On Monday I received a package. No, it wasn’t another jar of peanut butter (although for an update, I am already on jar four of the 15 I was given), but it was something that for me is just as good.
The Hartford Marathon race packet: long sleeve T-shirt, racing bib number, directions on race day procedures and a bag to check personal items in while running.
Pulling the bib out of the package in the familiar blue and green colors of Eversource (the sponsor of the Hartford Marathon) brought back a flood of memories. My second half marathon, when I was still in the teenage category, that I ran blind because of torrential rain. My first full 26.2 and the incredible feeling when I ran up the exit ramp to the highway just after mile 25, saw my dad cheering and realized I was actually going to finish. And, of course, my second marathon, the very first race that I stopped to use one of the beautiful porta potties that line the entire course.
You might think “so what, you stopped to partake in normal bodily function” (okay maybe you think in slightly different language, but you know what I mean). Unlike bathroom trips at the office or during school, stopping at all during a race, whether it is to relieve yourself in a toilet or from the shear pain of running, changes absolutely everything.
Momentum, motivation, morale, all of it fades with just one stop.
In this case, it didn’t only change my race (I didn’t break four hours), but from that point forward I have found myself in need of a bathroom in some form or another during almost every training run.
Gas stations, random stores, fast food (and some far too fancy) restaurants, construction site porta potties, park bathrooms, friendly people’s houses and the beloved facili-trees have all become regular parts of my daily run.
By the time I finished my senior year at UConn, nearly every employee at a local CVS and grocery store knew me as the “runner girl who just uses the bathroom.” In Hartford and West Hartford , I could advise you on the best porta potties to use and on which days, because by the end of this summer I practically memorized all of their cleaning schedules. In my hometown, I am a regular bathroom-patron at the Cumberland farms and quite familiar with which roads have reliable, mostly concealed woods to dash into incase of emergency. In truth I have already figured out the best wooded trails here in Maryland too.
For a long time, long before that infamous marathon when I stopped, I wondered if I was the only runner who would find themselves in desperate need 3 miles out. It wasn’t something people ever seemed to talk about, and when on runs with others I was always the one who asked for the bathroom break.
I heard hundreds of complaints about chafing (which is legitimately terrible). Articles about blisters and toenails falling off were everywhere (fingers crossed that never happens to me). Jokes and memes about the horrors of bad tan lines clogged up my newsfeed. People seemed eager to admit the need for excessive eating and laundry during training season…but where was the chatter about spontaneous, mid-run bowel movements?
Thanks to my college roommate and her beautiful, motivating sign along the course of marathon #2 the embarrassment I once felt faded and the conversation began.
Her sign wasn’t the typical “GO INSERT NAME OF MARATHON RUNNER HERE!!!” Instead it read, “There’s a toilet at the end of this race.”
As I ran by her those around me all started laughing.
“Wow, what a sign,” and “that’s hilarious,” was said over and over. But even better than that, the woman who I’d run the previous mile with said, “Most needed information ever.”
In complete agreement I turned my head and gave my best (quite pained) race smile, “you too?”
She nodded. “I didn’t make it through a single training run without a pit stop,” she said. “I’m just hoping I can make it through this race.”
Whether or not she made it or didn’t that day, her comment made me realize that I was 100% not the only runner who battled the mid-run porta potty search.
Just like with every other weird or gross seeming side effect of running, it is really just one more reason to laugh, smile and roll your eyes at this crazy, amazing sport. So don’t feel embarrassed