The Gross side of running and how to embrace it

Missing toenails,

Blood blisters,

chafed arm pits,

Dehydration,

Runner shits,

All of these things and many more will affect runner types at some point in your life. If, like me, you run long distances (to me that can be anything over 10 miles, make of that what you will) you have probably come across some of these at some time or another, either in a race or training run. If you are a newbie, bad news, you’re gonna experience them, and they’re the dark side of running that no-one outside of the running community ever tells you about unless some high-profile runner experiences them. (No-one will ever let Paula forget the time she relieved herself during the London marathon). However, if you want to stick at it and enjoy views like the ones in the title, you have to just learn to embrace them and work with them. Here are my top ten gross running problems(?) and how I have learned to get over them.

Runner Poops and nervous pees

Problem: Lets start with the one that everyone is most interested in – bathroom issues. Runner trots are a real problem for a lot of runners, both newbies and the most seasoned of runners can experience them, due to nerves or just poor fuelling.

Number ones can be complex – don’t drink enough and you’re gonna do yourself damage, especially when you are doing marathon distances. The temptation to drink less before the run so you dont have to stop in the first 5 miles is there, but as races usually start in  the mornings you end up drinking more anyway. Drink too much, you will find your run incredibly uncomfortable with a full bladder

Solution: Usually these problems can be down to not having your nutrition strategy sorted, and can also be caused by not using the right in-race nutrition. There are a plethora of sites that offer guidance on pre-race loading, and there are a tonne of different gels and powders and bars on the market that you can use. For me, I follow a really basic strategy for training and slightly change it for races.

Training – I don’t eat anything specific before a training run, and try to take in at least a half litre of water before a run in the hours previous. If I’m running more than 10 miles, I’ll maybe take on more. Mid-run I tend not to use gels under 10 miles, and just stick to water with an electrolyte solution mixed in.

About an hour prior to any run I will drink 2 cups of strong unsweetened coffee, followed by ice-cold water – trust me, it will get anything in your bowels out. 

Racing – Prior to a race I always make sure I have breakfast – toast or porridge are my favorites as they’re easy to eat when you’re half asleep. During my race I wont use any of the free sports drinks or gels being offered unless they are the same brand as what I am running with – this isn’t being snobbish, it’s just race day is not the time to try anything new. I also don’t really take any of the free sweeties on offer from the general public (we do appreciate your support by the way, THANK YOU) until im in the lat 3 miles or so, because otherwise you end up full of jelly like sweets and the result is multi coloured rainbow sick. Not pretty.

I stick to Science in Sport for all my nutrition when running because it’s the only one that agrees with your stomach. Its s really important that before your big race you trial your chosen gels to make sure they don’t have an undesirable reaction with your gut. needing to go in the woods on a training race is ok, but needing a shit on the side of the road knowing the nearest toilet is 3 miles away is going to be the most painful experience you ever go through.

I don’t need to tell you this, but the night before a race dont eat a curry, dont drink to excess, and dont over eat otherwise you’ll just have a bad time.

Dehydration sickness

Problem: This is a common problem on longer distances and affects newbies and seasoned runners. Dehydration during long runs and hard workouts leads to a lot of the excruciating stomach problems runners experience both during, and immediately following runs, and this can cause serious complications if you don’t have a good idea of how to hydrate when racing. In short, not hydrating properly can result in oxygen not being pumped into your blood around your body effectively, and not hydrating with the right liquid can cause even bigger problems.

Solution: The first hurdle to get over is getting used to running with a water bottle/pack. Some people (like me) find it really uncomfortable running with a bottle in hand so choose a camel pack, so I have water on hand throughout my race. Next its figuring out what works for you. Some people just use good old tap water and that’s that, but on longer more taxing runs your body needs more than H20, you need to replace lost salts and minerals, and that’s where electrolyte (sports) drinks come in. They are specifically designed to replace what you sweat out.

The final piece in the puzzle is figuring out how much you need. Different people need different amounts, and it’s really trial and error. Science tells us we should take on about 5-12 ounces for every 20 minutes or so after the first half hour. I prefer to go by the sweat analysis. If my sweat is free-flowing and im absolutely dripping, I’m drinking the right amount. If its really salty and I have a salty layer on my forehead, I know I need to drink more. It’s really trial and error and listening to your body to figure out what it needs.

Missing Toenails

Problem: You will probably see your toenails go a funny colour or even black before they eventually part ways with you and float around in your sock mid run. This kind of occurrence is not uncommon amongst runners, particularly those that have a marathon or two under their belts. I have 7 toenails right now, and you know what? That is fine. I just paint over the area where said toenail used to be. So how do we avoid making our already Gross feet that little bit uglier and keep all ten toenails in tact, and what do we do if/when we do lose them?

Solution: This is one of those things that you just have to live with. You have to understand that the amount of running you do when training for a marathon puts your lil feet under a huge amount of pressure and stress, and our feet are so well protected these days they just cant hack it. There are things you can do to keep the loss to a minimum, by keeping your toenails trimmed and tidy, if necessary go to a podiatrist to really take care of them. Keep your feet moisturised and clean.

Get shoes that fit properly, too small and your feet with touch the end, too big and you could slide around hitting the top of the shoe as you run. Ensure the toe box is large enough and ideally has a cushioned, wide toe area. It’s not enough just to have the right running shoes, take a closer look at the pair you stuff your feet in to everyday for work – are they really doing your feet any favours?

Wear proper cushioned running socks, adding an extra layer of protection between your feet and your shoes/the pavement.

If you do feel a toenail coming loose, don’t panic, and under no circumstances do you try to pull it off, unless you want to go through excruciating pain. I stick my toenails down with KT Tape for as long as I can to encourage something to grow beneath the flappy bit of nail. Alternatively you could just wear a plaster over the toe until a new one grows in – extra kudos for using a funky plaster.

Blisters of every kind

Problem: Aaaah blisters. They really are the bane of running. Sometimes you’ll be out mid run and bam! You can feel it coming. You look down and there’s a big old red stain on your heel. Lovely. Or, you get home and take your shoes off and you find your feet have new friends – little blisters on the big toe. Under the toe. Under the heel. Don’t even get me started on blood blisters (I ended it in A&E with one once, no joke). So how can we keep this little packets of fluid from forming in the first place?

Solution: The best care for blisters is to prevent getting them in the first place sometimes this is easier said than done. The three major contributors to blisters include heat, moisture and friction. How to eliminate the blister seems to vary between individuals. Also, a cruel twist is what worked for the last race may or may not work for the next one. I’m going to bullet point these for you:

  • Get decent well-fitting shoes that don’t rub and aren’t too tight, and make sure they are laced up properly.
  • Invest in some running specific socks which will wick sweat from your feet.
  • Tape up the areas you are prone to get blisters with plaster tape or KT Tape. (KT Tape is the answer to everything)
  • Powder your feet with medicated powder.
  • Rub your feet in Vaseline.
  • Keeping your body hydrated and in a state of homeostasis helps to prevent your feet from swelling.
  • If you get a blister, try to avoid the temptation to pop it. Stick a blister plaster over it and let it alone. If you have an already burst one, clean it up and stick a plaster on. Your body will take care of the rest – its pretty good like that.

Chafing and sweaty butt cracks

Problem: Now I chafe  more that the average person. I get chafe in my armpits, my thighs, round my bra straps to the point that putting on clothes is painful. It happens more in the summer than winter, I guess because I’m sweating more, which is gross on its own, but I’ve tried to use Vaseline on it and it does sweet fcuk all. So how can you prevent chafe?

Solution: So you have two options here – prevention and treatment. To prevent chafe, you have to take a look at what you are wearing – ditch cotton, because it will absorb all your sweat and rub against your skin. Get running specific gear, including underwear – there is even a company that makes Runderwear – and make sure it fits properly, not too tight or baggy. Apply lubrication where you need it, like body glide or Vaseline, and some nip guards for the gentleman.  If you suffer with chafe or get a freak spot of it, make sure you take a shower after every run no questions asked, (I mean who doesn’t anyway because you smell disgusting) and soothe it with a specific skin healing cream like bepanthen, sudocrem, or zinc oxide cream.

Bleeding moles/nipples 

Problem: So I have had two moles on my inner thighs that rub and subsequently bleed when I run, its gross, it stings and doesn’t make for good photos. I’ve been on a few runs and seen men who look a shadow of their former selves with bloody nipples – how can we prevent this?

Solution: So I just ended up having my moles removed after a while because they were getting more damaged and could have become infected. You can cover them with plasters, but when you have moles in chafing areas that hurt you can go to your GP to get them removed, and its virtually painless – the most painful part was the aesthetic – and takes 30 minutes tops. You can also cover them with plasters or tape but honestly it’s just as easy to have them removed if they are really bugging you, and if they rub and bleed ever run it’s probably better to get them removed than have them get infected.

Men, sorry, you can’t have your nipples removed, so as with chafe, you have to switch to runner specific clothing, keep them lubricated and cover with nipple guards to stop them bleeding, otherwise you’re gonna get infected nipples which is not good news.

Sunburn/stroke

Problem: Running in the summer is the best. I blooming love it. Getting up and going for a run in the heat = getting a workout and a tan at the same time. But there have been many a run where i have come home and have shorts lines and a sore head, at its worst I finished a marathon with a blistering headache and spent the evening being sick, and in worst cases runners have died from heat stroke. Sun cream is a battle because I just sweat it off, so how can we avoid sunburn and sunstroke?

Solution: Heat Stroke is defined as a form of heat illness with an elevated body temperature equal to or greater than 105.1 degrees F. It is a true medical emergency in that body organs are made of protein and the protein can break down at this high a temperature. It requires education and therefore rapid recognition by medical staff and rapid cooling of the patient to save their life.

What is interesting is that it doesn’t necessarily need to be warm for runners to get heat stroke. If a runner over-revs their engine and tries to run too fast at too fast a pace, they can raise their body temperature.

So how do you combat it? The best way to do so is to acclimatize yourself to running in heat. Your body only needs a few weeks to get used to a new temperature so its worth practicing longer runs in warmer weather. That said, don’t ignore your bodies signs that it needs a break or water (or both) and make sure you hydrate enough that your sweat doesnt form  a salty layer on your head. If you finish a run dizzy and nauseous, resist the temptation to guzzle loads of water as this can cause you even more problems. Take a cool shower to bring your temperature down and sip water little and often.

As for sunburn, I found this sun cream that is runner proof – it does not move at all and provides high UVA and UVB protection.

Bra strap rash/spots

Problem: Now for us ladies, bra strap rash can be a real pain. As well as these little spots being unsightly, they are blooming painful at times. I usually get these in the summer when I’ve been sweating a lot, which I obviously can’t help, and they last aaaages and make me very self conscious at a time of year where spaghetti straps and backless is the norm. So what can a girl do?

Solution: These spots are usually caused by chafing, so you can usually apply what I’ve already told you about chafe to reduce the occurrence. I’m yet to find a chafe free bra, and if I ever find one I will let you know. For now, I put tape under my bra straps and treat the spots by using a gentle face exfoliator and then using a treatment oil on the affected areas. If they rash is particularly bad I’ll use bepanthen on my shoulders. The other option is to wear different strap types/positions to ensure you aren’t aggravating the same areas every time. Its a tricky one, sometime having funbags really isn’t that fun.

Running on your Period

Problem: Another one for us women, Running when Aunt Flo is in town is literally a pain in the uterus. You feel sluggish and horrible, and there’s always the fear that your flow is going to well, flow free mid run. But rather than take a week off every month, what can you do?

Solution: There are a couple of solutions with regards to equipment. I recently purchased some period underwear which is designed to absorb your flow and not leak and honestly they are a revolution for me and make running on my period so much more comfortable. Running sans tampax or sanitary pad is so much better and I have zero issues with leakage. You can also use a mooncup if you aren’t so keep on being completely free-flowing. As for managing the pain, running on your period has actually been proven to help with the pain symptoms. Since running releases endorphins, a natural painkiller, many women find relief during a workout. Try going for an easy run to reap these benefits. Many birth control pills, especially low-oestrogen types, can reduce bleeding, cramping, bloating and fatigue. Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, offer the most effective prevention and treatment for menstrual cramps, since they prevent the formation of the prostaglandins that cause pain. As with any medication, be sure to read the label for the appropriate dosage, and consult your doctor with any concerns. So really, nothing should stop you getting out and running, but listen to your body – if you really don’t want to go out don’t go. Stay in and eat a share size dairy milk. No one will judge you.

Snot Rockets

Problem: Last in the list is one of my absolute pet hates. People who fire snot cylinders mid run. other names are a farmers blow, it is the art form of firing snot out of one nostril mid run. I think there should be an etiquette guide on this. However since tissues are not provided on a three-hour run, its something every runner should master.

Solution: My guide to the perfect snot rocket? It’s pretty simple to do, but if not executed can be disgusting. All you need to do it cover one nostril with your finger and blow out of the other, thus dislodging the blockage and allowing you to continue with your run able to breathe easy. You have to be forceful, almost aggressive with it though. Really force it out. Otherwise your going to be known as the runner with a booger on their face. It will take a little while to master but once you have it, you’ll be an expert.

 

And yes, there are a tonne more that you will likely encounter. Put frankly, runners are gross human beings who’s bodily functions are as questionable as their reasons for running 10 miles in the pissing rain in January/ridiculous heat in August. But if you love what you do, you learn to work with these minor setbacks, and at the end of it, you get a nice medal, a pizza, and eternal bragging rights, and who doesn’t want that!?

 

Until next time, Happy Running!

Hxx

 

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