The Ultimate Guide to Peeing and Running (You Didn’t Know You Needed)

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Helen Foster
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There’s a headline you don’t see often – maybe there’s a reason for that. But, there’s no doubt that the matter of peeing before a race and other elements of peeing when running (like what to do if you need to go in the middle of somewhere that looks like that pic below) is one of great importance to runners – particularly us lady ones who can’t just nip off behind a bush if we get caught short.

woman running down a deserted road

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So, I decided to investigate all things urinary and asked a whole load of experts – doctors and running gurus for their top tips. Here’s what I learned…

Pre-Race Peeing Tips

When it comes to race day starting with a comfy bladder can make a huge amount of difference to how your event goes. You can get into your stride, you’re not worried about trying to find a loo en-route or how long you might lose queuing if you do – and, of course, you’re not worried about having an accident.

Sit on the Loo Properly

Queue, pee, repeat is a common pre-race mantra – but, if despite doing that you always need to pee as you start, the culprit might be a tiny bit of urine left in the urethra irritating the nerves, one urologist told me.

This can happen if you don’t empty your bladder properly when you go – and the number one reason for this is hovering in the portaloo.

If it happens and you don’t have time rejoin the toilet queue, doing a Kegel or two (see below if you don’t know how) can move the liquid further up into the bladder so it’s less likely to irritate the nerves.

However, to prevent this from happening in the future, empty your bladder properly. That means sitting properly on the seat and peeing until you stop.

I know it’s horrid in there, I know you’re holding your breath and just want out – and I know the woman behind you in the queue is silently burning holes in the door with her laser vision as she glares for you to get a move on – but pee properly or potentially regret it later.

Pinch Your Butt!

If the urge to pee hits, personal trainer, Anna Ferguson, from Fusion Fitness suggests a hard pinch on the bum cheek. ‘Doesn’t matter which one but it has to hurt though. It acts as a distraction. It won’t work with a full bladder, just that pre-race jittery urge,’ she told me.

Don’t Drink Too Much Before You Start

It sounds obvious but it’s the number one cause of problems. Our bladders can hold around 500ml of urine, but we started to get the urge to use the bathroom when they contain about 300ml.

While normally your kidneys produce 0.5-1ml of urine a minute, if you’re well-hydrated, as you’ll likely be if you’ve done everything right the day before the race, that can easily increase to 2-3ml a minute taking you fairly quickly to the point when you start getting the signal to use the loo.

Hydrate well the day before the race – remember, if your urine is paler than the colour of straw you are good to go – and drink normally up to an hour before you need to start then stop. ‘I tell my clients to stop drinking an hour before the race – you won’t dehydrate before the start but you will have enough time to empty your bladder,’ says former Olympic runner Liz Yelling, now coaching at Yelling Performance.

Sip Don’t Glug

Many people will already know this one but it’s worth mentioning again sipping water is less likely to switch on the system in your body that says ‘agggh, too much water, I need to pee and I need to pee now’ than glugging it down is.

 Little and often is key to pre-race drinking.

Watch Your Sugars

In some people, high sugar drinks – which include gel and sports drinks – can irritate the nerves of the bladder making you need the bathroom more often. If you spot this happening during your training, try altering the make-up of your sports drink so it’s more dilute which might help.

Fizzy drinks, spicy foods and caffeine can also cause an overactive bladder so you might want to avoid those the day before – and day of the race – if you notice a pattern.

Keep Things Warm

Cold can trigger the need to pee and so Anna Ferguson’s other tip, especially for winter racing, is to keep your belly warm.

‘Try a hand warmer pack down your shorts – on your belly not your bits – until the race start,’ she suggests. You’ll find a selection of handwarmers here.

Stay Calm

Nerves also trigger a need to use the bathroom.

If it’s your first race this could be behind you jittery bladder and, as you get into your stride things will calm down.

I often find if I tell myself there is no physical way I need to go to the bathroom – as I’ve been three times and haven’t drink that much, the urge goes away. I’ve also started races telling myself I’ll stop at the first loo and not actually needed to go until I got to the end.

Work On Your Stride

A gait that jolts the body can cause pressure on the bladder from the gut or other organs stimulating the urge to urinate. Working on developing a smoother stride may stop things.

sign wiht arrow pointing to toilets

General Peeing While Running Advice

Race day is not the only time when issue to do with urinating while running might trouble you. For some women, leaking urine when running can become a bit of an issue and might even put you off wanting to run. 

Over the years I’ve spoken to a lot of experts in stress incontinence and this is their advice condensed below. 

Add Some Support

If you are worried about accidents while you run, try using a tampon. According to Mr Andrew Hextall, consultant uro-gynaecologist at Spire Hospital Bushey it helps support the bladder and may stop any accidents.

Woman wearing Modibodi running shorts

Wear Specialist Kit

Modibodi originally designed underwear to worn during your period, but they also do a range for accidental bladder leaks too. 

The company say they absorb about 20ml – 4 tsp – of liquid. It also has a wicking top layer which removes moisture. This is important as liquid+running can equal chafing – and that’s not something you want to discover in your post-run shower. Find the range here. 

They also have a specific activewear range including undies and shorts with leak protection built-in – that’s the shorts above. They’ll cope with up to 10ml of fluid – so should see you through a run.  See their activewear collection here. 

Skorts – running shorts with a skirt attached over the top – can also offer a little disguise if you have a tendency to leak as the skirt will cover any damp patches.

Check out this lightweight skort here.

The two solutions above will keep you moving with more confidence but remember, they won’t solve the problem of leaking urine while running for that you have to tone the pelvic floor muscles that support the urethra and bladder and keep it closed – so, read on…

The fact is, you don’t have to put up with leaks. Just thinking they are just a part of getting older, or what happens after having a baby is not helpful – it’s common but it doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.

Do Both Types of Kegel

The first thing you need to consider are exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor and prevent problems occurring – you probably know them as Kegels. 

But it might surprise you to hear there are two types of Kegel.

You see, the urethra is held closed by muscles – and these muscles contain two types of fibres (we’ve talked about the muscle fibre types here in terms of what it’s important for your sports training – but it’s also important for training your bladder too).

You need to train both types of muscle – that means doing the traditional kegel type move you might already know where you tighten and lift the pelvic floor – as if you were holding in urine – and hold it for a count of ten (or as long as possible) but to stimulate the other type of fibre you also need to do 10 quick squeezes where you quickly tense then release the muscles.

Get a Pelvic Trainer

Kegels only really work if they are done properly and pelvic toning devices can help ensure that’s the case. 

Elvie is a good one. It’s backed by the NHS in the UK. It uses an app to give instant feedback as to whether you’re doing this correctly. Click here to see more about it.

See The Experts

 If you are doing the exercises and you don’t see a change after about 2-3 months then book in to see a pelvic physiotherapist – also known as a women’s health physiotherapist.

They can ensure you’re doing the exercises right and check its actually a weak pelvic floor that’s causing the problem – tight pelvic floors also cause problems and if that’s what you have all the kegels in the world won’t help.

Know the Professional Disguise

Elite runners are well versed in issues of peeing while running. Some suffer leaks like we’ve been discussing, others actively choose to let themselves go as they run because they’re on their way to winning the race

And when leaks happen a lot of them use this trick to disguise things – tip water over your head and down your front. It looks like you’re just trying to cool off – but it hides what’s gone on.

What’s Runner’s Bladder?

This scary problem can occur after endurance exercise – and it basically sees you peeing urine with blood in it (sorry I tried to find a nicer way of saying it but I couldn’t). 

It happens because when you do endurance exercise red blood cells get broken down and sometimes these are excreted in the urine which makes it look as if you’re peeing blood.

Because I’m not a doctor, and I haven’t specifically written about this in the past so I don’t have one up my sleeve, I’m not going to give any further advice on this, but I’ll point you instead to this helpful, reassuring article on runner’s bladder which is written by someone with a medical degree! 

And finally…

What if the issue is at the other end? Having to queue for a loo part way through a race because your bowels have started to wake up is frustrating to say the least – so, is there a way to train them to go before the gun? Again, this is something I asked the experts and…

Apparently, coffee is the first weapon in your arsenal here. For up to fifty per cent of people, it’ll trigger a bowel movement about half an hour after drinking it (although don’t try that for the first time on race day as caffeine can alter your energy levels and also aggravate your bladder).

It also helps to keep things regular, if you want to, erm, keep things regular. Eating your normal race breakfast on training runs and ‘encouraging’ it to move before you set up sets up a pattern meaning your bowel recognises the meal it as a signal to move and do so accordingly no matter what the clock says.

If all else fails, ‘try sitting on the toilet with your feet supported on something like toilet rolls then lean forward. This brings your knees up higher, alters the colon angle and creates a position that can encourage movement,’ says Professor Ajay Rane, from Australia’s John Cook University in Townsville.

So there you have it, everything needed to know about pooping and peeing while running but we’re too afraid to ask! I hope it was helpful. 

If you liked the advice in this post, you might like some of the other tips in our post on 46 of the best running tips we’ve ever heard.

Who is The Wellness Nerd?

My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.

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