Before I was a runner myself, I always pictured runners to be incredibly perfect athletic specimens, the kind you would see on the cover of a Wheaties box. I would picture myself as a runner, and envision a relaxed yet coolly stern face that never showed a grimace of discomfort, paired with strong lungs that courageously battled long distances without skipping a beat. I’d imagine myself perfectly decked out in coordinated athletic apparel that highlighted my muscular, tanned arms and legs. My hair would be slicked back in a perfect ponytail, with just the smallest bit of sweat glistening on my forehead, enough to demonstrate my true grit.
Yes, in my head, I was ready to grace the cover of Runner’s World magazine.
But then I actually became a runner. And I realized that running was not nearly as glamorous as I had made it out to be in my head. In fact, running can be downright disgusting.
In the past 9 years of my running career, I’ve found myself not only doing things that would normally be considered gross, but I’ve used the term “don’t’ worry, I’m a runner, I’m used to it” to excuse other people’s equally as disgusting behavior in front of me.
If you’re still reading at this point, I’m going to assume you are ready to hear some examples. So brace yourself, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Snot. The word alone makes me cringe. But then again, so does the scientifically correct term “mucous”, so I digress. In my normal day to day activities, a runny or stuffy nose would be met appropriately with a tissue in the privacy of a bathroom. But not on the run. Oh no, when the nose starts to act up during a run or a race, all bets are off. Any item can be used as a tissue when needed, including but not limited to: your sleeve, your glove, your t shirt, or basically any piece of clothing that can easily reach your nose.
But, one of the more popular methods for dealing with an angry nose is the “snot rocket”, also known as the “farmer’s blow”. In this method, a runner uses a finger to push on the outside of the non offending nostril, thus closing the nostril off. Take a deep breath through your mouth and push that air out forcefully through the clogged nostril. In theory, all of the “matter” clogging up that nostril will go shooting out of your nose and hopefully onto the ground (and not on one of your nearby running buddies.)
The Bathroom. If anyone had told me years ago that one day I’d find myself squatting in the barely private bushes to pee while hundreds of other runners passed by, I would have never believed it. But it happens to nearly all of us at some point in our running career.
The truth is, all of that water makes you have to urinate…a lot…and not always at the most convenient time. Even worse, running does some crazy things to your digestive system, often making your bowels angry. And when you’ve got to go and there are no port-a-potties around, you do what is necessary.
Speaking of port-a-potties, there comes a point where they no longer gross you out as much as they once did, and instead you find yourself thankful for their refuge…even if there is no toilet paper. It sure beats squatting behind a bush, or worse, peeing in your shorts.
Puking. Throwing up in public? How incredibly embarrassing! Except on the sidelines or at the finish line of a really hard race, where it is both a rite of passage and a sign that you gave that race everything you had. Then puking suddenly becomes a (disgusting) badge of courage.
Blisters and Black Toenails. Despite your best efforts to prevent them, blisters and black toenails are going to happen. And if that’s not gross enough, you’ll find yourself eventually popping those blisters and pulling off the dead toenails without hesitation. Besides, they often inhibit your training, and no one has time for that!
Sweat. In and of itself, sweat isn’t so bad. In fact, sweat is to be expected from someone who is running for an extended period of time. But how about going out for a run, dripping in sweat, and then remaining in those clothes for hours after? Or better yet, putting your sweaty self into a van full of other sweaty runners, for 36 hours or more during a multi day relay? Yeah, we gross runners do that.
So needless to say, the truth is despite our calm, cool, and collected looking exterior, runners can be pretty gross. But if you ask any one of us, these moments of disgusting behavior social faux-pas are absolutely worth it for the sport we love so much!