Water? Check. Emergency blanket? Check. Headlamp? Check. Snacks? You bet. Tampax? Oh, heck yes.
It all started at a campsite just outside Mt. Rainier.
“Tampons are good fire starters.” Said Jeff.
“That’s an expensive fire starter.” I replied. “Let’s use kindling.”
The next day on the Wonderland Trail, a few of us got our period. It suddenly made sense why we had been feeling so off a few days prior. That day we ran while exchanging tampons as though it was a new kind of currency.
Jeff may not have agreed, but our periods connected us on that run. It was as though we were running in solidarity for something. Running up and over waterfalls, snow, dirt, and rocks, our periods paralleled the highs and lows of the adventure. At one point, we realized the OB string matched our running tanks. We were the most fashionable adventurers on the trail.
Then there was that time Emily had a severe nose bleed on the Hardrock 100 course. We were lost, and not getting very far. The nosebleed was stalling us even further, and it wouldn’t stop. We had our 10 essentials, but definitely missing the 11th. The 10 essentials won’t take you far if every step is a bloody mess.
Another day in the backcountry I found a hole in my flask. Thankfully I had a tampon in my running pack. I used the 11th essential to stop the water from leaking out. That tampon was just enough.
As trail runners, we have to practice taking care of ourselves in the outdoors. We often carry all 10 essentials, and then extra snacks for our trail sisters. As female athletes, we have additional practice in managing our menstrual cycles and its effect on our training.
We know the effect menstrual cycles have on our lives and our running. Yes, our period can often interfere with training, racing, and adventuring. Regardless of our running habits, our period can be a general buzz kill. As females, we have learned how to manage our periods and race to the finish line despite its challenges. But what if we started viewing our cycles as something to embrace rather than something to manage?
Periods can be a source of strength, power and weather protection. Cherokee culture viewed menstrual blood as a source of feminine strength. Roman philosopher Pilny the Elder stated that menstruating women have the power to negate hail storms and lightning. In the context outdoor culture, our periods can protect us. Perhaps they are also something to celebrate.
When you experience the absence of your own period, you quickly realize its presence is better than the alternative. Years of irregular cycles and bouts of amenorrhea taught me how receptive our periods can be to stressors. Even when you think you have your health in control, sometimes your cycle (or lack thereof) will tell you otherwise. The majority of my menstruating years have been irregular. Nowadays, each month is a victory. It is something to embrace and celebrate, rather than something to hide. Reflecting on the choices I made when I thought I had everything under control, I now understand how loudly our bodies speak to us. Regular menstruation is something to be proud of.
Growing up, periods were a taboo conversation. It was not considered an essential celebration, but something to be ashamed of in front of the boys. As an adult, I often want to share my monthly excitement with the cashier at the till. “Oh, I’m buying these tampons because I’m regular. I’m a real girl.” Although a Diva Cup would be the more environmentally friendly option, I think the pragmatic use of tampons is underrated-especially as endurance athletes. They have the potential to symbolize essential health milestones for some females.
Periods and tampons are also survival tools. When I have my period, it is a reminder that I am not only alive, but healthy. They can indicate either the presence or absence of my physical and mental health. Add a tampon, and you can tackle anything from starting fires to matching your running outfit. Without our health, we don’t have much. Periods and tampons are reminders of that.
That night, the campfire was lit with kindling, as we hoarded our tampons with pride. Protecting my health is just as essential as staying warm. Tampons have become one of my most prized material possessions. Whether they are used to start a fire, match our outfits, stop a nosebleed, clog a leaky flask, a source of strength, a symbol of solidarity, or for their intended purpose–they are the 11th essential.
This article is not sponsored by Tampax, but driven by my experiences proving that our physical and mental health is never guaranteed. Tampons can be a symbol of health and happiness.