What happens when you get caught short on a run? It happens. It’s not something runners talk about much – so I hope this blog helps!
The longer you run, the longer you spend on the trail – and the more food you need to eat to fuel yourself to the finish. If you need a poo mid-trail, just do it. If you don’t, you run the risk of not eating or drinking what you need to finish the race (never mind the discomfort). Simples. There is nothing to be prudish about here – this is a necessity.
Let’s just think about the physicality of this for a moment. If you’re running anything from five up to 30 hours, you’ll need to stop and clear your bowels to keep your body operating at its best and give yourself the best chance of succeeding.
Where and how to ‘go’
First of all, most of my events are on trails and not in cities, so everything I write here is from that perspective. The first obvious thing is to note in advance whether the event has porta-loos at any of the checkpoints. However, the reality is that seldom do the porta-loos coincide with the timing of your need.
The next good one is a pub. Smile, be pleasant and ask at the bar. I’ve never been refused use of the facilities. This is particularly useful when running on canals, as there are often lots of walkers and cyclists around.
When I first started ultra-running, I approached this with clinical organisation. I had a ‘poo’ kit in my sack, consisting of two poo bags (yes, dog poo bags), a small pack of hand wipes to be used as toilet paper, and a small bottle of hand sanitiser. For some years, providing I could find a discreet place, this saw me through.
Important side note: never leave paper or wipes out on the trail – they don’t readily decompose.
Go pro: ‘commando pooing’
Once I’d got confident, I decided to go further as part of my commitment to reducing the ‘faff factor’. That meant experimenting with ‘commando pooing’: not using any paper (so nothing to pick up and take with you to a bin).
The practicalities: parting your butt cheeks as best as you can to reduce any tidying up needed. This obviously comes with the downside of smelling that bit more. But you have to weigh this against the benefits – you don’t need to remove your rucksack, so stopping and ‘going’ is much easier and quicker. Being able to stop easier means you’re more likely to go when your body actually needs you to, making you more likely to succeed in the event. Plus, we all smell pretty awful during an ultra!
I’m not mad: I still run with hand sanitiser in the side of my rucksack. One more thing worth mentioning: I use anti-friction cream all over my body, wherever there’s a risk of rubbing, including my butt cheeks. The cream works brilliantly, but does make using toilet paper difficult, so commando pooing solves that problem!
This might not be the most palatable subject, but it’s amazing how easily a race can be ruined by toilet issues. I hope this gives other ultra (or would-be ultra) runners some confidence. Yet again, it’s an area where your endurance mindset plays a huge part: what does it take to get to that finish line?
Do you have any tips? I’m an ultra-running coach with XNRG and I’m always open to hearing what works for different runners. Maybe you’ve perfected your own technique – or need some advice. No problem. Drop me a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org