Meadhbh Mc Grath
Most women experience hormonal shifts during their menstrual cycle, and for those into sports, their performance can be affected. Now two Irish creative minds are leading the app pack for athletes with writes
IN June, the British long jumper Jazmin Sawyers shocked sports fans when she pulled out of a competition in Boston at the last minute. The 23-year-old Olympian later posted a note on Twitter explaining that her period had started just hours before she was due to leave for the track, and she was suffering with intense pains that meant she could barely walk. “This is something that isn’t talked about enough in sport, and it ought to be,” she added.
For all the scientific advances made in sport in recent years, ignorance around menstruation still abounds. It typically falls on individual female athletes to figure out how to deal with the effects of their periods.
Thankfully more women are speaking out about how their cycle affects their performance, including Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui. She told reporters at the 2016 Olympics that she was feeling “pretty weak and really tired” because she had her period, while British tennis player Heather Watson cited “girl things” as the reason for a disappointing result at the Australian Open in 2015.
For Georgie Bruinvels (28), Sawyers’ revelation was bittersweet. A committed runner and PhD scientist at University College London researching how female athletes’ iron stores are affected by menstruation, she explains: “At first I thought it was a good thing [that Sawyers was talking about it], but then I immediately asked a mutual friend for her details because I wanted to help her. I think it’s crazy for athletes to get that far in their careers and train so hard, but this isn’t something they’re prepared for.”
Periods can often act as a stumbling block for women in sport — whether it’s young girls dropping out when they reach puberty, or elite athletes finding their training obstructed at certain times of the month.
Bernadette Dancy (37), an ultra runner — any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length — from Blanchardstown, Co Dublin, says her cycle has definitely impacted her performance, and she was anxious that her races might suffer during her period.
“That was very much a concern when I was doing the ultras. That would not be fun, having to worry about changing a tampon while you’re running,” says Dancy, a lecturer in health and exercise science and a mother of two. “My period definitely makes me more sluggish. Especially after having children, your cycle is out of sync, and for me it’s heavier. In the week running up to my period, I’m much more tired, so I will find it harder to get out the door, and I’ll be dreading it from the day before. I wouldn’t be able to work as hard, but once you get running you feel better afterwards.”
Dancy has been running since her school days, and started doing marathons in 2006.
“Then I had my children and I thought I’d never do another marathon again because I couldn’t find the time to train,” she explains. But after having her second child, she got back into running, particularly long runs. When a friend developed blood cancer last year, Dancy had the idea to organise an ultra run to raise awareness. Now based in Twickenham, England, she decided to run 70 miles from London to Portsmouth, in the hope of getting 70 people to donate blood. It
In the week running up to my period, I’m much more tired, so I will find it harder to get out the door