Running with a Diva Cup

Honey looking exasperated with a red filter over photo
You can let your period frustrate you or use it as an excuse to do experiments.

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.

English: Diva Cup, Menstrual cup Français : co...
The Diva Cup. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

A Minnesota girl living in New York City. I'm a middle school teacher (by choice!), runner, bike commuter, traveler, and general do-er of things. My next goal is to change my finally crush my marathon PR of 4:01 to under 4:00.

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17 comments

  1. Hooray! I trained for my first marathon with a Diva and had amazing luck with it, even on long runs. I don’t think I ever experienced any leakage, so that could be a size or fit issue like you said. I actually found that I got a better seal if I placed it up a liiiitle bit higher (ie: no end poking out). You can always trim the tip if the “poking around” feeling gets old. It doesn’t really make it harder to remove, just makes it more comfy while wearing. The only reason I stopped using my Diva was because I found a BC pill that stopped my period completely. Haven’t had a cycle in 4 years (wooo!) but, if I did, I’d probably still be using the Diva.

  2. I have worn a Diva cup for about 5.5 years and love it! I find that I feel less bloated and more “clean” using a Diva cup rather than a tampon….maybe because the blood is separated from my body and I can easily dump it out. I also think that your leakage might be due to size issues or perhaps insertion issues (did you turn it once after inserting to make the seal?). Good luck and welcome to the club!

  3. I’ve been using a Diva Cup for a couple of years now and love it! I trained for my first marathon last fall with it, with no issues of leakage. As a hiker, I love this product can’t imagine switching back.

  4. I will stick with my IUD and no period at all. The longer I go without dealing with Aunt Flo, the more squeamish I grow of having to deal with her, ever, again. You’re a brave, brave soul Honey!

  5. If you’re leaking and the cup is causing discomfort, it usually means it isn’t in there right. Anatomy may be the issue, but, like the tampon, the cup has to be all the way up there and make a seal on your cervix to properly work.

    I use the ruby cup, and I love it. Between working 10+ hr shifts, sleeping, running, etc, etc, the cup is awesome.

    1. Hi Amanda! What are the differences between Ruby and Diva? If some of these other suggestions about placement and size don’t make a difference, I might look into switching brands.

  6. I’m loving all the menstrual cup support out there, and thanks for all the tips! Jona, Chamomile, and Kathy, I’m wondering how frequently you would boil or otherwise sterilize your cups.

  7. Second Pimento’s strategy: IUD. For most women, it disappears completely or just one day of minor spotting. Never forget a pill, tampon or other device. It’s good for 5 years, though it should be approved for 7 soon. Your ability to get pregnant after removal rivals the pill. I’m on year 5 and wish this had been available in my 20s. It will change your life!

      1. I know that the copper one has been approved for up to 10 years. However, I’m thinking of one of the shorter-term, hormone ones. What have you ladies heard/been counseled about an IUD’s efficacy as you near the end of its term? That might be an influential factor in which one I consider.

        1. I am on my second Mirena (5-year one). My current one is three years old, & I have been having light spotting that time of the month for the last few months. My gyno (on Monday) said that as long as the IUD is in, it prevents implantation, but if I don’t like periods I can replace it every 3 years to keep that side-effect. So I have an appointment to do that next month.

  8. Thanks so much for the great review and we are glad The Divacup is able to help while you are running. We are sorry to hear that you are still finding some difficulty with The DivaCup. Using The DivaCup can be a little challenging because it is inserted very differently than other feminine hygiene products. We have some great tips for insertion and removal on our Diva blog at http://divacup.com/2015/okay-so-i-bought-the-divacup-now-what/. If you would like to talk to someone directly, don’t hesitate to contact our customer care team who are always here to help a Diva out at support@divacup.com.

  9. Couple things to try re: the stem poking out. 1) trim the stem totally off. 2) flip the cup inside out. You don’t need the stem at all to get it out and both of those tricks change how the cup fits so it works better for you. You also will likely need to empty it more frequently on day 1, but you should be able to run without spotting. Make sure that the seal is really good- you have to spin it around to make sure it’s “popped” and do some kegals/hip circles etc… to get a good seal. I love mine so much!

  10. That’s a really interesting suggestion about inverting the cup, Erin – thanks! I’ve found that what works best for me is to put it in and then pull it out slightly on one side so it puffs back out by sucking some more air. Then I do the spin and kegel combo to get it in. After all of these comments, I think I need to size up. I bought mine at age 30 but opted for the smaller one since I’ve never had kids. I’ll have to see if a bigger size fits better and makes a difference.

  11. I tried the disposable cup a couple months ago and found it uncomfortable. I didn’t really take the time to mess with fit too much. I’m going to give it another shot this month but I think I’m also going to invest in one of the reusable cups now.

  12. I just made the switch to an IUD, but my gyno said that I shouldn’t use the Diva Cup any more. The negative pressure (aka suction) might dislodge or move the device. Has anyone who still has their period with an IUD have any experience with this?