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The Gross Things Runners Deal With (and Don’t Mind)

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It’s no secret every sport comes with its own set of quirks that its participants succumb to or don’t mind dealing with. For swimmers, it’s swimmers ear or green hair for the blondes of the world. Wrestlers are subjected to potential ringworm and cauliflower ear.

As runners there are quite a few stereotypes (true or not) that people have, topping that list is black toenails and going to the bathroom on ourselves during races. Those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to runner quirks or habits. Actually, when you really look at it, we get used to some pretty peculiar behavior that others might consider pretty gross. It doesn’t seem to deter the real runners though.


In any other part of your life spit ranks right up there with other bodily functions on the gross meter. However, in running it’s no big deal. A lot of runners spit when they run and that same amount of runners have accidentally spit on themselves.  And really, when the wind is whipping up, there’s no hope for hitting a target. It also wouldn’t be a far stretch to claim most runners have probably accidentally been spit on by another runner. While icky, if it’s an honest accident, it’s not really a big deal especially if it’s during a race or on a training run with a good friend.

Porta Potty

Runners’ use of porta potties is higher than any other group of people. It is directly related to the number of races signed up for (as well as nervous tummies). Most runners would gladly pop a squat in the woods but at the start of a race or in a densely populated area that isn’t really an option. And any runner can tell you when those pre-race nerves or hydration kick in, it doesn’t matter where you go. All the issues we have with portable toilets and their general lack of cleanliness is out the window. Runners overlook the wet floor, the lack of toilet paper, the absence of soap and water. Sometimes on a training run, the sight of a porta potty can be like a beacon of light sent to save you.


While blisters shouldn’t happen anymore with the advances in fabrics for our socks, on occasion one will crop up. And there isn’t much a runner likes more than to obsess over their blisters. Poke at it. Play with it. Debate whether to pop it or not, knowing full well you will. Getting out a safety pin, sterilizing it and basically setting up a surgery center in your bathroom. You relay all the gory details to your running buddies and ignore any pain when getting your miles in.


When the weather is cold there is nothing we can do about it, our nose will join us on our run. It’ll probably seem to run more than we do. Even the most hygienic of us cannot possibly carry or want to deal with the amount of tissue that will be needed. Enter your sleeve, glove or bottom of your shirt. Really any piece of apparel you have on becomes a large tissue. There you are 12 miles in and you are wiping your nose on your sleeve like a toddler. And it’s perfectly acceptable. No matter the time of year you get free reign during any run to wipe your nose on your clothes. Once you are done running, you must enter back to civilization and use a tissue.



Ask a non-runner the last time they had chaffed skin. They’ll probably look at you like you are nuts. In almost no other arena in life does chaffing happen. Yet, when runners get chaffed it’s not just painful in their post-run shower, its effects can be long term. Men are intimately aware of their nipples when running. Male runners treat their nipples like most of us treat skin we don’t want sunburn; they protect them to the hilt. Some people may not think pasties on a man are normal; any runner (male or female) knows it’s a necessity.

Aside from nipples, unfortunately, runners are looking at anywhere in the “bathing suit” region as fair game to chaff. Once you are hot and sweaty, the built-in underwear or the simple movement of your own body against itself can cause chaffing. Try explaining that to people when you avoid certain outfits. Men luck out with the option for boxers. Sometimes panties can be painful post-run.

Bathroom Talk

There isn’t one run with two or more runners that doesn’t cover the bathroom in conversation. Bathroom habits, bathroom concerns and immediate bathroom issues have as much of an effect on our run as our sleep, if not more. Why wouldn’t we talk about it? Besides, when you are on a 20 mile run and your Chinese food from dinner last night isn’t sitting well, it’s only expected that you give fair warning and ask for aid in remembering where bathrooms are located on the route or looking out for a porta potty.


It wouldn’t be a far cry to make the statement that runners have some of the foulest smelling laundry out there. Not many other sports do the number on their gear that runners do. Pilates is fantastic for you but no one is wringing out their shirts or socks after an hour in a Pilates class. And if you aren’t the one to do your laundry, bless the person who has to stick their head in the hamper and grab you running clothes; they must really love you. The stench can be overpowering even days later.

Considering all of the above together, it seems that runners are a pretty gross bunch.  The fact that our devotion to our sport is so strong we don’t mind a few unpleasant items says a lot about running itself. Runners may be quirky and misunderstood on occasion but they are determined, focused and loyal. Besides what’s a little bathroom talk among running friends?


Feature image by Peter Bierman/freeimages.com

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