Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 161 September 2023 | Page 63

two wetsuits , one for hot weather and a suit for the cooler triathlons , and the swimsuit . The idea was to use lighter colours , so that the kit wouldn ’ t be as hot . I ’ ve never had a problem before with these colours , but there was something else different in Ibiza . I have a new bike sponsor , which changed my position on the bike , so I was rolling forward onto the seat more , and that ’ s why the bloodstain had come up the front of the suit . It was just one of those things , and I think of the 20 photos I saw from that race , there were two photos where I could see it . It was actually gone by the end of the race , because I poured water on myself to cool down during the run and that took the stain away .
MA : When one of those photographs was published , some people commented that it should have been cropped or edited , to hide or take out the bloodstain . How did you feel when you saw people talking about this online ?
EPB : As someone that wants to inspire the next generation , I don ’ t want to glamorise sport , because , as we all know , sport is tough . If you really want to achieve a hard goal , and you ’ re not going to cheat to get there , then it ’ s hard , and there are things that are going to look ugly , like pictures of yourself sprinting to the finish line . But the beauty of sport is sometimes in the ugliness , the amount that you ’ re putting yourself on the line .
I think to edit and glamorise , and only put up pictures that we think are perfect , is almost like you ’ re trying to make yourself this thing that people look up to , rather than this reachable role model that a young kid thinks , I could be like that . Look , she ’ s not a robot , she also has her period , she is just an older version of what I could be . So , I think , yeah , why not have photos that are the reality of what you ’ re doing ?
And then secondly , it would take something away from me , something I ’ ve really fought hard to have . I was an endurance runner growing up , and I had my period , but then I got underweight . I was undereating and overtraining , so I didn ’ t have my period for four years , and really struggled to get it back . So , all these years later , this really is something I feel strongly about . If you have a picture like this , then to crop that out just sends the wrong message to young girls that there ’ s no room for periods in elite sports .
MA : Hi Emma , thanks for being so willing to discuss what is quite often a subject that many don ’ t feel comfortable discussing openly . So , there you were , racing on the world stage , and your period starts . Nothing you could do , just had to grin and bear it , and keep going ?
EPB : Happy to chat about this , as it ’ s all quite natural . I always have four or five days each month where I know my period will fall on one of those days , and it ’ s just one day that is usually really heavy , and yeah , unfortunately , that morning I said to my husband , this is the day . It started to come the night before , and then the morning of the race , I knew it was there .
What made it more difficult than usual was that this was the first big European Tour race of the year , and that meant that pretty much every top girl was there , in a highclass field . Also , it was being televised on Eurosport , and they announce everyone , so there was a line-up of 30 girls , and that whole process takes a while . So , they took us to the call room a lot earlier , and you had to be in your wetsuit and ready a lot earlier , so there was no time to go for a last-minute toilet break .
MA : I read that you ’ ve experimented with different tampons , and you ’ ve tried carrying them with you , so please tell me a bit more about that . Were you actually carrying one ? Apologies , this is a really personal question , but were you already wearing one ?
EPB : Yeah , so I was using a what they call a super tampon , the ones for the really heavy bleed , and even then , I know that within two hours it ’ s going to start being an issue . After the pic went viral , many people recommended that I try using a cup , and I have done that , but I don ’ t think I used it properly , though , because I found it uncomfortable . Or perhaps I used the wrong one , because I ’ ve been looking it again and seen the number of brands that are out there , so that ’ s something I ’ m going to experiment with now .
MA : You quite often wear a dark coloured tri suit when you race , especially when you ’ re competing for Great Britain , but in Ibiza you were wearing a light pink and blue swimsuit , and the bloodstain showed up quite prominently as a result . Why the change of kit ? EPB : So , I work with Santini Triathlon , who are really good and helped my team design our own kit , with our own colours . For me , that ’ s blue and pink , and I have
MA : I ’ ve researched and written about this topic before , and read that the loss of one ’ s period , or amenorrhea , is actually quite common amongst female athletes , due to sustained , hard training , but it ’ s not often openly spoken about , and the same goes for eating disorders or weight issues . It ’ s refreshing to hear somebody discuss these things so openly .
EPB : If someone questions me about it , then I am happy to have that conversation , and I mentioned it a couple of years ago when we were in lockdown , because something happened that brought back a lot of memories for me . When I became healthy again , I didn ’ t want to weigh myself , but during lockdown , we were doing these online Zwift races and we had to weigh ourselves , and that was the first time I got on a scale for a very long time .
When I was an unhealthy athlete , I was weighing myself a lot , and my coach would actually put me on the scale to make sure I was heavier before letting me do the treadmill training sessions . I would drink loads of water before those runs to make myself heavier , so that I passed the scales to be able to do my run . That is not a good message , and that ’ s not something I want to encourage girls to do .
I am now actually running three kilogrammes heavier , I ’ m a healthier athlete , and I ’ m running faster times , and that ’ s the message that I want to put across . Earlier this year , I ran a 10-kilometre PB in February , and I think that showed me that I was in a place where I felt comfortable actually talking about this a bit more , whereas before that , I felt that people would actually look at me and think , she ’ s healthy now , but she ’ s talking about a bad time , and when she was lighter , she was running faster , winning her races and setting her PBs . I don ’ t know , I did have a bit of fear .
MA : Do you think that you had an eating disorder , or were you perhaps just pushing too hard from the sporting perspective ?
EPB : I wouldn ’ t say it was an eating disorder , but I was not eating healthily . I totally cut fat out of my diet , so if I read that something had ten grams of fat in it , I wouldn ’ t touch it . I took things to the extreme , I think . For example , around 2009 , I did this cooking class in the UK , along with other athletes , including Kelly Holmes .* We had this famous chef showing us how to make the recipe , then we had to go away on our stands and make it ourselves . * British double gold medallist at the 2004 Olympics in the 800m and 1500m .