Here are ten awful things about running. If you are considering taking up running or joining a running club, please let this be a warning to you. Don’t have nightmares, just be mindful that these things will happen to you at some stage. If you are put off it’s probably for the best. If you’d like ten reasons why you should run you could read this instead.
There isn’t one of us who hasn’t done it, and if you say you haven’t you’re probably deluded. What’s weird is that in any normal sphere of life, certainly in the UK, weeing in public is frowned upon. It’s not technically illegal but it’s not something you would generally do within sight of a police officer. This article on the BBC website suggests that perhaps urinating in public may not be “cumulatively intolerable” if it is not “obviously visible” to others. It uses drivers stopping in lay-bys as its example.
However, there are, in my experience, two mass gatherings of like-minded folk who urinate in public with scant regard for who might see them or for the health risks or the environmental consequences of what they are doing. Firstly, Football supporters. We are a disgusting bunch of reprobates. On more than one occasion I have been at a match where the toilets are so overcrowded those waiting simply piss in the hand basins. There’s no need to worry about who’s watching because the only person who might see is pissing in the sink next to you.
Secondly, and more relevant to this post, runners. Every race I run….and I mean pretty much every single race, you see them, usually men, but its increasingly common to see women, sneaking off in to the woods or behind a shed for a slash. As the race start approaches however, people become far less inhibited. Recently I ran the Edinburgh Half Marathon. Thousands of people slap bang in the centre of Edinburgh. There were about 2 minutes to the gun when one of the girls in front of me nipped off to the side of the road, dropped her shorts, squated down and went for it in front of everyone. I also recall the Paris Marathon 2012 being hilarious. It’s a really huge event with 50,000 runners descending on the Champs Elysees. I shit you not, almost all of us pissed in the side streets off this most beautiful of avenues, prior to the race. There was so much wee, it looked like it had been raining. I renamed it the “Rivers of Piss Marathon”. Watch the film I made here. I guess if it’s good enough for Paula, it’s good enough for us.
The interweb-superhighway-net is littered with pictures. These pictures are not pleasant. They tell the story of inexperienced runners who attempt distance races wearing cotton t-shirts….white cotton t-shirts. On first inspection they appear to be emblazoned with a bizarre pattern, until it becomes disturbingly apparent that the two red triangles are in fact blood seeping and spreading from either nipple. I’ve seen this on too many occasions in actual real life and it really is one of the worst things about running.
I don’t want to drag my fellow Worthing Harriers colleagues in to this, but on a recent trip to Wales, one of our party failed to adequately Vaseline up his groin area. He ran 74 kilometres and he showed us the result. It was like someone had taken a pair of scissors and cut around the lower half of his genitals. These weeping sores are still healing today…I think. I haven’t seen him but let’s just assume for comedy’s sake that they are.
Don’t think for one minute that I haven’t suffered either. My £4.99 Sports Direct Base Layer is fine for your average 5 or 10k sprint, but much more than that and my underarms are rubbed raw. The combination of stale sweat and rotting flesh create a powerfully pungent flavour and a sting unrivalled by aftershave or the barb of any hornet or scorpion.
I stink. No really, I do and I hate it. No matter how much deodorant I spray over myself, to the point where my wife will tell me I smell like a tart’s parlour, I still come home from a run stinking to high heaven of stale sweat. Look, it’s all very well telling me to purchase a Merino wool top or Skins but some of us don’t have a bottomless pit of a bank account and some of us have grown quite attached to our 3 year old orange Kalenji running top.
I must admit that it may well just be me here. I regularly run with others at Worthing Harriers or at races and I rarely pass anyone who smells quite as bad as I think I do. It is much worse after finishing too. I feel embarrassed hugging other runners at the end of a race in case they are holding their noses and holding back the vomit. My wife won’t touch me when I get in until I have had a shower.
There was a time when I didn’t do trail running. I was a road runner. But once I joined Worthing Harriers I began running on the South Downs. It’s beautiful in the summer months and almost as beautiful in the winter.
However, regardless of the season, running on the Downs or any UK trail route, you will at some point encounter mud. Hmmm, perhaps ‘encounter’ is the wrong word. Encounter suggests brevity. Seen and then gone. No, when you ‘encounter’ mud it stays with you for a long time. It’s like a relationship. You love it when it starts. It’s exciting, dangerous and a bit crazy. Then it gets tedious, almost tiresome, sometimes annoying. It continues to be dangerous but in an ‘if I’m not careful I might get my neck broken here’ kind of way.
It sticks to everything too. Trail shoes with deep lugs are the worst! I used to run the trails in road shoes. Yes I would slip and slide all over the place, but when I got back home, at least my shoes hadn’t collected the entire field to deposit in my 3-bed semi off the A259. My car looks like a farmers tractor too. We’ve given up vacuuming. What with two toddlers and a runner in the family, if it’s not my mud, grass, sweat or blood it’s the children’s mud, grass, sweat, blood, sticky sweet wrappers, rotten apple cores and mouldy bread crusts.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s not in the ‘worst things about running’ category, mud is great, it comes with the territory. You love it. Well, ok, I guess I do too, but it’s a love hate relationship. I could certainly do without cleaning my trail shoes after every run.
There’s no getting away from it, running takes it’s toll on the body and your stomach often seems to take the brunt of it. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, when your gut isn’t interested it’s going to let you know one way or another.
Before I started serious running (ha, serious running! What a dumbass!) Before I started running, I could not have told you the last time I was sick. I’ve never been a drinker so I don’t have that weekend binge drinking thing going on. Being sick was something that happened when I was particularly unwell and was something to be avoided as much as possible. There really is very little worse than hanging your head over a sink and retching your guts up, throwing half digested, stinking chunks of carrot and congealed milk in to the bowl, then having to wash your mouth out while pushing the larger chunks through the plug hole and then realising you’re not quite done yet.
I have thrown up after a number of races, never during. The first was at the Worthing 20 mile race when I decided it would be a good idea to try Lucozade Gels as my race nutrition. I thought three, one every five miles, would be enough. Gel number one seemed to go down ok. I didn’t feel the need for gel number two, but I took it anyway. By gel number three I could feel that sloshing sensation in my stomach. I really didn’t take much of the third sachet because I felt so awful. By mile 18 I had to stop. The more water I drank the worse I felt. I’m wiser now of course but I couldn’t understand what was going on. I got home after finishing and felt like death until finally it all came out. It was a mass of gloopy orange mess. I don’t think any of the sachets had been digested at all.
More recently I tried putting Nunn hydration tablets into my bladder for a couple of trail ultras. Whether I got the water to tablet ratios wrong or what, I don’t know, but after 20 miles of drinking flavoured water my gastric health was poor to say the least. I finished both races and within half an hour I had chucked up, once in a service station public loo and once in a field next to a classic car, which seriously grossed out my wife.
I thought I was immune. I’d run three marathons and never had a black toenail, let alone lost one. Then I bought my first pair of trail shoes and started trail marathons and ultras. I started running though rivers and kicking boulders and running down ridiculous inclines at stupid speeds, slamming my toes against the inside of my shoes.
It’s ok for women, they can paint their toenails. Even if they lose one, they can just paint the bare skin and no one would really notice. That said, I don’t generally wear strapped high heels with my toes on view to all and sundry during the day. But I do go swimming and I sit in the public sauna and I may occasionally have a massage or have friends over to the house when I’m barefoot. Toenails aren’t supposed to be black. It looks horrible. I hate my toes when they have been destroyed by running 46 miles through the valleys.
Some people love it though. They relish trying to peel away the dead nail. I’ve seen some sights let me tell you and I have never done Marathon Des Sables. Ask my friend Scott what he’s seen. If your nail is black, you can make it go pink by cutting the nail back and releasing the blood, letting it dribble out or squirt out if you press down on the nail. Lovely stuff.
I’m not going to tell you I’m not a morning person, because I am. I love the morning. I love sunrise, the quiet air and the still water. My brain functions better in the mornings and my body feels alive. But….but, even with all that going on it’s tough to get out of bed and go running.
Beds are warm and cosy. Sleep is nice and relaxing. Staying up late is easy. It involves lying on the sofa and watching tv. Also, Family Guy (BBC 3) is funny and it’s not on until 11pm and that’s usually followed by American Dad, which is also funny. Going to bed is difficult and annoying. It involves getting changed and cleaning your teeth and turning the lights off and taking the dirty mugs out to the kitchen. Stay up late or go to bed? Get up early or lie in? It’s such a conundrum.
I know I need to train if I’m going to post anything like a decent time at this years London Marathon. I have children and a wife with whom I need to spend at least some time during the day. I can’t go out every night. So getting up early and going running is something I really have to do. But it’s hard, it’s so hard. I love it once I’m out and especially when I get back and jump in that warm shower with 10 more miles in the bag. But, oh dear, it’s awful.
Running is free they say. Just pull on a pair of shorts and off you go. True, true, you can do that. You don’t though, do you? The very first thing you do is buy £90 running shoes because your best mate’s friend who’s a runner told you that you need proper shoes if you’re going to start running seriously and you should get your gait checked at Sweatshop because they do it free in the shop if you buy the trainers from them and you really need a Garmin.
You buy running gear all the time. New top, new shorts, new socks, gels, water bottle, gloves, buff, iPhone holder for your arm, sports headphones, footpod (No? Just me then), head torch, cap, compression sleeves. The list goes on and on. That wouldn’t be so bad, but then what we do, rather than running along the seafront or up on the hills for free, we pay hundreds of pounds a year to do exactly the same except this time in organised events surrounded by a bunch of other lunatics, many dressed in banana suits, with money to burn on entry fees! ENTRY FEES, the bane of my life.
Join the UKAA they said. You get a discount off race entry fees. Yes, you do. It’s TWO POUNDS. Two pounds off £36 is really neither here nor there, although perhaps it adds up in the end. But it doesn’t feel like it when I get to the end of the booking form on Runners World and have to type in my debit card details or my Paypal password. Once you’re hooked, there’s nothing you can do. You stay up till midnight to book the Brecon Beacons Ultra or the Snowdonia Marathon. You constantly search Runners World for events near you, or far away. You try to talk the wife into buying a race entry for your birthday. You convince her that it’ll be a nice weekend break for her too! Listen to me. Running is NOT FREE.
Dark Yellow Wee
Many of the 10 awful things about running described here are easily solved to be honest and this is another. Dark yellow wee is a consequence of inadequate hydration. You know it, I know it, but we still suffer from it and it’s not pleasant. It’s also quite specific to long distance or endurance athletes. Most people drink enough fluid during the day because thirst tells them to do so. Their wee might be a bit yellow, but rarely that deep dark yellow. It only happens if you’ve not drunk enough and you’ve been sweating away for hours.
Worse than just dark yellow wee though, is hardly any dark yellow wee at all. I’ve had that before. 23 miles in to the Paris Marathon and 30 miles into an ultra on the South Downs, I stopped for a wee (in front of everyone). I really felt like I had to go. What came out was the most pathetic dribble of golden syrup, and it felt like what I imagine cystitis to feel like. A stinging, sharp pain and the sensation that I still needed to go to the loo.
Travel through the interweb-a-sphere again and you will find one particularly disturbing photo of a runner so determined to post a decent time that he doesn’t stop at all and just lets go. I don’t think I would ever be so dedicated to running that I would do that. But it is a critical part of a runners race preparation. If your race is at 9am, you need to have a poo at some point from when you wake up to say 15 minutes before the race start. If you leave it too late you may find the queue for the portaloo is too long and you’ll miss the start. Or the portaloos will be inadequate, as they were for the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon recently. No paper anywhere to be found.
For me, it’s a strong coffee as soon as I wake up which usually works to free up the system. If you don’t or can’t go for whatever reason, you risk disaster during the race. I have sat down like a bear in the woods on a few occasions before a race and a couple of times during training runs. Some clever folk take toilet paper with them when they run. I tried that once and the paper just disintegrated in my sweaty pocket. Silly bugger. Dock leaves have been my friend on the few occasions when I have had no other option. Thankfully I’ve never had to stop during a race. It will happen one day. What will I do? Watch this space…
“You love running more than your family”, “You’re not going out again this week”, “Why don’t you spend the evening with me instead”, “How Much?!!”, “What, for the whole weekend?”, “How far?”, “You need to sort out your priorities”, “You spend more time with your running friends than with me”.
Any of us who have a partner know this story. It’s a fine balance between spending time with your family and running, especially if you are training for a specific event. I was reading Steve Way’s blog recently and came across his training schedule. The guy is out every day sometimes twice a day for months. Ok, it’s different for us middle of the pack runners, but we are still out at least three times a week running. I usually do ‘parkrun‘ on a Saturday and a long run on a Sunday, as well as my Worthing Harriers training nights and the odd treadmill session. Once you’ve showered and recovered that’s a fair chunk out of the day.
It’s important to make sure that your partner feels they have some time to do things they enjoy as well as ensuring they feel they are getting an equal share of your time. But it’s difficult to get this right as we all know. The more your partner gets frustrated with you not being around, the less likely you are to want to be around. Running is your escape from being moaned at. But if you spent a little more quality time with your other half, you may not be moaned at. What are you gonna do?!!
Ten Awful Things About Running
It’s true, if you look after yourself, learn from your mistakes and read things like this article, you can prevent many of the above awful things happening to you. Keep hydrated when you run and find the nutrition which works best for you pre-race, during and post race. Eating and drinking correctly can reduce the chances of public urination, smells, vomit, dark yellow wee and the runs. If you wear decent gear and put vaseline in the right places you can reduce the chances of chafing and getting black toenails. That leaves mud, entry fees, early mornings and family arguments. Perhaps we just accept that these things are part of the runner’s lot. If you can’t stand the heat….you should have entered UTMB instead of MDS.
Do you have any funny stories about running? Have you suffered with any of the above? Let me know in the comments below. If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, please share it with your friends, whether they are runners or not. Finally please subscribe to my YouTube channel (where you will find a multitude of running films) by clicking here Film My Run YouTube Subscription. Thanks.