Kiran Gandhi at the finish line. Photo: Twitter/@MadameGandhi
Running a marathon at the best of times is an agonising, painful and exhausting experience - both for the body and the mind. It's a feat of physical and mental strength that calls for participants to push themselves to their outer limits. Like just about every other sporting endeavour women compete in, they often do so while menstruating - yet despite the additional strain that menstruating can cause female athletes, it's something women continue to be pressured to keep under wraps for the sake of others' comfort.
The night before Kiran Gandhi's first London Marathon in April, she started menstruating. It was the 26-year-old's first-ever marathon, and although she'd trained for a year leading up to it, she had never practiced going the distance while on her period. Gandhi thought through her options and decided that what would be best for her - as well as a positive act for women - would be to "take some midol, hope I wouldn't cramp, bleed freely and just run".
That's exactly what Gandhi did - and after making it to the finish line like a total champ, she's since written an essay about the whole experience, drawing attention to the plight of women around the world who don't have access to tampons and lack support because of the taboo around periods.
"As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialised to pretend periods don't exist," she writes. "By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50% of us in the human population share monthly.
"By making it difficult to speak about, we don't have language to express pain in the workplace, and we don't acknowledge differences between women and men that must be recognised and established as acceptable norms."
Although she mentions one example of being shamed during the marathon - "someone came up behind me making a disgusted face to tell me in a subdued voice that I was on my period…I was like…wow, I had NO idea!" - it was an overall positive and empowering experience. Gandhi ran with two of her close female friends and they stuck together from start to finish.
"We ran for women who can't show their periods in public and for women who can't compete in athletic events. We ran for our friends who have suffered through period cramps at work and for women who have survived breast cancer. We ran in sisterhood side by side and we crossed the finish line hand-in-hand."