Going With the Flow
Blood & Sisterhood at the London Marathon
A Modern Period Piece by Kiran Gandhi
“It’s a radical notion realizing that on a marathon course you don’t have to worry about how you look for others.”
Yo. Have you ever run a marathon on day one of your period?
66% of South-East Asian girls know nothing about menstruation until they start.
I got my flow the morning of the London Marathon and it was extremely painful. It would be my first marathon and I remember already feeling so nervous for it. I had spent a full year enthusiastically training hard, but I had never actually practiced running on my period.
I thought through my options. Running 26.2 miles with a wad of cotton material wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd. Plus they say chaffing is a real thing. I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was lucky to have access to tampons etc, to be part of a society that at least has a norm around periods. I could definitely choose to participate in this norm at the expense of my own comfort and just deal with it quietly.
But then I thought…
If there’s one person society can’t eff with, it’s a marathon runner. You can’t tell a marathoner to clean themselves up, or to prioritize the comfort of others. On the marathon course, I could choose whether or not I wanted to participate in this norm of shaming.
I decided to just take some midol, hope I wouldn’t cramp, bleed freely and just run.
A marathon in itself is a centuries old symbolic act. Why not use it as a means to draw light to my sisters who don’t have access to tampons and, despite cramping and pain, hide it away like it doesn’t exist?
I ran the marathon with 2 women who are very close to me, Ana and Mere. Both of them had done marathons before. I thought we would split up for sure, but by mile 6, they were still with me, right at my side. It was inspiring.
As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don’t exist. By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50% of us in the human population share monthly. By making it difficult to speak about, we don’t have language to express pain in the workplace, and we don’t acknowledge differences between women and men that must be recognized and established as acceptable norms. Because it is all kept quiet, women are socialized not to complain or talk about their own bodily functions, since no one can see it happening. And if you can’t see it, it’s probably “not a big deal.” Why is this an important issue? Because THIS is happening, right now.
And so I started bleeding freely.
More than 40 Million Women in the United States Live on the Brink of Poverty.
A Yearly Supply of Sanitary Pads/or Tampons Averages $70.00 a Year
(They are not covered by Food Stamps.)
I was going through all these crazy thoughts and analyzing whether I was ether a) a crazy chick who needs to just calm down and reach for an effing tampon
(someone came up behind me making a disgusted face to tell me in a subdued voice that I was on my period…I was like…wow, I had NO idea!)
or b) a liberated boss madame who loved her own body, was running an effing marathon and was not in the mood for being oppressed that day.
And as we come up on mile 9 I saw my dad and brother. They were so completely amazing, smiling and laughing and cheering. I kept trying to awkwardly pull my shirt down to my knees so they wouldn’t see that I was bleeding. But as I approached them, I realized they just wanted to scream and hug and take a photo and celebrate together. They were so in the moment with me and there was so much love. I realized they couldn’t have cared less.
The two most important men in my life were down for team feminism.
Ana’s mom and sister were both there too, screaming and holding up adorable signs all throughout the race — seeing them made us feel uplifted, like part of something really epic. Our families made our decision to go for this crazy marathon feel right.
Around us we saw other people exhibit acts of pain and persecution — running barefoot, running while singing karaoke, running with a 40-lbs backpack, and one guy even running as Jesus with a huge wooden cross on his back!
Everyone was running for their own personal mission. And all of a sudden it felt entirely appropriate that I got my period on marathon day.
The sidelines were packed, and maybe it’s delirium and exhaustion, but every single sign I read was hilarious. Even the hydration signs. I was in love with them.
They say you hit the wall at 18.5, so I tried to focus my mind on the next milestone. The first was to get to mile 6, then to mile 9 to see family (my dad and brother made and wore cheer shirts for us!), then the half marathon point at 13.1 over the bridge, then to mile 18.5 to see the breast cancer cheerpoint (we ran for Breast Cancer Care), and then the final stretch to 26.2. I remember thinking,
“My body has my back right so hard right now. The female body is incredible. We haven’t even stopped running once. I want us to finish strong.”
Only 12% of Women in India Use Sanitary Pads or Tampons.
The 2015 London Marathon was everything for me. I trained for a year and then it happened and it really was an epic, epic thing. We ran for women who can’t show their periods in public and for women who can’t compete in athletic events. We ran for our friends who have suffered through period cramps at work and for women who have survived breast cancer.
We ran in sisterhood side by side and we crossed the finish line hand-in-hand.
To this day I analyze a lot of what I do against how I felt during the marathon. I recall the strength to channel positivity, to value working as a team over working individually. I think about goal-setting and executing. I think about pain and fear, and what it feels to overcome those. And I think about feminism, body-positivity, and having the ovaries to practice what you preach.
Originally published at kirangandhi.com on April 26, 2015.
Design & Edits by Laura Noema