The added challenges of being a woman runner

Mary Jennings: From sports bras and shoes to periods to personal safety, there’s a lot that’s worth thinking about before you hit the road

Just throw on your running shoes and head out the door. If only it was that easy. As a woman runner, there are a few additional factors to consider before we hit the road. Comfort and safety are essential if we are going to enjoy our running.

There is so much to be gained from getting out the door, but to run confidently and at ease takes more planning and preparation for us ladies. Breasts, hormones, pelvic issues and safety are all common concerns but there is lots we can do to make our running something that empowers rather than holds us back.

From the top down

Ahead of running shoes, the most essential item of clothing for women runners is a high impact sports bra that fits correctly. This will do wonders for your running posture, comfort and confidence. If we feel secure from the top down there is less downward pressure when we run. We stand taller, we look forward, we relax our upper body and we can focus more on the movement of running instead of noticing a bouncing chest and associated discomfort in the back and shoulders. Even if you already have a drawer full of sports bras, it is worth taking a little time to see if they are still doing their job correctly. Like all garments, wear and tear as well as washing can impact their value.

Finding the right bra

When choosing a sports bra, I encourage you to stand in front of a mirror and run on the spot in it. It should feel snug but not restrict your breath. Place your hands over your chest for additional support and notice how it that feels compared to running in the bra alone. If you feel better supported with the addition of your hands, it is a sign that the bra you are in is not doing all it could. Shop around, always choose a bra that is for high-impact activity but remember it is not always the expensive ones that are the best, it is the one that fits your individual body most snugly and securely.


Supporting our pelvis

As we work down from the chest and head towards our pelvis, I’m conscious each woman’s body is different. Some of us have carried babies, some runners have regular periods, others manage unpredictable cycles and many runners are in menopause and beyond. Pelvic pain, prolapse, incontinence, painful periods and many more issues stemming from this part of the body can impact our running routines as well as confidence on the run. Problems stemming from this area can be the reason many women runners give up. Feeling self-conscious of our body shape or holding excess tension in the pelvic area can restrict our movement, our comfort and create another barrier to getting out the door.

Finding help and support

Please don’t suffer in silence or put looking after your body on the long finger if you do have an issue of this kind. Your local women’s health physiotherapist is a great starting point and they will help you to resolve your problem at source and suggest the best path to run safely and comfortably. There is also a growing library of educational podcasts and support online to help women find out more about our bodies and how we can work with our individual bodies to move safely and confidently. I understand that it can be hard to make time to invest in this, but remember you are setting yourself up for a stronger future body outside of running too.

Time of the month

Even if there is no specific medical condition that might be impacting your running, our fluctuating hormones can play a huge factor in our mood as well as in how our body feels while out on a run. Putting our body under pressure to perform consistently, week on week, is an unfair challenge. No two running weeks are the same. As we start the new year, I encourage you to keep track of your menstrual cycle, notice patterns in your body and start to recognise the times in the month when your body feels sluggish, strong or energised. This can help us plan for races or personal best attempts. Better still, it can stop us from being hard on ourselves when a run doesn’t go as planned. Consider it all as feedback and if we can stop comparing with others and start to run with the focus on our own body and how it feels, we will get much more from our running.

A word on safety

I cannot write an article on female comfort while running without drawing attention to the issues around safety and the anxiety it can create. This week marks the first anniversary of the death of Ashling Murphy and we are reminded of the shock, sadness and anger that surrounded this awful tragedy. For a runner, just like you or me, to be attacked in broad daylight on her local running path sends shock waves through the country. This heartbreak brought huge attention to our own running habits and made many women runners more anxious about running solo.

Taking responsibility

But as I wrote at the time, we cannot stay indoors for fear of going out. We must instead take whatever precautions we feel are necessary for our own comfort and safety, even if it does feel a little unfair that we need to give safety more thought than our male running buddies. We can decide not to go at all, but we must also remember the huge benefits that running brings us. So if you are feeling cautious about running alone, amend your running routes, run with others, use more technology or change the time of the day that you run if this will make you feel more at ease for now.

Find the opportunity

While we can certainly use some of these barriers as reasons not to run, we do have the choice to see each of these challenges as learning opportunities. We can find out more about how our body works, what builds our confidence, what supports will help us and ultimately what makes our running more enjoyable. Our bodies are changing all the time, as is the technology, research and information available to us.

So why not decide this year to embrace our differences, see the challenges as stepping stones, experiment with new ideas, gear and perspectives and set the new foundations in place for your running for 2023 and beyond?

  • Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Her 2023 running programmes for beginners and improvers start this week