Is It TMI? No! It’s the Top 5 Embarrassing Running Questions Answered

As a coach, both to teenage cross country runners and adults training for all distances, I get a lot of questions about how to train, dress, what kind of shoes to wear, etc. Sometimes, though, a runner will approach me hesitantly, almost secretively, and whisper something like, “um, coach? I, um, have a question.” Voice fading off. I can almost predict that the question is about one of the following five topics.

The Top 5 Embarrassing Running Questions

1. Runners Trots –

Being a “glass half full” type of personality, I will point out that one theory as to why runners have a lower incidence of colon cancer is because running promotes regular bowel movements. One might say, though, that can be too much of a good thing.

Many of us have been there, because it is quite a common condition. Runner’s trots happen Runner's Trotswhen you are running along, and suddenly, you just have to go. It may cause cramping, nausea, flatulence, or diarrhea. It may even happen when you are finished running. Many a race time has been slowed by dashes to the porta-potties.

While the cause isn’t known, it is theorized that the up and down motion of running stirs the bowels. Dehydration may play a part as well. But the real question is how to prevent it. Here are a few suggestions that can help keep you out of that porta-potty:

  • Try to avoid eating for at least two hours before running.
  • Caffeine and warm fluids may speed up the process of moving wastes through your intestines, so either avoid or aim to drink these things with time to spare for a bowel movement before your run.
  • Limit high fiber foods, and avoid foods that you know cause you flatulence or loose stools in the days before a long race.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Design your running routes to include a restroom. (note: I know where all the best, secret bathrooms are along my route. I’ve have even sneaked into a few country clubs…they have awesome bathrooms!)
  • Know your body and be aware of your bowel habits. Try to time your workouts accordingly.
  • Sometimes runner’s trots occur because of irritable bowel syndrome. If they continue to be a problem, schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out a medical issue.

2. Bloody Nipples –

bloody nipplesThis is a problem that usually plagues only men. You’ve probably seen them at the finish line of longer races. Standing proudly with their finisher’s medals, with two strips of blood trailing down the front of their shirt. It happens, usually in longer runs, when your shirt repeatedly rubs against your nipples as you run. The result is chafed, sore, and bloody nipples. Because women generally wear sports bras, bloody nipples aren’t usually a problem (but, believe me, men, we get our share of chafing in other places).

Prevention is relatively simple. Some men wear band-aids or products like Nip Guards to protect that sensitive area. You can also apply Vaseline or Body Glide to lubricate and protect. And for longer runs, be sure to wear a synthetic material like drifit, not cotton, closest to your body. Cotton can chafe.

3. Menstruation Issues – 

Many women are concerned that they can’t or shouldn’t run when they are experiencing the symptoms of menstruation, cramping, bloating, and bleeding, particularly when they are planning for a big race. They may be concerned that their performance will suffer if they compete during their period.

The good news is that there should be little or no decrease in performance during your period. In fact, women have even set records during all phases of the menstrual cycle. Plus, running has been shown to elevate mood, and alleviate other menstrual symptoms. If you are concerned that your period will fall on a planned race day, plan a longer training run during your period to help you feel more confident. Tampons are recommended, pads may cause chafing, and be sure to bring a spare or two.

Because the bloating may cause chafing in areas where you don’t usually have issues, a little Vaseline or Body Guide can help to eliminate that problem. (note: my own secret, when I used to have those problems, was to wear a spandex-type short for those runs. Didn’t help the underarm chafing, but kept me from running like a cowboy.)

There are other serious menstruation issues that are not covered here, including the complete loss of your period, which can be caused by very low body fat, extreme exercise and poor nutrition and can lead to medical conditions such as osteoporosis and infertility. These are serious health issues and should be discussed with your physician.

4. Black Toenails –

While I don’t think of black toenails as embarrassing, you might not agree if you just Black Toenailsbought a pair of snazzy sandals for a summer wedding. Maybe not embarrassing, but they certainly can be ugly. And almost every runner will have them at some time . They are almost a rite of passage when someone becomes a “serious” runner or ups their mileage.

While shoes that are too small can certainly be a cause, pressure from below, as you take step after step while you are running, produces friction between the toenail and the tissue surrounding it. When the tissue is damaged, fluid accumulates. The black color is caused by a few blood capillaries that are broken in the process. Most of the pressure, though, comes from the repeated action of the foot coming forward, pushing a little extra blood into the toenail region every time you take a step. You are more likely to get a black toenail in warm weather because your feet swell more when it’s hot.

The best way to treat a black toenail is to leave it alone, unless it is very painful. The toenail will grow out, sometimes causing the damaged nail to fall off completely. It takes time, but it will grow out.

There are several things you can do to make it less likely that you will get a black toenail (though almost everyone training for a marathon will get one at some time). Make sure that your shoes fit and there is some space between your big toe and the end of the shoe. Most shoe manufacturers recommend that you purchase running shoes about 1/2 size larger that your regular shoe size.

Increase your mileage slowly, which will give your toes time to adapt to each increase. Trim your toenails regularly and wear good, wicking socks to help keep your foot dry as long as possible. If you’re doing a lot of downhill running, you might try lacing your shoes a little tighter in the front to keep the foot from pushing forward as much.

5. Leaky Bladder – 

It can happen when you’re running happily along, when you suddenly realize that your shorts are soaked with urine. Or you may not notice until you change and smell that distinctive odor. This happens because, while strong pelvic and sphincter muscles can handle the extra pressure from a sudden sneeze or cough, or the pounding of running, these muscles can become stretched or weakened. This often happens due to pregnancy, childbirth, or even aging. Then sudden pressure can push urine out of the bladder.

The best way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles is to do Kegel exercises. They are very effective and can be done anywhere at any time. To make sure that you are using the correct muscles, try stopping your urine flow without using stomach, leg, or butt muscles. When you’re able to slow or stop the flow or urine, you’ve located the correct muscles. Contract the muscles for 10 seconds, relax for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times. Try to perform the Kegels about four times a day. Perfect thing to do on a long drive or while standing in a grocery line. Remember, nobody can tell that you’re doing them.

Extra weight can also put pressure on the bladder, so losing weight can reduce that pressure and help you regain bladder control. (note: I had a hysterectomy four years ago because of fibroid tumors. I don’t know if it was the tumors or what, but after my surgery, I no longer have any bladder control issues. You may not want to go that far, though.)

That is my list of the top five embarrassing issues that my runners have question about. Although, I have to say, the longer you are a runner, the less embarrassing these things are to talk about. I have had the most amazing personal conversation while on the run with people, who, under normal (non-running) conditions, I never would have confided in. It’s a running thing.

So, give. What is your embarrassing running story? Oh, I guess I should tell you (one of) mine. During my first few marathons, I used to get extremely nauseous starting from about the halfway point of the race. In my first LA marathon, everything was going wonderfully until mile 14, when I really felt like I needed to throw up. I thought that if I did vomit, I would feel better. So I started stopping at every first aid station, running behind the tent they had set up, sticking my finger down my throat to make myself vomit. I was not very successful at this, possibly because of dehydration, but the gagging itself seemed to make me feel better for a little while. Then I’d last until the next station, and so on, through the rest of the race. My finish line photo shows me with my hand over my mouth, trying to at least make it across before I gave in to my nausea.

Okay, now it’s your turn.


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  1. Kate @ Kate is eating says

    Oh dear, I’ve never seen bloody nipples on a dude before. I’ve heard about them but omg that picture! The most discomfort I’ve ever really had was just muscle soreness. I guess I’ve got to start running more to get to know some of these embarrassing moments :p
    Kate @ Kate is eating recently posted…Rainy day comfort foodMy Profile

  2. says

    Thankfully I’ve never had serious race day issues but I have had a few poo issues during training ones. I’ve had a pop a squat a few times behind some bushes and even had the unfortunate experience of actually letting loose in my drawers. Thank God I was only 1.5 miles away, was wearing compression shorts, had my cell phone, and a quick acting husband that picked me up. =)
    Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb recently posted…Pizza That’s Good For You? – Naked PizzaMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks, Heidi, for answering in the “not TMI” spirit! My poo problems tend to be after a long run, but then it seesm my insides ave turned to liquid. My husband prepares by taking a handful of toilet paper and he always uses it.

  3. says

    I ALWAYS tell people you are not a real runner until you experience runners trots. Like Heidi, I’ve had to run into the bushes a few times (thank God for canyon runs! and cheap gloves!), but there’s no reason to feel like crap (ha!) while running when you can relieve yourself and continue pain free.

    I’ve never peed myself while running – but I’ve come close in CrossFit when we do double unders!
    Ashley recently posted…They got their REVENGE!My Profile

  4. says

    Ahhh! Runners Trots brings back fond memories. Like Heidi, I haven’t had any race day issues but when I was training regularly a few years ago, I had to leave my running group many times in search of a bathroom and then finish my run alone :( I’ve also been the victim of a black toe that eventually just fell off. I miss running! I seriously need to get back into it :)
    Kareen recently posted…Restaurant Review – VedgeMy Profile

  5. says

    Running while pregnant made me all too familiar with the pee issue. Thankfully it seems to have gone away now that my baby is here. I’ve never had any pooping issues while running but definitely have them after long runs.
    The only other I can think of is the constant runny nose I get while running – thank goodness for long sleeves :)
    Jenny @ simply be me recently posted…Rest Day Randoms – skating, Mojito, 10K, park, rail trail, tree climbingMy Profile

  6. Adriana says

    Great post coach! Two words: Mt. Sac. Running down all those hills… Oh God. I’m just gonna say that my last race there, I didn’t stop running until after I realized how long the line for the bathroom was. Then I just ran to the hoses they provided for runners when they crossed the finish line. Most embarrassing moment of my life.

  7. says

    I LOVE this post :) I’ll tackle them one by one…

    1) This is the worst of the 5 for me. I already have a severely sensitive stomach, and a GI disorder that can turn any day into a “where’s the nearest bathroom” day, complete with doubled-over in pain symptoms. Not so fabulous. Now add running in, and it’s even worse! My first 1/2 marathon, I used Gu, and luckily was able to get through the race, but about 30 minutes after my finish, I could feel mountains moving, and was sick for about 7-8 hours afterwards :(

    2) Thankfully my sports bra has saved me from this, but until I found Moving Comfort, I would get horrible chafing on my upper abdomen, where the band was, or where the straps were digging into my shoulders, since the girls aren’t exactly light.

    3) I have to be careful with this one. Even though I take iron supplements, I’m still anemic, so if it’s a heavier month, laden with painful cramps, I have to be cautious. Even though the running helps with cramps, if it’s too heavy and I’m still running, I have gotten dizzy/light-headed during and after a run.

    4) Yay for never having a black toenail (knock on wood). During the Nike Women’s 1/2 marathon in SF last year, my poor toes were banging up against the front of my shoes on all the downhills (have you been to SF?! It’s all hills!), and I did get a blister under my 3rd toenail, but it was just a regular blister and not a blood blister, so it didn’t result in a black toenail. It did lift my toenail, and I lost about 3/4 of it, but since it was still flesh-colored, you couldn’t really tell unless you were inspecting it or I had them painted.

    5) HUGE knock on wood! I have a weak bladder/you don’t have to go and then all of the sudden BAM! if you don’t find a bathroom in about 3 seconds you’ll pee your pants type of bladder, but it hasn’t come into play while running… yet. Thankfully!
    Sheena recently posted…Running Pop QuizMy Profile

  8. says

    I’m lucky enough to have a stomach of lead – but it is a chronic situation in the reverse of the trots that I have to deal with so it sure doesn’t feel any better. At the end of marathons when I cross the finish line it always takes all that I have to not pee my pants… I think my body wants to relax so much!
    Kayla recently posted…Wet Weather RunningMy Profile

  9. says

    My husband would die if he knew I was writing this, but he tries to run every morning and without fail, he is racing to the bathroom at the end of his run…it amazes me, but keeps him – um – very regular, which is a good thing! 😉

  10. says

    This is an awesome post! I’ve had the runner’s trots for sure….hiding behind a bush on many occasions. Most of the time it happens after the run for me when I am safely at home thank goodness! And yes…I will admit that I have peed on myself a few times….:-( And yes on the toenail thing! Luckily I’ve only lost one so far!
    Mindy @Road Runner Girl recently posted…My Running Shoes Just Quit!My Profile

  11. says

    uh, runners trots. this happened to me last weekend…There is always a first time! I had to “off road” my ordeal, which caused me much pain and agony due to the prickers on the trail. lesson learned. But, I am happy that I mapped out my race course properly, and knew, that off roading was my only option at that point…so there was a light at the end of the tunnel!
    fizzgig recently posted…Like a Girl Gone Wild…My Profile

  12. says

    My runners trot/bladder issues are usually triggered as soon as I stop running. I’m always amazed. At how quickly it comes on. There have been times where I’ve opened the front door and don’t even take the time to shut. It’s an all out sprint to the bathroom. One time I stopped running about a mile from my house and let me tell you that was the longest mile of my life. Lesson learned :)

  13. says

    Women wear sports bras but nipple chafing could happen, sometimes the fabric that is used on the sports bra might make the nipples chafe, and the most common places where women chafe when running are below the armpits. I read a blog that said that deodorants could be a good help against this kind of chafing.
    Cassie Hargett recently posted…​Your Guide to Half-Cup BrasMy Profile


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    Is It TMI? No! It’s the Top 5 Embarrassing Running Questions Answered

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