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Emma Linford
Written by Emma Linford
Vedangi Kulkarni
Written by Vedangi Kulkarni
Published on 20th March 2022
7 min read

This two-part piece documents conversations with seven people (profiled below) about their experiences adventuring with their period. Rosie Watson conducted the interviews and Emma Linford and Vedangi Kulkarni produced the piece and wrote the closing text.

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The candid experiences of the people in this piece show both commonality and diversity. They deal with topics from suicide ideation, the compassionate honouring of cycles and the end of the cycle - an often misunderstood, unknown and, for some, shameful cycle. We hope these conversations bring revelations, inspiration, practical tips and empathy with those that have periods and those who travel by their side. And, perhaps, provoke further thought about the culture of female adventuring in general. 

Is your period as a biological superpower, total nuisance or something in between?

SG: “I used to think of it as a nuisance, but now I know more about it (it’s scary how little we actually learn as young women about all this stuff) I view it as a superpower! We are lucky as women who are putting our bodies through huge amounts of exercise that we have such an important way of tracking our health. I have a very regular cycle, so I know that if it is out of kilter then something is wrong, that maybe I am under-fuelled and over-trained.”

SD: “My periods are a total nuisance.”

EL: “I saw it as something to navigate but also nurture. It was always going to be a part of me, so how could I best work with the variables of flow, pain, duration and situation?”

ED: I view my period as one of the biggest tests in my life, and one of my biggest teachers. It’s shown me I can do hard things and also the reality of how little people listen to women. That’s been a really hard pill to swallow. However, I have learned to be kinder to myself, found I love it and jumped at the chance to educate other women, sharing knowledge and tips. Not a lot of people know about our overall hormone cycles throughout our lives and how that affects every part of our body and mind. Knowledge is power; the more you know about your body the more you can live in harmony with it. I am not saying it comes easy or overnight, or you’ll feel grounded and super zen everyday, but you will start to take steps to understand yourself and that is a great power and honour.”

'I view my period as one of the biggest tests in my life, and one of my biggest teachers. It’s shown me I can do hard things and also the reality of how little people listen to women. That’s been a really hard pill to swallow.'

How do you feel - physically and mentally - during your cycle? And does this affect how you adventure? 

RC: “I definitely feel more energised, motivated and strong during parts of my cycle and like to harness that in training. But on expeditions there is little you can do to capitalise on that, as itineraries demand certain days are completed when they are and there’s not much room for manoeuvre.”

LC: “I’m also one of those #blessed people who cramps and bleeds mid-cycle - it’s enough to merit painkillers and switching to my period cycle shorts. Both of us tend to feel rough around ovulation, so we try and pay attention to our whole cycle, rather than just focus on our period.”

AM: The normal pre-period mood-swings are five to fourteen days of severe depression, anxiety, extreme anger and feelings of worthlessness, which can lead to suicidal ideation and self-destructive impulses.”

Photos courtesy of Emily Davis (left) and Susan Doram (right)

ED: “I am very tuned in to the different parts of my cycle thanks to reading Period Power by Masie Hill (10/10 recommend), and the two period-tracking apps that I use (MyFlo and Moody Monday) both give me different information, one more scientific and the other more holistic. I find using both of those approaches together helps me manage both my mind and my body. Throughout my cycle I train, eat, move and work differently. This has happened very slowly and through a heck of a lot of trial and error. Interestingly, in the past 5 months my period symptoms have all but vanished and my premenstrual syndrome (PMS) ones have gone through the roof (hello anxiety, crying, food cravings, acne, trouble sleeping and greasy hair). I most definitely plan my adventures around it; I can’t afford not to.”

SG: “I tend to just power through, but I definitely get more clumsy in the week before my cycle starts, which can lead to some silly accidents out on the trails. Also my PMS can be a bitch. Sometimes I’m fine, but often it makes me angry, emotional and anxious, so I use running to help control and work through these feelings.”

SD: “They’ve gotten heavier as I’ve gotten older – I have to get up a couple of times in the night to change both my cup and pad. Night sweats mean a poor night’s sleep. I’m wiped out for the first few days and occasionally for the week. I don’t cycle on the first few days of my period; ploughing through the tiredness isn’t an option. I haven’t always been like this; it’s something that has changed with age and has become very noticeable from my mid forties.”

'They’ve gotten heavier as I’ve gotten older – I have to get up a couple of times in the night to change both my cup and pad. Night sweats mean a poor night’s sleep. I’m wiped out for the first few days and occasionally for the week. I don’t cycle on the first few days of my period; ploughing through the tiredness isn’t an option.'

Sophie Grant - photo courtesy of Jack Atkinson

The good, the bad and the ugly: ‘period stories’ others might learn from

RC: “I don’t think I’ve had any terrible stories. I used to have quite heavy periods before going on to the Mirena coil, so I’m sure there were leaks then, but nothing that memorable. It’s just something else that needs to be thought about - a little more head space that is used up when you’ve already got lots of things to think about.”

EL: “Whilst competing with my Adventure Racing team, I’d just got my period and didn’t know whether I could continue. I mentioned it to the guys, who mostly dismissed the inconvenience and attached me to an elastic bungee cord to be pulled around the forest for over an hour!”

ED: The ‘toughest’ time was in 2017, whilst expedition kayaking in Lofoten, Norway. I came on my period three weeks earlier than predicted. I felt so foolish. Luckily for me, I did have a few pads on me. The next four days involved cramps, vomiting, mood swings and fatigue in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. I felt like I couldn’t fully enjoy it and I was so angry at myself.”

EL: ‘The grimmest environment to have a period is the jungle. You are sweating all over, leaking below and smell like decay.”

LC: “The first day riding on my period, we were just leaving Essen in Germany. I had to stop to clean it and change it, but we couldn’t find a toilet for love nor money. I ended up crashing a port-a-loo on a building site. When I reached to pull out the Mooncup I slipped on some wet paper towels, and me plus Mooncup plus a morning’s worth of blood went flying. I swung open the door to Abi and it looked like I’d killed someone!”

'When I reached to pull out the Mooncup I slipped on some wet paper towels, and me plus Mooncup plus a morning’s worth of blood went flying. I swung open the door to Abi and it looked like I’d killed someone!'

SG: “When I was running the TDS, on the first day of my period I put a super tampon in before the race. Every time I was at a checkpoint I would forget to change it until I was out the other side. It is quite an uncomfortable feeling when your tampon is wiggling its way out and you are hiking up a mountain. I did the only thing I could think of and hid behind a bush and shoved it back up. Not the most hygienic! 26 hours later I was almost at the end and still had this annoying tampon to deal with. I had some tissues ready and decided I was going to whip it out at the next bin! Noticing someone in the distance, I aborted the mission. It turned out to be one of my friends' husbands! I was so pleased he didn't see me whipping out my tampon! I will be investing in a menstrual cup for racing in the future.”

EL: “Leading the summit night of a six-day Kilimanjaro trek is a challenge without a period (altitude symptoms, food, lack of sleep, responsibility of ensuring the group and local crew are safe) and consequently doesn’t leave a lot of bandwidth to look after yourself. At basecamp (4,800m) my period arrived, with the snow. Unfortunately this coincided with participant support. Concerned about the uncertainty of how the period was going to manifest itself (ground crawling pain or just a nod to the occasion), I prophylactically took Diamox (Altitude meds) with Mefenamic Acid (anti-inflammatory meds). 

This is how the night unfolded. Fighting through the altitude headache and cramps. Damn the toilet again. Sod it, do it in the tent porch. I don’t have the energy. Lucky knickers on. New batteries in head torch, snack stash in pockets and of course chocolate-covered coffee beans. Thinking through the treacle. No sleep. Lying listening to my body adapting with its fast heartbeat. Pain, throbbing. Just one more Mefenamic Acid pill; I’m sure over medicating will be fine and not affect my acute mountain sickness (AMS) score! Snowing, -10, midnight. Time for action. Check around folks. Enough clothing? Waterproofs? Food?  Urgh, porridge. And dried yam. Jesus. Where’s Suzie? Still in her tent? Checked, signs of high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Damn, need to evacuate her asap. Ok, rest of team complete, here we go, upwards. Pain still present, concentrate on your breathing, eat when you can, you can’t afford to switch off. Relief to see the sunrise, on the way to the summit. And descent. I’m going to make it. Sixteen hours and have arrived back at camp, exhausted and time to change the pad!”

Profiles  

Sophie Grant (SG) is a GB trail runner, La Sportiva UK athlete  and UK Sky running champion who has competed in events such as the Marathon des Sables, Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc and many more. She spends her leisure time exploring trails,  running or skiing. 

Emma Linford (EL) is a professional expedition guide and educator for social change. She works in environments as diverse as the sea ice of the High Arctic, bush, jungle and high-alpine mountains. Her personal journeys have been multi-day adventure racing and endurance running.

Rebecca Coles (RC) is a professional mountaineering instructor and expedition leader in ranges including the Himalayas, the Alps and UK ranges.  Her personal trips are climbing-based including first ascent expeditions in the Greater Ranges and she also enjoys solo cycle tours in remote parts of the world.

Abigail Melton and Lea Cooper (AM/LC) are long-distance cycle tourers (aka Gears for Queers). Abi and Lea have cycled together from Amsterdam to Montpellier and Scotland to Budapest.

Susan Doram (SD) is a solo cycle adventurer. Susan has organised women-only cycle tours in the UK and France, has solo toured around the UK and, most notably, toured around the world from 2017 - 2020!

Emily Davis (ED) is the Production Co-ordinator at Kendal Mountain Festival which includes programming, presenting, interviewing and supporting diversity. Whilst on her trusty gravel bike or enjoying climbing in the hills of the Lake District, she’s dreaming about the Scottish Highlands.

 

You can read part two of this piece here.