Answering the Call of Nature
As an ultra-runner I’m more than used to settling an agitated tummy on the go. Rather infamously I was once joined at the 60 mile mark of a 100 by a girl I had recently started dating. I was horrified to see that the checkpoint had no toilet. I only made it 200 meters down the road before politely requesting that she run on a head for a bit and not look back. Please God, don’t look back. Maybe not the best way to impress a girl, but certainly got my race back on track.
I think we all know the saying, “Does a bear $@*& in the woods?” But at some stage in almost everyone’s running or hiking career there is going to be a time when you are going to have to be that bear. It may not be pretty, but here are some tips for when you have to relieve yourself in the woods or during a race.
Find the right spot
It's temping to try and find an outhouse or hold out for the next porta potty when you need to relieve yourself. And of course, you want something with some degree of visual discretion. In some cases you may be able to find this, but ultimately you should be searching for support. Long runs or hikes are hard enough without having to try maintain a squat hold while you get down to business. So look for fence posts, large rocks or sturdy trees trucks (it’s best to avoid those with low branches). Chances are if anyone does see you, they aren’t going to want to look in your direction for too long…So you might as well make sure you don’t fall over and attract more unwanted stares.
It goes without saying, if its dark and you’re racing, go into stealth mode and turn off your headlamp. Snipers in WWII used to look for cigarette glows, and it’s much the same with night races. Runners are constantly on the lookout for the glowing light-house beacon of a headlamp to follow. You don’t want to become an unwitting check point. If you’re caught on a hiking trail at night, this is less of a concern – but if you are worried about privacy at all, switch it off until your business is done.
If you’re in an urban environment then make sure you act exactly like a 3 year old would if they were in the same situation. Making a massive fuss in a tube station, coffee shop or even restaurant will always be greeted with a begrudging invitation to staff toilets.
TP or no TP
Let’s face it, pretty much anything can be used as toilet paper – even rocks if you’re desperate. (And if you see a finisher with only one sock on at the end of an ultra, well, just don’t ask…) However, let’s try to keep the trails green. If you have room in your pack for wipes or TP, bring them along just in case, they’ll eventually break down on the trail. Otherwise, leaves are your go-to option – watch out for nettles though! And you haven’t felt luxury till you’ve taken an extra peanut butter sandwich/wrap from an aid station with absolutely no intention of eating it…
Finishing an ultra can be a pretty unceremonious affair, but it's extremely personal. Rather than crowds of thousands cheering from afar, there are a handful of people who will wait patiently all night for each finisher. Don’t reward them for their resilience with a germ-infested handshake, hug or high five. Bring along alcohol wipes or hand sanitizer. These are beneficial for your health and theirs, and fit neatly into a race pack.
Ultimately though, a good diet of fresh vegetables and plenty of seeds/grains will go a long way to making sure you don’t get caught with your pants down then you’re next out running or hiking. Try to time your meals and hydration to correspond with outhouses or porta potty stops as much as you can. Failing that, Immodium will do a bang up job for a short-term delay.