Period practicality: lessons from a 100-mile race finisher
Ladia Albertson-Junkans finished the historic Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run clad in white shorts — and no tampon.
At her 9-to-5 day job, Ladia Albertson-Junkans is a programmer and analyst working with a research team on a mission to abate the opioid epidemic. When Ladia isn’t working to solve public health crises, she runs — a lot. During a peak training cycle, she’ll rack up between fifty to seventy miles of running per week.
However, if the week in question includes the day Ladia competed in the Western States Endurance Run in late June, then in that case, Ladia accumulated 100 miles in one day.
And on this momentous day, Ladia happened to be on her period. When thinking about the luck of this timing, Ladia says she first chuckled at the situation, thinking, “of course my period would coincide with my first attempt at one hundred miles.” This lighthearted mindset and the resulting decisions she made to manage her period during the race teach a powerful lesson that challenge the norm of always masking menstruation even when it may be more convenient to just let it flow.
To be clear, this article isn’t meant to glorify Ladia’s finish solely because she was on her period and finished a 100-mile race anyways. An ad for the period-proof underwear Ladia wore during the race, THINX, said it best: “as we know, doing anything on your period is a true phenomenon by any measure, right?” which is immediately followed by derisive chuckles and “that’s a joke.”
This is an article to celebrate Ladia and the fact that she finished a 100-mile race, which she would have done rain or shine, period or no period. More specifically, this is a spotlight on Ladia’s demonstration of what I’ll be referring to as period practicality, and why that in and of itself is worth celebrating too.
After some serious introspection and tossing cultural expectations by the wayside, Ladia embraced her body and all of the amazing things it can do, setting a doubly impressive example of empowerment and strength both in terms of the quantity of miles she ran and her perspective on menstruation.
Free bleeding her way to a Western States finish
Ladia elected to free bleed while running the one hundred miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA, aided by a pair of THINX. She did so while wearing bright white shorts, which she didn’t purposefully wear in order to make a statement. Rather, she had long planned on wearing those particular shorts for the big race and said, “it seemed so silly to me that I would wear different shorts simply because my body was doing a very normal body thing.”
Ladia realized that if she would have switched into a pair of darker shorts, she would have done so solely for the comfort of others. “This realization was a poignant reminder for me of just how much we’re taught, as women, to be ashamed of our bodies,” Ladia reflected. “We’re ‘supposed’ to celebrate our child-bearing potential and yet we’re ‘supposed’ to hide the very thing that enables that potential to exist. F that! In addition to my aversion to tampons (and the diva cup after one bad experience last summer), I did not want shame to drive my behavior.”
Not allowing shame to be a factor, Ladia instead made a decision that was “purely practical and based on preference.”
The first tenet of Ladia’s Western States period management plan? Minimize the mental energy spent on it: “there are enough things to manage when covering one hundred miles (or any distance for that matter) on foot — food, water, gear, effort, terrain, route, consciousness. I didn’t want to add my period to the list.”
Genuine health concerns
Other aspects of period practicality during Ladia’s Western States run included comfort and safety. For these reasons, she immediately discounted tampons as an option: “There’s the logistics, the waste, the discomfort of it wriggling loose mid-run as they are wont to do. There’s the TSS paranoia instilled in me since 8th grade health class that at some point I’m going to accidentally leave it in there too long and a 20+ hour race with guaranteed sleep-deprivation and a strong chance of hallucination seems like a recipe for heightened paranoia.”
Running is redefining period practicality
Running while free bleeding first went viral when Kiran Ghandi free bled during the 2015 London Marathon. Her motives for doing so closely align with Ladia’s. As Kiran writes, “It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles… My job on the marathon course was about choosing what was right for me in that moment, and completing the 26.2 mile race in the safest and healthiest way possible for my body.”
Thus, running seems to be a unique context for free bleeding. It makes total sense — running is all about listening to your body, developing mental and physical strength, and doing things you never thought you could. Perhaps most importantly though, running is about blood, sweat, and tears (and quite literally for the first when on your period). Again, running is hard. One could argue that because of this, appearance while running is deprioritized compared to other moments in life and therefore, hiding period blood might take the back-burner.
But it shouldn’t take the extreme circumstances of a marathon or a 100-mile race for period practicality to seem like an option. Women like Ladia and Kiran can be credited with illuminating us with the true meaning of period practicality, but now it’s our turn to apply that insight beyond the world of running.
This isn’t to say that everyone who menstruates should boycott hygiene products in favor of free bleeding. This is a reminder to critically consider how we manage our periods and more importantly— why.
Period practicality shouldn’t be about choosing the feminine hygiene product that will best mask blood. Period practicality in full has two prerequisites: access and acceptance. First, menstruation products should be affordable and accessible, which is unfortunately not the case in many places around the world (if you haven’t yet, take 26 minutes to watch Period. End of Sentence. on Netflix). Secondly, period practicality is easier to achieve when not hindered by a lack of social acceptance surrounding menstruation.
For Ladia, period practicality is about making her period the least of her concerns, to promote her physical wellbeing and to free up mental space for achieving her goals. That’s why on a standard training run, if she is on her period, she’ll either wear a pair of THINX or run freely in the absence of any feminine hygiene products.
The overall lesson from Ladia? Don’t let shame or stigma determine how you manage your period. Let your needs and goals do that job.
Many thanks to Ladia Alberston-Junkans for taking the time to share her thoughts about periods and her Western States experience. To stay up to date on Ladia’s latest ultrarunning adventures, you can follow her on Instagram @ladiahallie.