Bleeding While Running: What Are My Options for Period Products?

Salty Running is here for you for all of your most intimate questions on running, especially if it pertains to bodily fluids (or solids — some of our most popular posts!).

Today I’m talking about blood. We Saltines have a collective 5 million runs on the rag, so here are some of the most common period products we’ve tried and how they worked for running.

Menstrual Cup

A cup is a great option for a long run as you can go quite a while without needing to empty it. However, there is quite a learning curve for finding the correct product (size and shape vary among brands) and insertion technique, so practice practice practice before taking one for a test run. I am still a novice with the cup and have felt slippage while running, which has occasionally required removal mid-run — fortunately at my home treadmill. Other Saltines, including Honey, rave about the comfort of the Cup.

Tampons

Probably the most common choice! A tampon will keep your crotch blood-free as long as it doesnโ€™t start sliding out mid-run or get saturated. For those with heavier flows, a change mid-run may be necessary so consider bathroom options while planning your route. Personally, while I used tamponsย sans probleme for many years, I found it to slide, chafe, and even stab my vagina after giving birth and can no longer tolerate tampons for running and I have heard similar stories from other mothers. Some have even found that wearing a tampon increases incontinence.

Pads

Honestly? You might as well grab a handful of leaves and stick it down your pants — cheaper and yields the same result. Pads soak up blood and sweat externally, so you’re running a huge risk of labial chafing. The underside of the pad will also lose its adhesiveness as it gets wet. Trust us, you do not want a pad on the loose in your shorts. I would only recommend a pad as an option for someone with a light cycle planning a short run on a cool day. Readers – have any of you run with a cloth pad? Is it more comfortable and will it last through a long run? We have heard of this, and are intrigued.

Free Bleeding

My flow is pretty light, so my personal preference for all but Day 1 of my cycle is just wearing plain black shorts and hitting the road. Yes, I have to rinse them before throwing them in the wash, but otherwise this is NBD for a light day as long as you’re not squeamish.

Period Undies (aka Thinx)

I love my Thinx for my heaviest flow day, but again, my heavy day is still relatively light. The absorption of fluid is decent and can get me through a long run. Women with heavier periods may not be protected as well; however, period undies can still serve as a good backup to an internal option such as tampon or cup. For novice menstruators with light-ish flow, period undies are a good simple option for period protection.

Standing Under a Tree and Waiting For Your Period to Stop Before You Start Your Run

Sometimes, especially if you have a heavy flow and have experienced epic fails with every conceivable method of soaking up the blood, this can seem like a tempting option. It’s not really practical, though. Do not recommend. Instead, don’t give up and don’t be afraid to talk about it and ask for advice!

Additional Products

Anytime you are dealing with moisture, you risk chafing. Regardless of whether you choose an internal or external option to absorb menstrual blood, I recommend a lubricant like Aquaphor applied liberally in the crotch (don’t forget betweenย  the labia) to reduce chafing. It’s also a good idea to tote a few squares of TP (keep it dry in a baggie) or even individually wrapped wet wipes to make any pit stops as sanitary as possible. Public restrooms can be icky even on the best of days!

Readers, what products do you use? Any tips?

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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4 comments

  1. I have the same problem with menstrual cups slipping while running, I’m glad it’s not just me.
    I like menstrual sponges for running. It’s an actual hunk of sea sponge that you use like a reusable tampon.

    1. I tried a few different cups and had the same experience. Frustrating! Iโ€™ve never tried sponges though. How do you clean it between uses? (That was another thing with the cup – I had one that was kind of ok but after a few months I had my doubts about whether it was ever truly clean)

      1. To clean the sponge, it’s just rinse and let air dry. I can totally see the cleanliness concern, but I haven’t had any issues and I’ve used them for years now. I do only wear one for running, and switch back to my cup when I’m done, so there’s not a ton of time for nasty stuff to grow.