I am a runner, and I have befouled the environment in every way my body can manage.

If you have a weak stomach, don’t read this. These are five disgusting things runners do.


1. Stinking things up
This is the tamest of the five. It gets worse from here. Just FYI.

It’s not like we leave a cloud of stench like a pulp mill that hangs in the air and won’t go away, but after a hard run we are not nice to be around. I have often run while my kids are in their karate class, and I feel bad for them having to put up with the smell in the car on the drive back home. I have heard my wife say, “I can smell you from here” many times, with “here” being at least 20 feet away.

One time I replied to such a statement by channeling Connor MacLeod from Highlander, saying, “Aye, Blossom. The way you like it.” That didn’t go over so well.

Post-run laundry can be disgusting as well, and can emit a nauseating fragrance in any room it occupies. If you’re a runner, bleach is your friend.


2. Spitting
I think it might be something about where I live – Calgary is a dry environment. I hock out oysters left and right on every run. Sure, I try and aim them into areas where no one is going to walk, but not everyone is so “courteous.” It seems every runner in my hometown is a spitter.

Coastal environments may inhibit this. I’ve run three marathons, L.A., Victoria and Boston, and, considering how crowded these events can be, was concerned about hocking my sputum on the legs of a fellow racer and – for the Los Angeles one at least – having a gun pulled on me for doing so. But I don’t think I spit a single time during those races. Lucky.


3. Snot rockets
Urban Dictionary has this one covered: “When you plug one nostril with your finger, and blow out of the other nostril with everything you have, sending a snot projectile out of the nose.”

Yup. We do that too. During a run, the body just wants to purge.


4. Public urination
I try to be discrete. Fortunately, I live close to a large natural park, so I’m not whizzing on an elementary school or the tires of some guy’s F-150. I’m peeing next to where hundreds of dogs, deer and coyotes do every day. Don’t hate.

But others are more blatant. Going back to the L.A. Marathon, within 400 yards after starting I saw the largest display of public urination I’d ever witnessed. The only reason I didn’t join them was because I’d been warned by veteran marathoners not to drink too much before the race, but instead just stayed hydrated via the water stations along the way. I was 8 miles in before I found a row of Porta-Potties without a line up, and was ready to burst.


5. Seriously, you don’t want to read this one
I have a finicky digestive system where there is a fine line between bonking from low blood sugar and fudging my pants. Runner’s diarrhea is a common condition, because all the jostling can upset things if there is much food in your digestive system.
And by “upset things” I mean you have to go poop. Right now.

I have done the run-clench-pray a number of times, and always made it to a bathroom. I mean, I’ve always made it to the bathroom until this one time about a year ago. It was bad. I was so desperate that I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and the fact that my iPod had randomly selected to play Stevie Nicks singing “I can’t wait” made me think the universe was messing with me.

Speaking of messing with me, when you have to go like that, it ain’t coming out clean. It’s coming out as nuclear waste. The mess I left was a hate crime, and I sacrificed a pair of expensive running socks that day. Thankfully, no one came by to witness my bowel-evacuating shame.

Unlike Paula Radcliffe, the current world record holder for the women’s marathon, who had plenty of witnesses for such an occurrence. In 2005 during the London Marathon the hometown girl started cramping up at the 16-mile mark, and by 22 miles knew she couldn’t take it any longer, so she squatted down at the side of the course, in front of God, country, and live television and let ‘er go.

Even so, she won with a time of 2:17:42, still faster than any other woman has ever run a marathon.

Afterwards, I presume she went to wash up.

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James S. Fell, MBA, CSCS, is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.