My doctor is desperate to put my anaemia down to veganism.
Sadly for the doc, it’s nothing to do with not eating meat – it’s something I’ve had for years. Sadly for me, a large part of it is to do with the brutal monthly cycle I’ve been gifted by Mother Nature.
As many women know, the impact of this cycle can be pretty misery-inducing, from extreme mood swings to terrible pain, general despondency and weakness (among other symptoms). Conventional wisdom says you can do ‘light’ exercise during the first couple of days of your period, some people are fine to work out normally, but if you’re really suffering, a hardcore workout is inadvisable.
This year my exercise buddies and I decided to go for the Spartan Trifecta. This is a type of Obstacle Course Race (aka OCR). These races are typically held over rural terrain, and combine trail running with obstacles like high walls to traverse, heavy things to carry (logs, buckets full of stones etc) cargo nets and wire crawls. They also usually include mud. Lots and lots of mud…If you use any social media, you’ll know the kind of thing I’m talking about (#picturesoritdidnthappen).
The Spartan Trifecta is where you run all three Spartan distance races in a year (Sprint at 5k plus, Super at 15k plus and Beast at 21k plus) for the dubious distinction of ‘bragging rights’. We’ve been doing an event every year since 2014, so decided it was time to up the ante.
Unfortunately terrible timing meant that the first of our races (the Super) fell on the second day. Yep, that’s right – the day I was meant to be huddling under a duvet, wailing and telling my boyfriend he’ll never understand the meaning of pain, what with him being a mere man.
Having driven to Gloucester, I had no option but to take part, and with two injured team mates in tow (both with knee problems) we decided to take it very easy, and just enjoy the course. (The 15km, technical terrain, full of inclines and brutal carries course).
Spartan races often contain large bodies of water, and this is one of the issues if you are running on your period. A pad will simply become water-logged, and a tampon could be actually dangerous, absorbing the filthy water. It took us over six hours to run the Beast last year – too long to go without changing. Not a feasible option.
This is where my sister came in. As somewhat of an OCR addict and professional, and general wise grown-up, she was fairly disgusted that I (‘of ALL people’) am not already using a Mooncup. Priced at around £20, these reusable silicon cups last for a year. They are cheaper than traditional products, far more eco-friendly, and are Vegan Society-certified to boot.
These cups come in two sizes (depending on age and whether you have given birth). They might look a bit difficult to get the hang of at first, but they are surprisingly easy and comfortable to use (but may need a little jiggling around once in). If you can’t get it to sit comfortably, it’s worth trying to trim the stem – this often solves the issue, and is easy to do with a pair of clean scissors.
You flatten then fold the cup in order to insert it, but then need to make sure it has opened up once it place. There are a few ways to do this, and they are all outlined in the instructions. Basically, you need to create a ‘seal’ so that all blood falls into the cup. Once you have done this (and I had no issues at all, it is pretty straightforward) it will not leak.
If I could offer one tip, it would be to ensure you have broken the seal properly before removing. Without going into too much detail, I genuinely feared for my insides when I inelegantly and lumberingly just pulled it out the first time. Not a mistake I will make again.
Despite this, the Mooncup held up well for the race, and is something I will continue to use – as much for its eco-credentials as anything else.
There is another interesting note to add about heavy periods and anaemia when it comes to exercise. While in my experience my fitness has increased massively over the year or so I have committed to running regularly, I still can have problems with breathlessness. I am able to continue exercising through it but it can be uncomfortable. The right treatment can help with this, so if breathlessness is a problem you ever have (above and beyond what you’d expect from the level of exertion) it is worth going for a blood test. It’s not advisable to try and treat it yourself as there are different types of anaemia, and your doctor has to organise specific tests to work out which one you have and treat it accordingly.
What about the Spartan? Well – we completed it in a reasonable time (given the complexity of the course). Would I do it again at that point in my cycle? I would definitely try to avoid it – cramping and crabbiness do not make for a good team mate. I