Awkward Running Questions You’ll Never Ask
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Some of these might be embarrassing, but you're not alone in wanting the answers

For a sport that, in its most distilled form, consists of putting one foot in front of the other, running can cause quite a laundry list of awkward scenarios for runners of all abilities. Whether you’re lacing up your shoes for the first time or have been at it for years, some questions may simply seem too embarrassing to ask.

Luckily for you, I have no shame. So, I checked in with a few experts and runner friends to get straight answers for seemingly off-the-wall questions. The biggest takeaway from my research is that no matter what the issue, when it comes to running, you aren’t alone.

Pin your race bib number on the front, like these runners at the Surf City Marathon. Photo: Libero di Zinno

Do you pin a race number on the front or back of your shirt?

Race numbers go on the front of your body, be it on your shirt, shorts or a race belt. But, it’s a valid question. If you recall the famous picture of Jock Semple trying to rip off Kathrine Switzer’s number in the 1967 Boston Marathon, he’s going for the number on her back, after missing the one on her chest. These days, racers wear just one number, but many races also ask participants to wear timing chips. If a chip isn’t incorporated into the bib, you might need to attach it to your ankle or shoe. Be sure to follow race instructions for bib and chip placement in order to get an accurate time.

Do runner’s really pee in their pants during a race? Why?

“Yes, ma’am! There are two different ways this happens, one intentional and the other unintentional,” says Sarah Bowen Shea, co-founder of Another Mother Runner and host of AMR podcast. Consider yourself warned, nothing is TMI for Shea! “Let’s get the ‘oops!’ way out of the way first. From countless anecdotes we hear on the Another Mother Runner Facebook page, we know numerous women leak urine while they run after they become moms. Pregnancy and childbirth take their toll on pelvic floor muscles, and the jarring nature of running creates pressure that results in leakage. We stress to these gals that a few sessions with a physical therapist (yup, they work with ‘love’ muscles, too!) or possible a surgical procedure can cure the issue.”

As for intentional peeing: “I openly admit I’ve done it in clutch races,” Bowen Shea says. “In 2009, in my PR marathon, I missed qualifying for Boston by a slim 80 seconds—less than the time I lost near mile 9 at a port-a-potty stop. I vowed then and there that if I ever got close to BQ time again, there would be no bathroom breaks for me (for going No. 1, that is). In 2010, I was once again gunning for a BQ time, as was my training partner. Near mile 3, she peeled off to hit a portable toilet, and I kept cranking out the miles. Around mile 17, I felt the urge to purge so I squeezed it out in my capris. It was raining so my clothes were sopping wet anyway. I ended up BQ’ing by less than a minute … while my running partner missed her time by a little over 2 minutes. You do the math on that one.”

Bloody nipples look dreadful, how do I prevent them?

Bloody nipples, or Jogger’s Nipples, may seem like the ultimate insult for men. You never give your nips a thought until they are rubbed raw by a shirt that’s now covered in Rorschach-esque bloodstains. To make it even worse, this painful phenomenon usually happens during longer runs—more time and more friction—like a half-marathon or marathon, meaning you’ll be reminded of your injury in every single race photo.

Prevention is key. And it’s as simple as putting adhesive bandages over your nipples before heading out for a run. (Shaving adjacent chest hair is a must!) You should also find a shirt made from a fabric that is lightweight and extremely quick-drying, as a sweat-logged shirt is what will lead to chafed nipples.)

Is chafing a given?

“I always thought friction + sweat + miles = chafing. But I’m surprised by the number of women who tell me their thighs don’t rub raw or their bra doesn’t make a red line around their ribcage,” Shea says. “For me, I’ve always had a problem with chafing when running double-digit distances. But there are work-arounds, for sure. My No. 1 rule: I wear capris on any run that’s 10 miles or longer, even on summer runs when temps climb high. I’d rather have slightly clammy quads than bloody sores on my upper thighs!

“And there are myriad anti-chafing products that work really well—you just have to be diligent in lubing up pre-run. Include hot spots like between your upper thighs, the underside of your upper arms, the areas where your bra straps sit, and perhaps even your butt crack. Yes, you read that right: In our book Run Like a Mother, a woman admits she has a tube of Body Glide clearly marked “Ass.” My current favorite anti-chafing product is Gold Bond Friction Defense Stick–I use it before every long run I’m doing to train for the Twin Cities Marathon, and I’m chafe free! Experiment to find what works for you.”

Men are just as prone to chafing as women. Be sure to put lube on nipples as well as between thighs, upper arms, your junk and wherever else you get hot spots.

Runners typically don’t offer up much info about what the next person should expect in the porta-potty at the start of a race. Photo: Brian Metzler

What about port-a-potty etiquette? Do you or don’t you hold the door? Do you warn of no toilet paper or an “unpleasant situation,” even if you caused it?

“I feel there is a level of ‘runner community’ in this area, where we all look out for each other, that does call for warnings, especially if the situation is bad enough to cause you to not be able to physically use the john,” says Caitlyn Pilkington, an editor with Women’s Running magazine who suffers from colitis and regularly runs races on behalf of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. “It goes along the lines of poop jokes being appropriate among runners; it feels like an unspoken courtesy to give a waiting runner a head’s up in a half-serious, half be-prepared-for-that-monstrosity tone.

Same with the no-toilet-paper warning, especially since many are going No. 2 before the race starts. (Pro tip: Bring your own batch with you) As for holding the door, this can serve as a visible signal that there is an available stall when hundreds of anxious racers are scanning the rows for a vacancy. Even just holding the door for a second to alert the next person it’s their turn would be fine. If you’re worried about germs, carry wet wipes!”

I’ve heard about runner’s trots. Are they for real?

“Yes, they do exist and can be a messy situation if you’re not prepared. Once you’ve spent hours running and getting to know your body, it becomes easier to tell which types of distances, weather and even terrain will negatively affect your intestinal situation,” says Pilkington who believes discussing the issue is key to increasing awareness of intestinal issues. “Of course, fueling comes into play here. This is another area that takes practice to navigate with your body. And to be honest, just the very nature of running and jostling your gut causes the trots!”

Although they can be the butt of many runner jokes, the trots can also be understandably embarrassing. One way to avoid a ‘shitty’ situation is to try different fueling tactics on shorter runs and run on routes that pass by a lot of bathrooms in case things go south quickly (literally). If you don’t have time to find a toilet, be prepared with a stash of toilet paper. For peace of mind, I tend to wear black bottoms if I’m having a bad day with my colitis. Sometimes just being nervous and in your head about having an accident is enough to make it worse.”

How should you handle accidentally passing gas on a group run?

“For all my online admissions about peeing in my capris, I used to find letting one squeak out in public to be mortifyingly embarrassing!” Shea admits. “But my running partner, Molly, leads by example: When she lets one rip, she simply excuses herself or makes a joke out of it, and we literally move on. Thankfully, the scent stays behind! Admit you fired your rocket-boosters, speed up a tiny bit for comedic effect, and be done with it.”

My knees/ankles/feet creak when I run. Should I be concerned if others can hear it?

“As a physical therapist, my first question is, ‘Are any of the creaky noises associated with pain?’ If so get professional help,” says Linda Vernon Scholl PT, DPT, who practices at the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center. “If not, try to time your creaks to the beat of your music! In all seriousness, our bodies make noise. Accept it and move on.”

Is it normal to feel, um, horny, after a run?

As it turns out, it is! According to the Brooks Global Run Happy Report released in 2016, more than half of runners (54%) said the energy boost they got from going on a run was a natural libido booster. And it makes sense. Lacing up and sweating it out is a natural confidence booster, plus it makes you feel strong and fit. Instead of instant messaging into the wee hours, maybe you should ask your crush to join you for a run!

Does it still count as a run if I take walk breaks? How about during a race?

“Absolutely! If running is the main mode of locomotion and you need to take a few (or regular) brief walk breaks to reset, refuel or re-evaluate, then so be it,” says Mario Fraioli, a running coach and editor of themorningshakeout.com. “It’s still a run.

During a race, particularly longer ones, there are many instances where taking a walk break might be in your best interest. For example, taking 10-20 seconds to walk through an aid station to ensure you get what you need—or hiking a steep hill in a trail race because you’ll move just as quickly while expending less energy—can be strategic and allow you to run faster or better the rest of the day.”

Do you wear underwear under running shorts or tights?

This one is all about personal preference. In my anecdotal research, the split for women is about half do and half don’t. It all depends upon your workout clothes. If you choose shorts without a panty or boy short liner, then, yes, you should wear breathable and wicking undies. But, for shorts or skirts with built in liners (my personal preference) then underwear becomes gratuitous. The same goes with tights, as long as they aren’t see-through. First of all, it means no panty lines. Plus, the most comfortable tights are designed with gusseted crotch panels, which are often lined in ultra soft or ultra wicking fabric. Again making underwear an unnecessary, possibly sweat-trapping, layer. However, the bottom line is to do what makes you comfortable.

Guys the same goes for you. Many shorts come with briefs or compression liners. Not only do these have the potential to reduce chafe, they make underwear redundant. For shorts without liners, adding a compressive pair of boxer briefs will keep your “jewels” high, tight and out of the way.

Allison Pattillo
Motiv Running senior editor Allison Pattillo writes about running, health, nutrition, gear and travel from her home in Colorado. When it comes to gear, she’s a fan of tall running socks, short running skirts and wearing her hat backwards. Even with a BQ and a few podium finishes (all triathlons should be run, bike, canoe!), Allison finds more inspiration from running in beautiful places and exploring on the run instead of the numbers on a stopwatch. She looks forward to the day when she finds her ultimate running dog, which, at this point, may be more bulldog than border collie.