take on race day #LikeAGirl.

If you are interested in more articles on running/tri during this period –

Have you had your welcome period show up on race day? How do you deal with it?
Have you noticed how your performance was affected during and the days leading up to it?

Today’s Linkups:
Jill Conyers
Tri Talk Tuesday link-up hosted by Cynthia at You Signed up for What?!, Courtney at The TriGirl Chronicles, and Phaedra at Blisters and Black Toenails.
Tuesdays on the Run LinkUp with Patty from My No-Guilt Life, Erika from MCM Mama Runs and April from Run the Great Wide Somewhere 

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  • jillconyers

    Great tips Smitha, for a tri or any race/competition. You completed a tri and that totally rocks! Thanks for sharing with the fitfam!

    • Thanks Jill. I love being part of the fitfam 🙂

  • I never even thought about this- I knew that once I started racing the cramps and yuck would go away. And they always did. I ran a double Grand Canyon crossing on my period and countless other runs/triathlons. It really never crossed my mind that I “should” be performing differently during this “time” versus any other….

    • I wish I was as lucky!! I’ve had steady mild cramps to pulsing intense ones. Luckily didn’t have to deal with any this time. But it has sometimes been enough to stop me in my tracks. Not to mention the chaffing !

  • I am so glad that you wrote this! I completely stress about having mine over race day. It really does suck to have cramps and have another thing to worry about. Tri races are hard enough for me as it is without the extra worry. I am already stressing about my August race.

    • I know, Right?! I had 2 different planning sessions – one for the the tri and another for this. But just like race day, covering all worst-case scenarios helped reduce the stress. You will do great in August and who knows, maybe your body will give you a race day break and let you race free 🙂

  • Noelle Bakken

    Thankfully mine has always been fairly mild, which is made up for in tenfold by the fact that it’s incredibly irregular (thanks, thyroid) – mostly I just get fatigue in the days leading up to it, so that stinks for training/racing.

    I was about to suggest a menstrual cup until I re-read your post and saw you were already looking into trying one 🙂 I have a Lunette and I LOVE IT. I know they aren’t for everyone, but if it works for you, I bet it’s going to be your best friend for future tris and training during that time of the month.

    • I’ve heard a lot of raves about the Diva cup, but it took me sooooo long to get into tampons that I think the Diva cup is going to be an even bigger learning curve.

  • Amber Woodyard

    I’ve heard those diva cups are awesome and they seem like they would work so great for those of us that do tris and marathons! I’m this close to buying one!

    • I’ve heard a lot of raves about the Diva cup, but I still have to make that leap.

  • Thanks for sharing your honest experience and tips here. It is something so many women struggle with and I know people will find your tips helpful. Congrats again on getting through your race despite the unwelcomed challenges 🙂

    • Thanks Jesica. I know other girls manipulate their dates through BC but I’ve never done that, so we go with what we are given on race day 🙂

  • Oh no! Not a welcomed visitor. I haven’t had this happen to me on a race yet, but I typically do 5K’s so I guess it wouldn’t be as hard to deal with on simple runs like that. Good to know for the future though if I step up my running game. Thanks for the post!

  • TriGirl

    My marathon last year–tail end of my period. I wish I had known the body glide trick! Next time though I’ll be using the cup. This is really helpful to read about your experience!

  • This is not an easy subject to talk about, but an important one, so kudos to you for discussing the issue of having your period on race day or worse, Tri Day! I can deal well enough with running but with swimming to urgh! As for the diva cup I haven’t tried but I”m also very nervous. I’ve heard some great stories, but also some horror stories about hem!

  • Without wishing to intrude, I would like to say that I admire all Bloggers who tackle difficult subjects like this and I do have every sympathy with athletes who encounter this problem. With women in general actually. It cannot be a nice experience, to have to endure every few weeks.

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