Tuesday, August 2, 2022

About getting my periods back & racing ultras

When I started cycling in 2016, I did not have my periods. I won't go into medical details here, only to say that nothing was wrong with me. I stopped the pill and my periods did not come back right away ; it is often the case. It stayed that way a while. Seven years during which I did not understand what was so different between cycling as a woman or as a man. We are all cyclists and I am happy this word isn't gender-ed.

Let's be clear, I will be talking specifically about long distance races. There is a few exceptional riders, making a living out of this, but we can't exactly say that this is a professional field. Proof is, I have a job and I am racing ultra-distance. I am also perfectly aware men and women are different on a physical level, but, once again, do you know many ultra-distance racers building muscle specifically for those races ? We all are very good athletes, but almost no one is working out as an Olympic athlete could be for a competition.

I never competed against women only during a race, I gasped when I treated differently on the starting line, and I never said much about being a woman cyclist until now.

My periods came back about one year ago. As I am experiencing being a woman that way again, I am starting to get it. Women and men competing on an ultra-distance race are not equal.

I want to say again, I am talking about racing here. When touring, bikepacking, or hanging out on the bike on the weekend, who cares who's best ? Only in races does it matter. If a woman is "indisposed" on a Friday night, she can just skip the Saturday ride. When you're on a race though, you have no other choice but to deal with what's happening.

On a technical level, women bleed, and have 2 choices. Or we collect the blood, or we just let it flow. With both options, women end up with a wet chamois. Men could relate here, we all have been riding & sweating, or riding under a light or a heavy rain. Because a wet chamois is a wet butt, and a wet butt is a possibility of an infected butt, we can't keep on going just like this. I mean, we could wait, until cooling down and dry, or for the rain to stop. Women bleed for 3 to 7 days, that's a lot of sweat or rain... We might be able to change bibs in the middle of the night, in a quiet place & super fast, to avoid being seen and guilty of indecent self-exposure. But there is the washing, and we need water for that. Or, in the case where we have decided to collect the blood, instead of letting it drip in the bib, we need to wash hands, before getting whatever is collecting the blood inside our body out, put another item in, and wash hands again. We need to find a place with intimacy, water, soap would be nice too. That means a woman who is racing on her periods needs to stop more often than a man, and be mindful of a necessity a man does not have.

All of this is very manageable with a little organization. Just remember this is a race, and time is valuable. 

Being on my periods again, at first, was very destabilizing. I did not know what was happening. After 7 years without, my periods came back during #Transiberica last year. My whole body was sending signals and I blamed the stress. Later, without knowing exactly what was happening to me, I watched out for a tampon at every pit stop. I didn't find any. I would not have carry a whole box anyway. I was not even certain I had my periods then, it seemed so unreal and I shut up my instincts. I did not bleed much, just felt weird and uncomfortable for a day or two.

The following time was during the @twovolcanosprint (what a timing !), and I did not think about my periods at all. For some reason I just wondered if and why the hell I was shitting myself, and ended up with a very sore butt (see previous post). More than the body, my mood was very much affected. I had been feeling very low, and I now blame my periods.

Women have a tendency to feel terrible during this time of month, but everyone has ups & downs on a long distance race. Strong riders set up their minds to not let the downs impact them, they push harder when they feel enjoyment. I believe I just have to do the same work. Now that I understand that hormones make my mood fluctuate, I can counter attack and fight my bad mood. Energy is lost on the way, but I can keep racing. 


Now, there is another issue with this periods thing, that I am going to try to explain to both women and men. Because all women are different and might experience this time of the month differently, and men are not experiencing it at all. I am going to try and describe the pain I endure during my periods.

During at least one, and up to 3 days (and nights !), waves of pain come and go. I would compare it to a really hard pinch inside my uterus. The inside pain grows slowly, gets to a peak, and takes my breath away for a few seconds. Imagine climbing up a pass then, trying to push your legs, feeling the pain coming up, watching out for the peak. Then the pain decreases, the pinch is released little by little. Suddenly, nothing at all. I often wonder if I imagined the pain. Until it strikes again, every 10' to 30' when it is at its worst, only every hour or so when it is not too bad.

Managing the pain is the most tiring. I already need to focus on my ride, getting to the next point, going up a hill, and the pinch is taking everything away. I am fighting against time, against kilometers, against other riders, against my thoughts, and now I am fighting my own body. I feel diminished. Still I have to ride, still, I have to race. 


A few weeks ago, while I was having my periods, I realized it had been 1 year since they started coming back. I am still undetermined if this is good (it means my body is functioning normally, doctors can stop freaking out) or bad (this is unconvenient, it hurts), and I am only learning. I am getting use to it, adapting to this new schedule of my own body, recording the symptoms, understanding the influence on me riding. As I am learning about all of this at a very adult age (definitely not a teenager anymore), I am trying to analyze the whole process. I think it could be interesting for women to talk about it, and for men to hear what we experience.

I never claimed that I am a woman cycling. I'd rather everybody see me as a cyclist, and I just happen to be of feminine gender. I see now that being a woman riding & racing is something special. We are different, we are racing differently. You could see this series of posts as an attempt to apologize. I have been wrong saying there was no difference between women and men racing. Women have to deal with a lot more, on a technical, psychological & physical level.

That being said, I still want to just be part of the ultra-cycling group, without distinction of gender. I don't want to be treated differently, "as a woman". I just want the recognition, that doing the same thing as men, is pretty bad ass.

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