Running & Restrooms: How To Plan Ahead

Chances are at some point in your long-distance training, you're going to use the bathroom. For some runners, the thought of an emergency call of nature can evoke feelings of anxiety. Where do you go? What do you do?

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As with many things in life, there are some running subjects that people conveniently forget to discuss with new runners. For example, the fact that running is not an inexpensive sport, after you factor in all of the cool gear and race entries that you are eventually going to want. Or that some really odd and maybe even gross things might start happening to your body once you become a regular runner. 

Another topic people tend to forget to talk about? Bathroom breaks. 

A question often asked by my new runners once they start approaching longer and longer training runs is something along the lines of “where am I going to go if I have to use the bathroom?” The question is almost always asked with a look of both fear and surprise, once they realize that this is indeed a valid concern to have. Because chances are if you are out running for an hour or more, you might find yourself needing to use the bathroom. 

For some people, this is not a big deal at all, and they will figure it out if and when they need to. For others, this can evoke feelings of anxiety over the “what if” possibilities, especially if there are health concerns or other circumstances that require frequent or even immediate bathroom visits. If you are in the latter group, and the thought of not being near a restroom concerns you, here’s what you do:

Stay close to home.

This first option is the easiest one, if your neighborhood is runnable. Stay within whatever radius of your home that you feel you can safely make it back to once nature calls. Bonus points for not having to do the uncomfortable public restroom who-knows-what’s-on-this-seat hover squat, because you are using your own toilet! 

Know where the public restrooms are.

If you have a longer route planned, make sure you know where, if any, public restrooms are located. This could be anything from a park bathroom to a port-a-potty at a ball field. If you are seriously concerned about bathroom stops, it might be worth checking to see if these public restrooms or port-a-potties are ever locked, which could be a very unwelcome surprise. 

Swing through a store. 

Or a hotel, or a restaurant, or any other place with a restroom…but make sure you are welcome to use the restroom first. Here at the beach where I live, many of the oceanfront hotels are more than happy to allow runners from our local group to quickly use the restroom located in the main lobby. 

Other establishments, however, reserve restrooms for customers only. Be sure to ask permission first, and be understanding if the answer is “no.” And if the answer is “yes,” be sure to show your appreciation with kindness, or better yet, thank them with some sort of purchase. This, of course, is much easier with a convenience store than, say, a hotel. But you get the idea. 

Duck into the woods. 

I know, many people don’t even like to consider the possibility of this one, never mind actually do it. But sometimes emergencies happen or you are simply out on a remote trail and have no other choice. Regardless, there are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to use mother nature as your latrine. 

First, make sure you are well off the trail and out of sight; you don’t want to surprise any of your fellow runners or an innocent passerby. Second, be sure to cover up what you leave behind. This includes any excrement (preferably, dig a hole for #2) and toilet tissue you might have used. Be sure to use biodegradable paper…if you remembered to pack any. If you didn’t, avoid using leaves unless you are absolutely sure that the plant is not poisonous or won’t cause any negative skin reactions. 

In the end, it simply takes a little bit of planning ahead to ease any running and restroom fears. And if an emergency arises, don’t fret. In running we often joke that there is “no such thing as too much information,” and this topic is no exception. It’s a natural human function; we’ve all been there and survived to run another day.