For 2017 Comrades Marathon champion Camille Herron, this year’s Western States 100-Mile (160km) Endurance Run presented a first-of-its-kind obstacle for the elite ultrarunner as it was the first major event where her period started midrace.
Through a positive mindset and creative troubleshooting, Herron, 40, managed to push through debilitating cramping, nausea, and bleeding to finish as the eighth female in 18:51:54, almost 30 minutes faster than her time in 2021. Ruth Croft from New Zealand won the event for the women in 17:21:30.
Herron, considered one of the best ultramarathoners in the world, is a pro at persevering through the physical, mental, and emotional demands of the sport. But this experience—which she shared on her social media after the race and inspired other women to share their experience—presented a completely new challenge for the masters runner.
Herron said her period, which is historically very regular, was supposed to start the Monday before the race. That Thursday evening when it still hadn’t come, she took a pregnancy test, which was negative.
When the race began on Saturday, 25 June, and she still had no period, Herron knew that midrace menstruation was a possibility.
But with numerous world and American records, she was pegged as one of the female favourites and started Western States strong. About 24km into the race, Herron began experiencing cramps. At first, she thought it might be attributed to GI distress, but by 61km, she knew her menstrual cycle was the culprit.
In uncharted territory, Herron decided to experiment and took a TUMS antacid tablet.
“When I finished, I was full of joy. I was so proud of myself that I was able to work through that and not let it get me down”
“It literally was like this miracle cure. I was feeling like a million bucks again,” said Herron, who was also drinking water with magnesium mineral drops at the time.
Without cramp pain, Herron could fully focus on racing again. She said she was ready to go “beast mode.”
Then, at 88km, she consumed a drink that didn’t settle well with her and made her feel nauseous. She tried downing another TUMS, but the cramping persisted. Soon after, she started her period and was throwing up. At that point, all she wanted to do was lie down. So, she did.
Herron estimates that she timed out for one hour total, in two 30-minute segments, to rest and refuel. After eating half a burrito and some oranges, she started feeling better. But ultimately sparkling mineral water at 125km settled her stomach enough that she could complete the final 36km.
Typically, Herron said she takes it easy during the first two days of her cycle. So, she had no experience competing while menstruating, especially not in a race like Western States.
“To run a grueling 100-miler on day one of my period is not something I would normally do,” Herron said.
Touted as the world’s oldest and arguably one of the most difficult 100-mile trail races, Western States includes more than 5400m of elevation gain and 7000m of loss.
“When I finished, I was full of joy. I was so proud of myself that I was able to work through that and not let it get me down,” Herron said. “I just want to reassure other women that this is something that’s okay. We can work through this. We can get to the finish line.”
Herron said she hopes her experience can help girls and women feel more comfortable with the topic.
“This is something we don’t talk enough about that women experience,” Herron said. “This is a moment to really start talking about this, and what we’re experiencing, and how we troubleshoot it.”
Experts commonly recommend gentle exercise and moderate running while you have your period, but to address PMS-related aches you could also try placing a hot water bottle on your back or lower abdomen or taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. Also, know it is still possible to snag a personal best on your period, just as several women have famously done in the past.
In 2002 Paula Radcliffe experienced menstrual cramps during the Chicago Marathon and still set a world record. And in 1996, German long-distance runner Uta Pippig won the Boston Marathon as blood from her period trickled down her leg.
As Herron told Runner’s World, “Women can do hard things.”
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. If you are racing on your period, listen to your body and adjust accordingly. And if all else fails, take a page out of Herron’s book and try a “miracle” TUMS or some sparkling mineral water.