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 one of these five embarrassing running questions.
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 when 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 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 –
This 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 (affiliate links–>) NipGuards 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 amenorrhea, the complete loss of your period, which can be caused by very low body fat, extreme exercise, and inadequate 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 bought 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 point. 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 than 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 and 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. They are a 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 eight 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.) It’s never a bad idea to consult your doctor, especially if the problem is resolved with these suggestions or if you have pain, discomfort, or if the symptoms came on suddenly.
That is my list of the top five embarrassing running questions that my athletes have asked 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 conversations 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.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy: The Art of the Snot Rocket (and other gross running skills)
And Now It’s Time for the Running Coaches’ Corner!
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