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***WARNING: The following post is gross, gross, gross. Not for those with weak stomachs. Proceed at your own risk.
I was watching 16 and Pregnant the other day and had to laugh when this week’s mom-to-be said her biggest concern in labor was “pooping at delivery.”
Throughout my first pregnancy, even though I was a decade older than her, that was also my main concern. People told me again and again not to worry, that I would not be worried about such things when I was pushing my baby out without so much as a Tylenol to dilute the pain.
But guess what? They were wrong. I drank prune juice for weeks before the birth to make sure I was “all cleaned out.” The night my water broke, I took three shots of it and refused to go to the hospital until I was “done.”
Three pushes in, my baby’s softball-sized head was burning like a tiki torch between my legs and yet I was screaming: “Oh my god, please don’t let me poop. Honey did I poop? Please tell me if I pooped!”
For the record: I did not.
But I believe this illustrates the kind of woman I am. Yes, I am girly (or as I call it, hygienic) in the extreme. I have a weak stomach when it comes to smells. I like to take showers, apply perfume to my wrists, rub scented lotion all over my body and generally keep all bodily fluids on the inside and when that is impossible, I like extreme privacy. Generally, if you puke in front of me, you can assume that I will follow suit. I dry heave at the mere mention of the word snot.
As a marathon runner, all that has changed. And yesterday, as I ran the final mile of my 8-mile scale back run in the driving rain with a near-steady stream of snot dropping from my nose, it occurred to me just how. Because gross, gross things happen when you run.
To name a few:
1.) Runner’s trots
I remember after my first 5k, wondering why my stomach was cramping. And then it got worse. And worse. Needless to say, I had to take the next day off from work because, well, let’s just say, I spared work some yuckiness that day. That day, I had no idea that an intense burst of effort like the one that sustained my first 5k (23:19, baby!) could also divert blood away from the stomach, causing the cramping and pain we know as “runner’s trots.” Even now, half a decade later, I am still sometimes a victim of this. I can titrate my fluid intake and eat certain meals and keep an even pace and I might still ends up with them. At least now, I know what to do for them and I have never had them as bad as that first time.
2.) Snotty nose
The other day, I was reading an article in one of my many running magazines that basically said the “snot rocket” was the single most important life skill for a runner. I am not sure I would go that far, but my unwillingness to blow a load of snot out of my nose while moving quickly has cost me quite a bit of discomfort as I sniffle, wish I had remembered a tissue and envy those less easily-queasied who can blow a slimy rocket of snot without wanting to hurl.
3.) Bloody bits
I have almost never had a long run that did not include some degree of chafing. Whether it was blisters on my ankles or cuts on my back and boobs from the sports bra, “there will be blood” is a good general theme for marathon training. In fact, one of the things I repeat to myself on long runs is “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” Once I have all three, I know I have had a good run.
I have never pooped my pants on a racecourse. But some have. I remember one particularly awful Boston Marathon; there was a runner with excrement running down her leg, crying, but still running. That is dedication I am not sure I have.
As for me? There have been a couple pee incidents. Especially when I was pregnant. Second babies are notorious for making their mamas incontinent and I was living the dream with Alan. Almost every time I ran, it happened. It has taken quite a bit of kegeling and stress to get everything back to normal. I cannot even begin to fathom the havoc a third pregnancy would wreak should we choose to pursue one.
But for now, I will avoid that thought and thank G-d--and kegel muscles--that my problem is mostly solved.
As a women runner, there is one issue no one ever discusses but has been an ongoing issue for me in every race: my period.
For some reason, no matter what my cycle, I end up on day 3 of my period for every race. And while Uta Pippig famously won the Boston Marathon in 1996 with menstrual blood running down her legs, most women would rather not be in that position. It is, however, a fact of life.
I will do my best to keep it where it belongs, but there is no way I am going to drop out of a race because Aunt Flo paid a surprise visit. If a man is grossed out by it, well he is probably not someone I want to know all that well anyway (because grow up, dude) and if a woman is, well, that’s just sad.
Ah, my favorite. My husband once told me that a coach told him if you do not vomit at the end of a run, you have not worked hard enough. Needless to say, he lost 30 pounds running track his first year in college.
As for me, it has happened a couple times. Once when I swallowed a bug during last fall’s half and once at Mile 20 of my big marathon where I was able to stop myself from a full-on vomit-fest, but definitely gave a few heaves in that direction.
It is a part of running hard. And while I disagree with Rob’s coach, I do think you ought to have had at least a couple bouts of running-induced nausea before you can officially call yourself a runner.
All of this goes to my theory that we women are natural born distance runners. Any of us who have gone through labor can attest to the fact that dignity? It kind of flies out the door. To which I say: all the better to run with, my dear! It is hard to be girly and also run long distances at a decent clip. And sweat is the least of it.
So, if you want to run long distances fast, you should probably suspend your fear of bodily functions because, next to childbirth, there is nothing that makes a person more base than running a fast (or semi-fast) marathon. And believe me, if I can suspend my gag reflex—one of my favorite sayings as a child, after all, was “gag me with a spoon”--anyone can.
Sasha Brown-Worsham is a writer, a mother and an unabashed, unashamed runaholic. Check her progress each week as she trains to qualify for the Boston Marathon.