Monday marked the Lunar New Year. A celebration of a new beginning, a new cycle. Know what else comes in cycles and is sometimes celebrated? Periods!
We’ve all had our own personal “inquiry projects,” you could say, with running and periods. My most memorable menstruating moment came while I ran the final 10k of my last marathon after removing an annoyingly uncomfortable tampon that was already on its way out in a roadside port-a-potty. Of course, that’s nothing compared to this woman who free-bled through an entire marathon!
There are no shortage of posts about the monthly state of women’s uteruses, from Clove’s seminal period crash course and her follow-up to Garlic’s inquiry on menstruation and recovery. More recently, there was Salty’s post about sport tampons. There had been a lot of chatter behind the scenes here at Salty Running about whether a menstrual cup, like the Diva Cup, would work for running. Ever the generous soul, I volunteered to be our guinea pig.
Diva Cup might be the most well known brand of menstrual cup on the market, but it isn’t the only game in town. Some are reusable, like Diva, and some disposable. I ended up choosing the Diva Cup for my experiment because it came endorsed by a several friends of mine in the know. One crunchy, earth mother friend cited it as “more natural and less polluting” than disposable tampons or pads. My public health professional friend talks about how it’s actually not good to stuff a bleached, dry stick of cotton up your vag to suck all the moisture out of it. Lastly, an outdoorsy, hiker colleague professed her love for the Diva Cup because she could use the bathroom without removing it; we’re talking both number 1 and number 2. Perhaps more importantly, by using a Diva Cup she never has to remember to bring tampons. Those Grr, I can’t believe I didn’t pack a tampon in my shorts pocket moments gone forever. Genius!
While good advice holds a lot of sway for me, what sealed the deal was doing the math: I knew it would pay for itself after a few months if I didn’t have to drop bills on tampons any more. With all this in mind, a few months ago I finally bought a Diva Cup. For those wondering, it’s a small reusable cup that holds your menstrual fluid, made from healthcare grade non-absorbent silicone. It comes in two sizes, the larger of which is recommended for women who have given birth.
You might be thinking, “Eww, gross! I have to touch it?” You wouldn’t be alone; that’s what I thought for a long time. It’s not that bad though. Yes, the whole having to be really comfortable with your own vagina and it’s menstrual fluid can be a squirm-inducing idea. Personally, I was already warmed-up to this concept of manually getting an object all up in there because before the cup, I used non-applicator O.B. tampons and the NuvaRing birth control device.
However, having to empty out, wash or rinse the cup, and put it back in was a new territory I was admittedly a little wary of entering. But there are ways to avoid lengthy and potentially messy bathroom breaks on the job. For instance, the makers of Diva Cup advertise that you can leave it in for up to 12 hours. Tampax only recommends up to eight hours max. That means that you can (theoretically) wait until you are in the privacy of your own home to empty the cup and wash it out in a non-communal sink.
It’s been a few months now, and I’ve only ever gone on runs of up to six miles with it, though no long runs yet. But it did make it along on a three-week European vacation. Here’s what I’ve felt and noticed while using my Diva Cup so far:
I can never go without a pantyliner. Maybe the size I have isn’t the right one for me, but I can never get away without leaking, at least at the beginning of my cycle. Sleeping with it is one thing, but when I am upright and active, there is always some spotting if I don’t wear anything else. This isn’t ideal for running since sweat and pantyliner adhesive don’t go well together. This was a problem only on heavy flow days, so I used tampons instead, so no big deal.
I can sometimes feel it poking around. Proper placement does mean that the little end for grabbing is sticking out a little bit. If it’s too far up, it’s harder to remove, and the seal isn’t as good. That feeling takes a little getting used to. But the cup is so flexible that it’s not uncomfortable. At least not in the way that having a little nub of a tampon sticking out of your hoohah is uncomfortable.
Sometimes it feels like it’s leaking, but it’s not. From what I can tell, this sensation is due to the vaginal moisture that is completely natural, normal, and healthy and should not be completely absorbed by a (literally) bloodthirsty tampon. This is a feeling that I am adjusting to. I trust the Diva Cup. I Believe in the Deev (wouldn’t that make a great hashtag?). Still, I’ll always wear a pantyliner as backup.
It is comfortable and less of a hassle to run in than tampons. No, it doesn’t fall out with all the repeated pounding. And did I mention you can still take a mid-run pee break with barely a break in your stride? Still boggles my mind.
There are as many period products as there are race distances. I’m surprised by how much I like the Diva Cup. But I’m not so dedicated to it that I wouldn’t chuck it in the middle of a race if it stood between me and a comfortably-achieved PR. Just sayin’.
What are your experiences as a female athlete on her period? Any other tips or recommendations? Have you done a long run or race with a menstrual cup?