But if men had them, we'd likely talk about them more often!
Historically, sport in general, has been formatted and developed around the physical abilities of men. With the fairer sex (strike one) occupying a somewhat primeval role of wife, mother, home maker, slave to tradition(?) ... you get the idea.
Yes, yes, I'm sure there was a time when they guys went out and brought home the bacon (I'm not sure when bacon became a thing) and their subordinate mates stayed at home to keep the brood in check and make sure he had dinner on the slab when he came home from a tough day wrestling wildebeest ... but we're well past that, right?
Joking aside - largely because there aren't any that are funny or inoffensive on the topic, and thus, they aren't jokes - over time ... lots of time, there's been much made of the conditions that females in sport endure, that males simply don't have to consider.
There are obviously the practical issues of raising a family, juggling their home-building with a career, generally being able to hit the ground on a level footing - yes, I know there are some men out there who do the same, I was a single parent myself, but the balance is tipped strongly in men's favour - but that's not where it ends. What we're talking about specifically, is one of the primary hurdles brought about by the unavoidable fact that females are females and males are males ...
The menstrual cycle!
Okay, I can hear laptop lids closing and doors slamming already, but it's an issue. Every month and for half of the population! And it presents difficulties for women who participate in events all over the world at every level. Difficulties that maybe don't get the attention they need because for as long as men have been aware of them, it's been a problem for the 'women folk'! Sure, we're all a little metrosexual, but ... but we're not.
Following an event last week that has already had too much exposure for its own good, a member of one of the competing teams made a post on social media to air her troubles relating to the impact of her period on said event. She did very well as it happened, but through a run of bad luck or simply unfortunate timing throughout 2022, it turns out that her scheduled goal races and lead-in events were severely impacted. Either by the onset of her period during the event or by the pre-menstrual impact she suffered prior.
Looking further into it, 2022 seemed to be the trigger for a recap of both her own experiences in the past and to assess the status quo.
She points out, for example, that one of the reasons young girls and women drop out of sport, reducing participation levels that many are encouraging and actively working to increase, is the onset and inherent limitations caused by their menstrual cycle. It also seems, incredibly, that there remains a stigma and general absence of discussion on the topic. Go further than that and entertain the accommodation of difficulties arising because of perimenopause and menopause and it's as if everyone's lost their tongue. Personally, I'm surprised. And there was nowhere that men's sensitivities were more sheltered than the coal mining valleys of South Wales that I grew up in!
As event organisers, there's little we can 'do' about it, of course. But this isn't a case of doing something about it. That's just it, nothing can be 'done' - it's our physiological design and there's little we can do about it. Many women who participate in regular sport or just keep active, manipulate their periods with birth control, use period trackers, or any number of other means to manage. But on the part of most of the community, it's a case of understanding and awareness. Of accommodating whatever needs we can. For a female, simply having to get to an event in shape, never mind particpate, stretches far beyond getting there injury free, healthy, and without having to be self-conscious:
Planning your training schedule around your cycle
Combatting the nutritional needs and deficiencies brought about by it
Avoiding the injuries and sickness brought about by some of those needs and deficiencies (especially when trying to train with some intensity)
The bottom line is, that it needn't be prohibitive (with some exceptions), and I'm sure most know that already.
So, it's not something anyone can control (it's as natural as running, right?), but we can certainly make things a little easier. We were talking about this at home and in the space of a few minutes came to a few obvious conclusions relating to what we can put in place at our events to make life a tiny bit more comfortable at least:
It's still a taboo topic for many men, it seems (likely some women too). And though we don't need to huddle over a beer and discuss the intricacies of the topic, it should be able be part of routine conversation. You never know, a slight tweak in culture could mean the difference between someone getting pointed in the right direction as opposed to needing to walk up to an event crew member, for a little help with something, but then not being able because the nearest guy with a fluorescent vest is ... well ... a guy!
More toilets out in the bush. Not quite as simple as that but it can be done - It's quite difficult to find Portaloos that have appropriate means of disposal of materials (in fact, many flat out prohibit this), without huge expense being added to an event's overheads, but we're looking
Tampons at checkpoints! Yep, I said it. The eagle-eyed among you may have already noticed them on occasion at some of our events. Why wouldn't they be there? But the knowledge that they're there and, again, crew members being comfortable with saying they're available and willing to cross the barriers of their comfort or gender to provide them
Sanitary disposal units!
Of course, these are just a few practical and probably obvious examples that should be the norm. But, and here's the thing, there's a lot written on the topic, but I've yet to come across anything, not even bullet point, that outlines any steps we could take investigate or implement.
So, why should it bother us? Why am I [Alun Davies], a male, writing about it when I couldn't possibly have any insight? What business have I?
First, if there’s just one woman out there who has DNSd an event because she woke up on race morning with her period and was not able to figure out how the logistics of trail running would work for her hygiene. Or, just one who has spent the final hour of her 50km panicking about getting back to the toilet at the base. Or, just one who wears a liner in every single race as a precaution because she has very irregular periods and is scared she might get caught unprepared with no one to speak to. Then, if this post gets to just one of them, it’s worth every male who might say, “WTF I don’t want to hear about this stuff” or every female who might say, “don’t air female private business”.
Also, as unlikely as it is to happen, if a female runner got toxic shock syndrom (TSS) while wearing a tampon for an extended time due to insufficient facilities to dispose of the tampon while in an event we host? That's my/our business. And really is the business of the community as a whole.
Regardless of gender, what do you think? As a female, what do you need that is realistically providable? Is it something that isn't much of a problem (I seriously doubt that's the case)?
How can we make things even a little easier? Let us know.
Alun Davies - making you cringe since 1966