When preparing to run 26.2 miles, marathoners have a lot to think about: wearing the perfect pair of comfortable shoes; finding clothing that will move and breathe; deciding how much water and protein snacks are sustainable; creating an energizing playlist; determining the best time to use the restroom; applying anti-chafing gel in a variety of places; and of course, setting a finishing time goal.
But one of the things that generally comes second nature to female racers is what they will do when running during their period. The idea seems simple enough: pad or tampon. For New York City native, Kiran Gandhi, the choice was actually much more uncertain. So, she decided to run without anything. At all.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan Magazine, Gandhi says she had been training for her first marathon, which would be in London, for a year. But during the days that she menstruated, she would take time off because her cramps were so painful. As the race day quickly approached, she realized the marathon fell during that time of the month.
"It was really scary," said Gandhi, who plays drums for female rapper M.I.A. and received her MBA from Harvard Business School. "I thought, I'm probably not going to be able to run it because I haven't ever and I don't want to hurt myself."
Gandhi's two biggest fears were a major stomachache during the race and being totally uncomfortable wearing a tampon for 26 miles. She credits her two best friends, who were also running with her, for convincing her to go for it. So, instead, Gandhi decided to run without any protection at all and she freely bled during the entire race.
One of the moments she was most anxious about was meeting up with her father and brother at mile nine. Though she didn't worry too much about what the thousands of strangers in the race would think, she was concerned about her male family spotting the problem.
"I remember trying to pull my shirt down, but they did not care," said Gandhi to Cosmopolitan. "They just scooped me up into their arms. It was a super, wonderful moment. That really was a turning point for me as well. It made me emotional."
For Gandhi, running the marathon during her period was, at first, all about conquering her personal fears; but she realized her time on the pavement was about so much more. She said she hopes this statement brings attention to women around the world who can't afford sanitary products or who can't go out in public for things like work, exercising or going to the pool because it's too painful.
Gandhi also claims, on a post on her own blog, that women are forced to "cleanup" something that is a natural process, and are shamed because men think it's gross. She writes:
"If there’s one way to transcend oppression, it’s to run a marathon in whatever way you want. On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman's period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose. Where a woman’s comfort supersedes that of the observer. I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day."
What do you think – did Gandhi's period proclamation bring the right kind of awareness or is it just an unsanitary stunt?