Do Marathon Runners Pee Themselves?

It’s mile 15 of your first marathon. It feels like a familiar pressure in your bladder and  you realize you need to pee urgently. You hydrated a lot before the race, and now your kidneys are paying the price.

There are no bathrooms or porta potties in sight along this stretch of the course. There are two choices: either stop and urinate in the bushes off to the side, or hold it until the next aid station.

You opt to hold it as long as possible, not wanting to lose your time, pace, or momentum. To make things worse, the next two miles are spent battling intense discomfort each step as your bladder screams for relief.

Ultimately, you make it to an aid station bathroom before finally giving in. You may have experienced something similar at some point in time. Obviously, the longer the race, the worse this problem can get. 

So this begs the question, do marathon runners pee themselves, especially during marathons? Although this may seem like a weird subject to tackle, someone has got to do it. So here we are. Let’s jump in!

The Physiological Need to Urinate During Long Runs

The human body is designed to function optimally during intense physical exertion lasting minutes to hours. However, the marathon distance of 26.2 miles pushes things to the limit. 

All that fluid runners drink before and during the race eventually goes somewhere, namely, into their bladders. The kidneys are simply unable to reabsorb water fast enough when running at race pace for 2-6 hours. 

During a long run, the percussive force of your feet striking the ground in addition to general vibration of the torso may shake things up enough to further activate your bladder. Some experts estimate the average bladder can hold between 400- 600 mL of urine, or about 17-23 ounces

With marathoners advised to ingest 4-8 oz of water every 20 minutes, it’s easy to see how urine production can outpace absorption, especially for slower runners out on the course for 4+ hours. 

Additionally, colder temperatures typical of fall and spring marathons constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow away from the bladder and increasing urgency. Caffeine consumption also plays a role, as it is diuretic. 

When you combine close-to-capacity bladders with the logistical challenges of actually urinating mid-race, it creates a perfect storm for potty predicaments. Basically, science indicates needing to pee during a marathon is not only common but expected. 

The human bladder was simply not designed to hold it for that long under such conditions. Proper preparation and planning can help mitigate issues, but the physiological urge will make itself known. 

Logistical Challenges of Urinating During a Marathon

Even if your bladder is signaling urgency, actually urinating mid-marathon presents difficulties. First, marathons generally lack bathrooms conveniently placed along the open road portions of the course. 

Elites and sub-elite runners do not want to lose precious seconds waiting in long lines at porta potties either. Stopping your momentum mid-race can also negatively impact muscles and tighten up your pace. 

For men, quickly pulling over to urinate on trees, bushes, or side buildings often becomes the solution. However, women face additional anatomical challenges. Not to mention legal concerns regarding public urination for both men and women. 

Waiting to reach aid stations with restroom facilities typically remains the best option. However, these stations may be 2 miles apart or more in some races. When you gotta go, that’s an eternity to hold it in! 

Another factor is runners generally wear minimal, tight-fitting shorts and underwear on race day. For men, this can make urinating while running a messy endeavor even while using one hand to maneuver. For women, their hydration needs combined with smaller bladder capacity makes fully relieving oneself mid-run difficult without partial undressing. 

Social Factors That Determine Urination Behavior

Beyond physical limitations, social and psychological factors also influence runner’s willingness to urinate openly during marathons. Although nature’s call may be screaming, actually answering it in front of crowds goes against social norms. 

Public urination remains a taboo in most societies. Marathon routes lined with spectators coupled with TV cameras broadcasting races worldwide intensifies this taboo. Some runners would simply rather endure discomfort than risk being captured in an embarrassing pose mid-stream. 

Elite competitors feel extra pressure to maintain decorum befitting their status. Stopping to pee could signal weakness, undermining mental toughness critical to competing. Plenty of runners also feel intense pressure not to break stride or lose focus during such an important race. 

The very admission that one needs to urinate can cause embarrassment. Some may go to great lengths to hide having to pee rather than confess weakness. Grinning and bearing the urge preserves a veneer of total control over their bodies. Admitting Mother Nature is calling erodes the triumphant image marathoners aspire to portray. 

Methods Runners Use to Urinate During Marathons

When push comes to shove and bladder capacity is exceeded, runners employ various techniques to relieve themselves mid-race. For men, the most common is quickly stopping and urinating against a tree, wall, or bushes on the side of the course. If no structures are available, moving several feet off the road and watering a patch of grass becomes the next option. 

Women have a tougher time, often waiting until aid stations with portable restrooms. Products have emerged in recent years to assist with urination while running. GoGirl is a popular disposable funnel allowing women to urinate standing up, providing quick relief without fully disrobing. Other urination aids like the Shewee and TravelMate enables portable urination. 

Some runners actually plan their liquid intake and race strategy around targeted urine stops. Downing extra fluids then timing relief for less crowded portions of the course allows quick roadside pit stops. Runners trying to maintain a steady pace may synchronize urination with walking intervals. 

Occasionally in major marathons, open public urination happens even beside thick crowds. When the need arises, social niceties get cast aside in favor of bladder relief. Special diapers and absorbent compression shorts help minimize embarrassment for those unable to stop at toilets. 

Some simply allow themselves to partially urinate while running, alleviating discomfort without fully soaking their shorts. Partial leakage and dribbling unfortunately remains a common sight late in marathons. 

The Risks of Holding Urine vs Stopping to Urinate

Runners facing a full bladder mid-marathon must weigh the risks of stopping to urinate versus holding it until the finish. Neither choice is ideal, so deciding which is the lesser evil becomes key. 

Holding urine for an extended period can lead to urinary tract infections. The excess liquid provides a breeding ground for bacteria. Discomfort and muscle cramps in the bladder area may also occur. However, continuing to run prevents breaking one’s pace and rhythm. 

Stopping brings its own drawbacks. For runners chasing a time goal, each bathroom break can cost several minutes. Finding and waiting for an open portable toilet also hampers momentum. Exerting willpower to start running again after a pit stop takes mental effort. 

However, preventing potential infections outweighs the time costs for most. Seeking relief after 2+ hours of holding will also likely provide energy and comfort boosts with the bladder relief. Experienced racers recommend always opting to stop when the need arises. 

Elite runners sometimes employ novel strategies like using adult diapers to avoid stops. For amateurs unlikely to win though, pride should not outweigh health. Pushing through and fully wetting yourself rather than stopping can lead to painful chafing for the remainder of the race.

How Runners Can Avoid Urination Issues During Marathons

While stopping to urinate during marathons may be inevitable, proper preparation can reduce the need and minimize the impact. Here are some tips to maintain both speed and dry clothes: 

• Limit fluid intake in the hours before the race to avoid starting with an already full bladder. However, be sure to hydrate fully in earlier days. 

• Use the bathroom immediately before your starting wave is called to maximize emptying. 

• During the race itself, moderate hydration and avoid excessive liquids sloshing in your stomach. Drink only to thirst. 

• Plan bathroom stops strategically around less crowded portions of the course or pace lulls. Look at route maps to identify good pit stop points. 

• Consider products to urinate discreetly on the run without fully disrobing. Practice ahead of time. 

• Time your intake so some urine production happens while briefly walking aid stations for maximal absorption. 

• Wear dark-colored shorts that won’t show wetness if you end up leaking. Compression undergarments can also minimize embarrassing reveals.

Methods to Assist with Mid-Race Urination

For marathoners who want to minimize the need for bathroom breaks during a race, there are some products available that can assist with urination while running. These products aim to make the process more convenient and discreet. 

Absorbent Running Shorts

One option is wearing purpose-made absorbent running shorts or underwear. These have a built-in absorbent pad or material that contains multiple layers designed to quickly absorb and retain urine. The goal is to avoid embarrassment and discomfort from wetness and odor while finishing the race. 

The top brands of absorbent shorts utilize advanced fabrics and technologies like super absorbent polymers to rapidly soak up fluid. Some have anti-microbial treatments to control odors. Absorbent pads are strategically placed in the crotch region of the shorts. This allows the wearer to urinate directly into the shorts without needing to stop. 

Most absorbent shorts are designed to be worn under regular running shorts. This adds a layer of discretion for the marathoner. Darker colors of outer shorts can also help mask any wetness. Compression from tight shorts can help restrict movement of absorbed urine to keep the runner dryer. 

After urinating, the urine remains locked in the absorbent pad of the shorts. It does not come into contact with the runner’s skin to avoid chafing. The dual-layer construction means outer shorts stay dry while the inner absorbent layer handles the urine.

Disposable Urination Shorts

Some brands offer disposable shorts designed specifically for urinating while running. These are made of lightweight materials with absorbent pads similar to baby diapers. The disposable shorts are worn underneath regular running shorts. 

When the runner needs to urinate, they can release directly into the disposable shorts. The absorbent core turns the urine into a gel substance that stays put. After the race, the disposable shorts can be removed and thrown away. 

This avoids having to clean potentially messy absorbent running shorts. Disposable shorts may not hold as much fluid as reusable options before leakage could occur. But they provide added convenience.

Portable Urinals and Funnels

Female marathoners have a few products designed to allow urinating while standing up or on-the-go. Portable and collapsible funnels are made to adapt to a woman’s anatomy. This allows directing urine away from the body and into an absorbent pad or container. 

Some portable urinals are designed to look like regular running belts or waist packs. They have discreet funnels built into them. There are also disposable paper funnels designed for single use. 

With portable urinals, urine can be collected in attached containers or bags lined with absorbent material. There are emptying valves to drain the urine afterward. Some urinals use gels that solidify urine on contact to neutralize odors.

Considerations When Choosing Urination Aids

There are many choices available when considering special products to urinate while marathon running. Important factors to weigh include: 

• Absorbency capacity for holding urine 

• Ability to prevent leaks and limit odor • Comfort and non-chafing fabrics 

• Discretion for use in public race setting 

• Ease of use on the run 

• For women, ability to stand and urinate hands-free

Testing out options during training runs is advisable. Finding the right product that suits your needs will provide confidence on race day. Proper use is key to avoiding leaks and accidents. Following washing instructions is important for reusable products. 

It’s worth noting that urine storage capacity is limited in even the best absorbent fabrics. For longer races, bathroom breaks may still be required at some point. Back-up regular toilet access should be part of a marathon urination strategy.

The Reality: Urination Happens During Marathons

It’s clear that needing to urinate during a marathon is very common among runners. However, openly discussing the realities of urinating, or even worse, having an accident, remains somewhat taboo. Many runners are embarrassed to admit that they have peed themselves at some point during a long race. 

Despite the stigma, the truth is that incidents involving urination are to be expected given the physical demands of running 26.2 miles. When nature calls in the middle of a marathon, runners don’t always have the luxury of stopping at a bathroom when they want to. Yet understanding this reality can help runners approach races with the right mindset.

Peeing Is Inevitable

Between hydrating properly and exercising for over two hours, needing to relieve yourself is simply inevitable. Even the most seasoned marathoners have likely wet themselves at some point, especially during a personal record attempt when stopping isn’t an option. 

While public urination obviously goes against social norms, it’s important to remember that marathon courses are not normal circumstances. So, any embarrassment about urinating in public during a race should be set aside.

Being Realistic

A healthy mindset is to be realistic that at some point, urination needs will likely have to be addressed during the marathon, whether planned or not. Instead of fearing it, accept that it’s bound to happen. The focus should be on executing your race plan, not worrying about bathroom breaks. 

With the right absorbent shorts or urination aids, urinating while running shouldn’t be as big of a mental barrier. This allows you to concentrate on your pace and performance. If any leakage occurs, don’t dwell on it. Stay positive and keep powering on.

Discretion On Course

One way to avoid embarrassment is to be discreet. Look for opportune moments to stop, such as sparsely spectated areas with trees or bushes off course. Move out of view and be quick to minimize time losses. 

For women, portable funnels allow urinating on the go more privately. Men can also utilize small bottles or portable urinals. Avoid going directly on the running surface when possible.

A Final Recap

After finishing the marathon, any pre-race worries about needing to urinate will seem trivial. You can look back and laugh at moments that seemed embarrassing in the heat of battle. What ultimately matters is making it to the finish line and reaching your running goals. However, you now now have the proper knowledge needed to minimize the impact peeing can have during your marathon race!

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