Whenever I discuss Ironman with people unfamiliar with the event, they all ask the same question, “How do you go to the bathroom during such a long day?” I answer that we just go on the bike while riding and stop at the porta-potties on the run. Truly, though, this is an oversimplification and completely neglects a more intrinsic problem, GI distress that can occur without warning during training or racing. This matter is so important and so universal many years ago I wanted to write an article for one of the triathlon publications entitled “Where to sit when you have to shit”.
This was deemed too crass, so I thought of a less offensive title, “What to do when you have to poo”. Of course, this piece was merely a joke and was never actually written, until now. I realize this subject matter makes some people squeamish, but athletes discuss every bodily function in graphic detail and without shame. And, to be honest, I find bathroom humor incredibly funny.
Every athlete has encountered this problem: You are out on the open road, your guts start to grumble and there is nary a toilet in sight. What to do? Luckily, the world is your bathroom, so don’t be shy. If you are a planner, you brought along wet wipes or Kleenex. Perhaps you left these items at home. It is time for some creativity. In the winter, snow is a wonderful option. Leaves also work well (just check for poison ivy, that is a whole other hassle you don’t want to deal with). I have known athletes to return home from runs wearing only one sock; how absurdly resourceful! Scout out running routes in your neighborhood that have houses under construction because they often have handy porta-potties in front.
The absolute most important time to go number 2 is race morning. We all have tales about our success or failure at this enterprise. Certainly, it is a talent to go on demand at 4 am so you are ready for your early morning race start. Beware. If you start the race with a “full” stomach, it will haunt you on the run. My best advice is to eat your pre-race dinner very early the evening before to facilitate the digestive process. I once heard a story about a wet-suit clad Ironman participant who was in the water warming up minutes before the gun went off. Apparently he did not have success in the bathroom that morning because the urge struck at this very inopportune moment. With no options, he used his wetsuit as a bathroom (apparently he later suffered from a serious case of chafe). Urban legend or fact? I’m not entirely sure, but it made me laugh hysterically and I bet you are too.
Finally, clothing choice plays a pivotal role in this matter. I am at a loss as to why athletes wear white kits when they race. They provide an unnecessary peep show, and if you have a GI misfortune every one on the course will know. Black shorts are more suitable attire; they disguise mishaps when disaster strikes.
Get out there and train and race with confidence. Your guts will fail you at some point, but now you are equipped to handle the situation with dignity.