Poop & Running - My Explosive True Story

"3... 2... 1... GO!!!"

I pushed off from the starting line with the first wave of Minnie Mouses, Tinker Bells, and Tiggers.

I had taken maybe 20 steps when...

"You have got to be kidding me." 

Bad timing for... well, you read the title.

I looked ahead.  The chances of a row of porta-potties showing up this soon after the race's start were next to nil.  And turning around and running upstream was likely to make me Disney cos-play roadkill.  I had one option -- press forward and pray.

The race was the Disneyland 10K over Labor Day weekend in 2014. Dressed in a recycled Jessie from Toy Story running costume thanks to a lack of time from planning my recent wedding, it was my eighth Disney race, but the first race where I desperately wanted to see a john more than a spencer (my husband).

No bueno.  

Every runner knows that before you head to the starting line, you hit up a bathroom and do your business.  In fact, in order to avoid unwelcome stops on the course, you do as much business as you can before the race.  Which I did.  Happily.  So why the heck was it business time again?

All I could do was dimple my muscles together and duck-jog ahead, desperately searching for any sign of an upcoming bathroom.  Every uncomfortable moment felt like an eternity.

Thank you, Mickey!  Disney delivered.  A handfull of porta-potties sat waiting in their aromatic glory at mile 1, and I found myself sprinting ahead at a 5-minute/mile pace to open the door and... do the business, right there in the dark before sun-up.


With gratitude in my soul and relief in my bowels, I burst out of the throne room and back into the pack of mouse ears and race bibs, determined to make up for lost time.  At least the worst was over.

But it wasn't over.  Heavens to Maleficent, was it not over.

A half a mile later, that familiar urge was back.  I couldn't believe it.  I had business'd TWO times this morning - with a vengeance.  There was no way this feeling was legit.

But it was.

Stubbornly, I tried to ignore it.  I pressed forward.

Mile 2:  Ugh, this feeling was not going away.  It was only getting worse.

Mile 2.5:  We were in the parks now, and I continued to pass up each bathroom I came to, despite how magical they appeared.  I was one of those weirdos who actually aimed to get a good time at Disney races, and I had lost a solid few minutes already.  It was worth the risk to skip the bathrooms... wasn't it?  No.  But I was clearly a competitive moron.

Mile 3:  Listening to "It's a Small World" on repeat in my headphones would have been bliss compared to this feeling.  

Mile 3.5:  Every step was like tapping a raw egg's shell harder and harder.

Note:  The rest of this post is not for the proper, squeamish, or bowelless.  You've been warned.

Mile 4:  That was it.  The eggshell cracked.  

I am ashamed and yet strangely liberated to admit, that right there in my favorite part of Frontierland, the Happiest Place on Earth became the crappiest place on earth for me and my poor Jessie costume, and I suddenly gained an even greater and unexpected appreciation for sparkle running skirts (though I doubt Sparkle Athletic would want to include this in their advertising).

Since I used to work for Disney, I knew dozens of people working along the race course, who kindly cheered me on along my "adventure," with no idea just how adventurous it was.  And wanting to show my thanks, I forced myself to cheer them back, all the while praying they "pay no attention to the butt behind the curtain."

One friend snapped this photo of me - not exactly a great game face.  I look like this is my first race ever:

This is one of the most awkward race pictures I've ever seen.  Of anyone.

Since the egg had only cracked and not exploded into oblivion (thank the stars), my urge to hit up a bathroom was just as strong as ever.  The only change was now I was even more uncomfortable than I was before.  Hooray!  But with only a couple miles left, I threw caution to the wind and decided to push forward until the end.

When I finally saw the finish line, I might as well have seen a smoothie shop after crawling across the Sahara. 

Awkward photo #2:  Seeing the finish line.

Makes me wonder what this lady got on video...

When I got to the finish, I ran passed my friends with cameras, grabbed my medal at a full sprint, nearly pushed over the medal photographers, barged through the banana passers, and booked it across the parking lot to the row of porta potties just about a half mile from the finish line.

As is the theme for this race, I again felt like I wasn't going to make it.

I threw open a door, turned around and...

This is where I would place a "censored" screenshot and play classical music, if I could.

In the end, the unfortunate truth was that the person before me had left a not-so-desirable gift on the seat, and when my shaking hands rushed to wipe it down with toilet paper, I found that the paper roll was brand new, and I couldn't tear the wrapper off fast enough.

I didn't make it.

What was going to be a 2-minute endeavor, turned into 45 minutes.  My husband, who had seen me cross the finish line, thought I was abducted by Ultron.

Good thing I paid over a hundred bucks for this experience.

And to think it was a clean new roll of TP that finished me off.

So Why Does Running Make You Run to a Bathroom?

According to Kelly O'Mara of Competitor.com in her article "Why Do I Have to Poop When I Run," GI issues during races are incredibly common for runners.

Even Paula Radcliffe, who was the women's world record holder for the marathon, had to stop on the side of the road on her way to win the 2005 London Marathon and take a dump in front of thousands of spectators.


Apparently there are a few contributors to a runner's common need to pop a squat:

  • The constant pounding on the pavement shakes up the intestines, which then, want a release.
  • Bloodflow often leaves a runner's internal organs and head to exercise muscles, which slows the food absorption process.
  • Runners often don't drink a lot of water, and dehydration makes it difficult for a runner's organs to absorb anything lingering in them, so the body does the best thing it knows how to do - flush everything out.
  • Eating before a run churns up your stomach and makes it more likely you'll need to hit up a bathroom.
  • Studies show that runners who ramp up their speed or distance too quickly while training are more susceptible.
  • Food moves more quickly through athletes who are training.
  • Foods in high fat, sugar, or caffeine are top contributors.

Not sure how all this applied in the first 30 seconds of a race for me, but whatever.

While we know many factors that contribute to the runner's runs, the exact cause is difficult to pin down, which make prevention difficult.  Some people suggest avoiding fiber-rich foods 24 hours before a race, or warming up your bowels by eating something small or drinking something warm just before running, to give you a productive bathroom experience.

Haha, "productive bathroom experience."  What am I trying to be, a nurse?

For those of us runners with the runs, O'Mara suggests we can take some comfort from that.  She says, "All that rushing to the bathroom could be reducing your risk of colon cancer.  The rate of colon cancer has been found to be lower among runners, which may be because their bowel content is not present in their colons as long as it is with non-runners."

With friend Jon (not to be confused with a john) and hubby Spencer, after all the "business" was taken care of.

Looking back, I now know that thanks to a souvenir parasite I brought home from my honeymoon in Cancun, I had stored "business" in my bowels for days.  Running the race simply made it all manifest itself within a single hour.  

Thanks to modern medicine, that parasite is now destroyed, hopefully along with my chances of reliving my explosive race adventure.

Disneyland with a Bald Eagle on Her Birthday

Meet Madi.

Madi is my incredibly awesome sister-in-law, and she loves Disneyland.  

So for this very important anniversary of the day she was born, Madi and her hubster Alex hopped in their car and drove from Northern Utah for 700+ miles to Southern California to experience a couple days at the Diamond Celebration of the "Happiest Place on Earth."  They met up with my hubby, his mom (also visiting from Utah), and me.

Connie (my mother-in-law), Alex (brother-in-law), and Madi (sister-in-law) -- so lucky to have great in-laws!

You may have noticed that Madi doesn't have any hair.  Madi has an auto-immune condition called Alopecia, which pretty much means she doesn't grow hair on her body.  Basically, her body doesn't recognize its own tissue, so her immune system destroys her hair follicles, preventing hair from growing.

She's had the condition since birth, though she was able to grow some hair while growing up, despite the condition worsening over time.  It wasn't until her senior year of high school that she had to start wearing a wig to school -- a not-so-easy situation for a teenager just about to face the world on her own, but she pushed through it with a sense of humor.  Eventually, all her hair fell out.

Usually, Madi wears a wig.  

Alex and Madi on their wedding day - August, 2013

Though this last Halloween, Madi surprised the masses by showing up at a costume party with hard-to-beat homemade costume -- a bald eagle.

How awesome is this?

A few days before coming to California, Madi announced she was leaving the wig behind in exchange for a bottle of sunscreen.  I seriously thought that was the most awesome thing ever.  I had never actually seen her without her wig on -- and I felt like her being willing to ditch the wig at such a public place showed that she doesn't need a fancy hairstyle to know who she is and value herself for what really matters.  That deserves some props.

And she rocked her look.

It was interesting to watch other people notice Madi in the parks.  Often people would smile at her in a sort of way that acknowledged that they notice her bald head, but either want to show support, or don't want to come across as rude by being caught staring blankly.  I am totally one of these people -- I often smile at people with no hair, or a disability, or anything that sets them apart from the crowd.  But in my defense, I pretty much smile at anyone who doesn't have anything that sets them apart from a crowd, as well.  You're a human?  Smile.  You're a tree?  Smile.  A rock?  Smile.

Still -- it made me wonder what I was causing those who look a little differently to think when I smile at them (and how badly I'm confusing people who don't look different).  Madi says it's a little obvious people are acknowledging her head, but she says she doesn't mind.  She even appreciates these people.  More than likely, they probably think she's going through chemo for cancer, which she thankfully isn't. My good friend Chris, who had an amazing sense of humor, incredible life perspective, and who recently returned to live with God after fighting a rare form of cancer, often laughed that --

"People are really nice to you when you have cancer.  Everyone should experience this -- well, not the cancer part."  

People are really nice to you when they think you have cancer, too.

Madi told me kids are the most fun to watch because they're so honest.  Once, she took her wig off in front of a class of kids she was teaching to help demonstrate a point, and a few days later, one of the kids told her that it gave him nightmares for days.  She has a good sense of humor about that.

One moment that totally caught me off guard was when a passing woman grabbed Madi's arm and said "In Jesus' name, be healed," and then kept on walking.  As I was picking my jaw up from off the floor, Madi shrugged and said that it wasn't the first time that had happened.  When she dressed up like a bald eagle last Halloween, a woman grabbed her, pressed their foreheads together, and said a surprise prayer of healing because Jesus had told her Madi was sick.  

As a follower of Christ myself, I was a little conflicted with how to feel about the passing healer woman.  Part of me admired and appreciated her faith in Jesus, but another part of me felt like she was popping the physical and emotional bubble of personal space.  

Speaking of saying weird things, Madi's hairless arms feel like a baby's bum.  Not gonna lie, I kinda want baby bum arms.

Next topic.

Since Madi was a little girl, she has been a huge fan of Ariel -- the mermaid from The Little Mermaid (for those of you living under a rock).  In order to maximize Madi's happiness quotient on her birthday, the day became a sort of "Ariel Appreciation Day," which included riding The Little Mermaid:  Ariel's Undersea Adventure seven times. 

In line for The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure.

I happened to be a Disney Ambassador on opening day for that attraction, and even though that meant memorizing facts about the ride, walking the construction site with its designer, and riding it repeatedly beforehand, I still noticed so many new elements each time we rode it.  Disney Imagineers are amazing (shout out to Larry Nikolai -- very talented, and incredibly humble and kind).  

I laughed my head off watching Madi run out of the attraction and punch the air with shouts of how awesome it was, just as we all turned and got back in line again.

And, of course, we couldn't celebrate Ariel Appreciation Day without having lunch at Ariel's Grotto, where we got to meet Ariel, herself.

Not sure what the conversation was about, but it was apparently interesting.

The food and desserts were amazing.  We were full for the rest of the day.

The whole day was a lot of fun.  Even though it was a Saturday, we didn't have to wait in a lot of lines, and we rode pretty much everything we wanted to, which was a nice surprise.

Grizzly River Rapids -- Not my first choice.

As a former employee of Disneyland, I was quite happy to see so many thoughtful cast members (aka - those who work at Disneyland) wishing her a happy birthday and treating her with such kindness.  I was even more happy to see them doing the same thing to every person -- whether they were celebrating a birthday, just walking around, had hair, or didn't have hair.  Disney truly attracts some of the most friendly and kind-hearted people to work there (how did I get a job there?). 

The princesses were a lot of fun to talk to, too.  This was my first time eating lunch at Ariel's Grotto -- thanks Madi & Alex!

I should also point out that from the moment we all got together, it was obvious to the world that my husband Spencer and Madi's husband Alex were related.  They laughed at the same jokes (usually their own), both have the same tall form and slightly hunched walk, and even drive the same car and have the exact same unexplained left hip injury.  Since I happen to really like hanging out with my husband, it wasn't too shabby hanging out with people similar to him.

And our very own bald eagle was a great example of what it means to be fearless, funny, understanding, and all-around awesome.

Happy birthday, Madi!!

Running While Sick

A couple weeks ago I was standing on the Great Wall of China, and I swallowed.

OUCH!  Throat ='d pain.

My instinct was to look around me to catch sight of the Samurai who must have just climbed the wall and stabbed me in the neck. But then I remembered that Samurai come from Japan, not China.

It turns out, I wasn't stabbed in the throat. I was just officially sick.  I had been sick for a few days, actually.  My family had been preparing for our Great Wall Half Marathon trip for a year, and despite my typically good health, consistent training, and disturbing overuse of hand sanitizing wipes, the Bad Luck Germ Monster followed me to China and waited until the very moment I crossed the country's border to attack me with a virus.

The "Bad Luck Germ Monster" caught up with me on my flight to China.

I remember sitting on the airplane, about to land in Beijing, when I first felt the twinge of throat pain.

"C'monnn....allergy!" I crossed my fingers in hopes the pain was due to any other reason other than illness. But alas, the pilot's weather forecast over the loudspeaker might as well have said, "Looks like sun, smog, and a week of pain and laryngitis in Beijing for Jolie Hales."


I had to face the facts -- I was going to be sick for the most epic race of my life. Not to mention the rigorous touring schedule that surrounded it (which I swear, can be more exhausting).

But hey -- at least I got to go!  And I didn't die!  Win, win!

Is it Safe to Run While Sick?

I did some searching, and the general consensus on running websites is that normally, if your illness is mostly above the neck (throat, nose, head, etc.), then you're probably safe to run.  But if your illness is below the neck (chest, body aches, bathroom issues) or you have a fever, get in bed and stay there.

Here's some general advice I found about running while sick:

  • If you have flu-like symptoms (fever, body aches), don't run.
  • Running with a fever will likely increase the time it will take you to heal.
  • If you only have cold symptoms (stuffy nose, scratchy throat, etc.), it's probably okay to run, but monitor your condition constantly.
  • If you have other illness symptoms, check with your doctor before training.
  • Resting may help you feel better faster.
  • Very few people stay completely healthy during their marathon training, so remain optimistic and know you're not alone.
  • Research shows that staying fit can boost your immune system, but pushing yourself too hard can put you at greater risk of getting sick.

Getting back on your feet:

  • If you've been training for at least 6 weeks, it takes around 10 days to really start losing fitness, so a short cold shouldn't hurt your training much.
  • Run the day after you feel normal to avoid losing more fitness.
  • Don't try to make up missed mileage by running more after you feel better.
  • Depending on how much training time you missed, consider cutting your next few runs by a third or half, and build mileage back up slowly.
  • If you start feeling worse again on a run, stop and give your healing more time.
  • Pay close attention to your body -- don't overdo it as you get back in the game.
  • Taking more than a month off will affect your training noticeably, and two months off means possibly starting your training back at the beginning.

To read more about running and illness, check out the following helpful website articles:

As Gale Bernhardt says on Active.com, "Health first, performance second.  Get well soon!"

To Run or Not to Run

So for me in China?  To run.  

I'm all about resting and taking a break from training to heal from illness, but here I was faced with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run a race on the Great Wall of China. I decided that if I was strong enough to even walk on race day, I was going to run that friggin' race.

And I did.  While I normally avoid taking meds while running, on this day, I was grateful for modern medicine.

It helped that my family took the race at a sloth's pace.  Thanks family!

And for the record, I do not recommend running while sick.  

And I totally think Americans should adopt the Asian policy of wearing a face mask when you're sick so you don't get others sick.  Perhaps then, I wouldn't have caught this bug at work and subjected myself (and soonafter, my husband) to these weeks of blah.

Looking weird for a cause!

I knew I would probably feel much worse after the race.  I just kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn't be bed-ridden.  China was pretty awesome, but it probably would have seemed less awesome from a Chinese hospital.

A Chinese hospital we drove by.
After the race, I did get worse, but I thankfully didn't have to be hospitalized or anything like that, so I chalked that up to the good luck... fairy (trying to find the opposite of monster).  I completely lost my voice that night (I'm still getting it back), and I struggled to remain conscious for a week at work afterward, but my coworkers were very understanding any generally steered clear of my germ-infested office.

Frankly, I'm so grateful for the awesome experience, that I'll take the illness along with it if that's what it takes.

Past Sick Runs

So.... since my judgement is always top-notch, this wasn't the first time I had run while being sick.

Two years ago, I not only dumbly decided to run the Firecracker 10K in Anaheim while I had a fever, but I pushed myself to run faster than I should have, because I knew I was in the running for an age division award.

After running with a fever, this may have been the last time I smiled for a month.

Good news is, I got third place in my age division.  Bad news is, I went to bed right after the race, and pretty much had to stay there for weeks.

Then more recently, I ran the Star Wars 10K at Disneyland when I was trying to get over an illness, but instead of making me feel worse, I actually got one of my best 10K finishing times, and felt better after the race.  So I don't get it.

2015 Star Wars 10K while sick - Felt better than I expected.

Still, I believe it's much better to err on the side of caution whenever we feel sick.

Back on the Path

Today, I finally got back out on the trail.  Though I'm not feeling 100%, I couldn't wait another day to try to heal up.  And after consulting with Dr. Internet (which is never wrong), since my symptoms were all above the neck, it was probably okay to run.

Besides, after 3 weeks of not training, I was starting to feel my leg muscles turning to jello while I sat at my desk at work.

I ran 4.5 miles after work at an easy 8:59 pace, which was actually faster than I expected to run.  While running, I could feel the loss of athleticism more than the illness -- my chest was tighter, I wasn't as fast, and I got some random blister on my toe... not sure what that was about.  As for symptoms of the lingering illness, let's just say I had to spit a lot more often, I shouldn't have taken fiber tablets earlier in the day, and I coughed more when it was over.

Today's run -- first day back training since getting sick three weeks ago.

I guess we'll see how tired I am tomorrow!  Fingers crossed the relapse monster doesn't know where I live.
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