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Paddling on Your Period

submitted by Ottilie Robinson-Shaw

I’m female, and I have a period.

I’ve cried, had cramps, and had accidents on the river.

I’m writing this blog for 13-year-old Ottie because if I had needed it, I’m sure someone else would.

Story Time

When my period first greeted me back in 2015, it was a school morning. I was shy and utterly terrified about what I had to deal with every time I went to the toilet. Fast forward to the weekend: it was my third-ever kayaking competition, a weekend in North Wales I had been looking forward to for months, but I was facing learning to deal with a period, on a new river and in a competition where I was the only female participant.

I was clueless about how to manage a period while kayaking, competing, and with no toilet facilities nearby, at times a little embarrassed. So, in case this helps anyone at all, here are some of my tips.

Understand what is happening to your body.

As an athlete, we monitor and understand so many different aspects that impact our performance. You don’t have to be an athlete to benefit from understanding how different parts of the cycle impact your strength, recovery, and energy levels.

Contrary to popular belief, having your period on competition day could actually be a good thing. Once your cycle starts, your hormones are more favourable to performance.
If you’re interested in learning more about how each phase of the cycle impacts your performance, I’d highly recommend reading “Roar” by Stacy T. Sims, PhD. It delves deeply into how to achieve optimum performance through understanding female physiology.

Listen to your body and be nice to yourself.

I’m addicted to paddling and love sticking to my training programme, but I’ve learnt I need to be more flexible with training and paddling on my period. When the cramps are really bad and I feel rubbish, I’ll often take the day off. I believe I personally benefit more from resting up, acing my nutrition, sleeping well, and doing some yoga rather than forcing myself to do a session I don’t really want to do. This way, I’ll miss one day but be back pushing harder sooner.

If you’re a competitive paddler, there is a very high chance you’ll compete on your period. In my experience, the adrenaline and buzz of the competition will help you ignore the pain and discomfort you might be feeling. The book “Roar” which I mentioned earlier will hopefully give you more confidence about performing on your period.

Don’t be afraid to talk about it.

Having spent my school years in an all-girls school, I learnt firstly the importance of communicating about how we are feeling, but most importantly the fact that there shouldn’t be any shame in periods and talking about them.

Luckily, kayakers are generally lovely people, so whether it’s your coach, teammate, or just a friend, just be honest and let them know how you feel. I can be more emotional or tired around my period, so if, for example, I’m having a training session with my coach Dennis, we might keep the session shorter.

Accidents happen.

Try not to worry about it. The moment will pass, and the person who may have seen you likely won’t care. It’s just blood at the end of the day.

Competing on your period.

Being on my period for competition used to be my biggest nightmare. However, after years of practice, it’s gotten easier.

A couple of tips:
– Create a competition bag that you give to your coach, parent, or friend. I’ll keep an emergency tampon, some painkillers, and a snack in there.
– Track your periods. I really like an app called Clue. (It’s free)
– Stay hydrated. I really like using ProYouth electrolytes.

Ditch the tampons and pads.

Tampons and pads are okay; however, if you look further than the supermarket, there are some way better, more affordable, and more sustainable products on the market. Four years ago, I ditched tampons for a menstruation cup. This is probably the biggest game-changing product I have ever used.

– It doesn’t feel uncomfortable after having a wee.
– It doesn’t leak or feel uncomfortable after swimming.
– You reduce your waste significantly.
– You can probably get away with leaving it in for a significant part of the day.

– It’s an expensive upfront fee (about £20), however, in the long run, it’s way cheaper.
– It can be a little tricky and uncomfortable at the start. Just persist, and they become much easier to use.
– I’ve used Flow Cups, which are regularly on offer for £5 or Organi Cup for about £20. I highly recommend both.

Other useful accessories.

– Black neoprene trousers are perfect for those days you might get a surprise and days you’re fully on your period.
– A black or dark-coloured poncho towel for the car park is a great idea.
– If you do end up using disposable products, dog poo bags work well to ensure your litter ends up coming home with you.
– Make sure you are well-hydrated, always carry a water bottle with you, plus some emergency cookies 🙂

Be confident, be awesome, and paddle like a girl. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

See you on the water!

Photos kindly provided by Jeff Bloor