A version of this essay was published on Medium and has been edited to fit Mic style.
Have you ever run a marathon on the first day of your period? I got my flow the night before the London Marathon, and it was extremely painful. It would be my first marathon, and I remember already feeling so nervous for it. I spent a full year enthusiastically training hard, but I had never actually practiced running on my period.
I thought through my options. Running 26.2 miles with a wad of cotton wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd. I honestly didn't know what to do. I knew that I was lucky to have access to tampons and Thinx. I was fortunate to be part of a society that has somewhat normalized menstruation — as long as there's no visible evidence.
I could definitely choose to participate in this norm at the expense of my own comfort and just deal with it quietly. But then I thought, if there's one person society can't eff with, it's a marathon runner. You can't tell a marathoner to clean themselves up, or to prioritize the comfort of others. On the marathon course, I could choose whether or not I wanted to participate in this norm of shaming.
I decided to just take a Midol, hope I wouldn't cramp, bleed freely and just run.
A marathon is in itself a centuries-old symbolic act. Why not use it as a means to draw light to my sisters who don't have access to tampons and, despite cramping and pain, hide menstruation away like it doesn't exist?
I ran the marathon with two women who are very close to me, Ana and Mere. Both of them had run marathons before. I thought we would split up, but by mile six, they were still with me, right at my side. It was inspiring.
As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don't exist. By establishing a norm of period-shaming, male-preferring societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that half of all humans share monthly, at some point in their lives. Because it's all kept quiet, women are socialized not to complain or talk about their own bodily functions, since no one can see them happening. And if you can't see it, it's probably "not a big deal." Why is this an important issue? Because it's is happening, right now.
And so I started bleeding freely.
I was having all these crazy thoughts, analyzing whether I was a crazy chick who needs to just calm down and reach for an effing tampon — in fact, someone came up behind me making a disgusted face to tell me in a subdued voice that I was on my period. I was like, "Wow, I had NO idea!"
Or maybe I was a liberated boss madame who loved her own body, was running an effing marathon and was not in the mood for being oppressed that day.
As we come up on mile 9, I saw my dad and brother. I kept trying to awkwardly pull my shirt down to my knees so they wouldn't see that I was bleeding. But as I approached them, I realized they just wanted to scream and hug and take a photo and celebrate together. They were so completely amazing, smiling and laughing and cheering. They were so in the moment with me and there was so much love. It was their blood too. I realized they couldn't have cared less.
The two most important men in my life were down for team feminism.
Ana's mom and sister were both there too, screaming and holding up adorable signs. Seeing them made us feel uplifted, like part of something really epic. Our families made our decision to tackle 26.2 miles feel right.
Around us we saw other people exhibit acts of pain and persecution — running barefoot, running while singing karaoke, running with a 40-pound backpack and even one guy running dressed as Jesus, with a huge wooden cross on his back.
Everyone was running on their own personal mission. Seeing them made me realize how it felt entirely appropriate that I got my period on marathon day.
The sidelines were packed, and maybe it's delirium and exhaustion, but every single sign I read was hilarious. Even the funny hydration signs. I was in love with them.
They say you hit the wall at 18.5, so I tried to focus my mind on the next milestone. The first was to get to mile 6, then to mile 9 to see family, then the half-marathon point at 13.1 over the bridge, then to mile 18.5 to see the breast cancer cheer point (we ran for Breast Cancer Care) before the final stretch to 26.2. I remember thinking, "My body has my back right so hard right now. The female body is incredible. We haven't even stopped running once. I want us to finish strong."
The 2015 London Marathon was everything for me. I trained for a year, and then it happened, and it really was an epic, epic thing. We ran for women who can't show their periods in public and for women who can't compete in athletic events. We ran for our friends who have suffered through period cramps at work and for women who have survived breast cancer.
We ran in sisterhood, side by side, and we crossed the finish line hand in hand.
Three months later, I analyze a lot of what I do against how I felt during the marathon. I recall the strength to channel positivity, to value working as a team over working individually. I think about goal-setting and executing. I think about pain and fear, and what it feels to overcome those. And I think about feminism, body positivity and having the ovaries to practice what you preach.