July 14, 2022

How to Handle Your Period when on a Gravel Ride

By Kathryn Taylor

It’s inevitable. We sign up for an event, plan a long gravel ride, or even a bikepacking adventure only to realize that we’ll have our period. At one time, that news would have ruined our day, but now, we have better tools and periods are no longer taboo. We don’t have to speak about our period in whispers as we sneak off to change a tampon.

Contrary to long-held beliefs, our physiology is actually on our side when we are on our period.

Sex hormones are at their lowest during the menstrual cycle, meaning that our bodies are more resilient to stress and recover better during that phase. A long or hard effort during our menstrual cycle could work for us rather than against us. To go in-depth on the physiology of your cycle, read Period Power from Dr. Stacy Sims.

Granted some women do suffer from greater symptoms – like severe cramps, backaches, headaches, or even nausea which of course, will impact riding. An easy spin could be just the thing you need these days. (A long nap on the couch is also perfectly acceptable).

Beyond what your hormones are doing, there’s the general issue of going on long rides in rural places without access to bathrooms. Things can get….messy, especially if you’re a heavy bleeder.

Here are a few strategies that women recommend:

PLAN YOUR ROUTE STRATEGICALLY

Create a route that makes pit stops at gas stations, recreational parks with bathrooms, or restaurants so you can change your tampon with ease. I haven’t seen it on Ride with GPS, but I feel like we should make the period route a thing!

TRY THE MENSTRUAL CUP

In the last few years, the menstrual cup has become increasingly popular. instead of using tampons, you have a reusable silicone cup that collects the blood. Depending on the volume of your flow, you may only need to empty your cup every 12 hours.

Warning, don’t try this out for the first time on your ride. It does take some practice, both to insert it properly and remove it without dumping blood everywhere. It can also be a bit shocking the first time you see the blood. A good way to start using the cup is to take it out and put it back in the shower

TAMPONS ON THE GO

Although it’s always preferable to have a bathroom handy, you may just need to pop a squat behind the nearest tree. To make everything easier bring a dog poop bag and baby wipes. You can change your tampon, drop the used one and wipes into the bag and just tie it off to toss when you get to a trash can. Wearing cycling shorts without bibs or bibs with the easy-pee drop will be helpful on these days.

GIVE PERIOD UNDERWEAR A TRY

Even though I am not a fan of underwear under bike shorts, this is the one exception. You can purchase different absorbencies to meet the needs of your cycling day. One warning, the seams are not made for long days on the bike — so you may end up with chafing if you’re out for a long time.

USE A PAD

Other women in our Facebook group chose to use a pad and place it directly over their chamois. If you need to change your pad on the ride, just follow the same recommendations for changing a tampon.

LET IT BLEED

Okay, this one may gross you out, but you’d be surprised at how many women do it. The chamois is kind of a natural pad….so depending on how heavy your flow is, you can just let it absorb the blood and then wash it well after your ride. As always, make sure you wash and double rinse your shorts post-ride.

Earlier this spring I was out riding with a group of friends and one was laughing about how she left her menstrual cup behind by accident when she visited a friend and her husband. At first, she was embarrassed because the husband might find it, but then she realized that periods are a normal part of life. They aren’t shameful or secret.

That’s the approach that we need to take to sports and our menstrual cycle. Unless they are pregnant, on hormonal birth control, or in perimenopause, healthy female bodies have periods in the reproductive years. I’m not saying to show up at a group ride and announce that you’re on your period, but it’s okay to communicate that you may not be feeling 100% or may need a bit longer to stop.

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