Even the best-laid plans can be foiled on race day by the woman’s natural human body function of the period or menstrual cycle. I have been battling its debilitating effects in endurance racing for twelve plus years, and the struggle continues today, although experience and education have helped lessen the overall blow. You may think this is a problem that happens to only fifty percent of the population but men, you need to know this stuff as well because you may have a friend, girlfriend, or wife who is experiencing the same thing. They may be as baffled as most women as to why their body cannot perform on all cylinders during training or a race around the time of their period.
I am not going into the scientific details of the female body and menstrual cycle. If you are a female and compete in endurance sports, you know the crippling side effects from the period. After having spoken with doctors and fellow female competitors on the subject, I know that it hits some women harder than others. You may be able to get by during a training session or a casual sporting game, but we are discussing endurance racing where the body is instructed to compete continuously for multiple hours; every cylinder needs to be firing correctly, or your performance will be altered.
If at all possible, do not schedule official races around your period; give at least a three-day window on each side of the event. As with any race schedule, nothing goes exactly according to plan, but you can try to set yourself up for success by starting out the season scheduling races under the best conditions. Male readers who have female friends or partners competing in triathlon need to understand if a race falls on this fateful day, your companion will not have her best race and will thus be a bear to deal with.
I have competed in countless triathlons, so it has been impossible for me to completely avoid racing while on my period. In the days leading up to the race before your period, you feel like a Ferrari with all five gears in sync; then the day of the race, everything changes, and you feel like a four-speed 1987 Yugo with no reserves. When you are racing the day of or around your period, you do not have that extra gear. This is triathlon, specifically a half or full Ironman, and you need every ounce of your body to complete the race, try to podium, and achieve your goals. You are so far from your top form that all you can think about is trying to finish, somehow.
There have been a few recent races where I could not avoid the dreaded period, and I toed the line with lackluster results. This is not to say I would have been on the podium if I did not have my period, but my times and position do not fall in line with my other performances, which is an indication something was not right. Vineman always seems to have an agreement with my period to hit at the same time. In the race in 2010, I was a sitting duck as the period hit the night before. I finished the event in a disappointing seventh place, but I was pleased I was able to push through the discomfort. However, when your business and livelihood depend on results, your period is not a productive business partner. In addition to Vineman, I have had two Kona World Championship races when my period hit that same day; not the best timing for the biggest race of the year!