The 7 Most Embarrassing Running Problems (and How to Fix Them)

As a runner, I’m no stranger to running-induced embarrassment.

I’ve experienced plenty of bodily malfunctions. I don’t usually admit to. I’ve farted, had diarrhea, suffered from bloody nipples, you name it so that you could call me an expert on all embarrassing running things.

To try to save you from future embarrassment, today I’m tackling the so-called awkward running issues. If nothing else, I hope it shows you that the quest of becoming an awesome runner can be, well…a little messy. And it happens to everyone.

1. Flatulence

Sometimes running makes you slip one. It goes unnoticed if you’re on a solo run, but it can get a little embarrassing when you’ve got company.

The truth is that farting is a natural process. It’s something we all do, every single one of us (and animals too!)

It just so happens that runners do it more often. In fact, athletes—beginners and elite alike—are more prone to intestinal gas than average, sedentary adults are. Surveys reveal that GI symptoms affect up to 50 percent of runners.

The causes of running-induced gas are multi-faceted. According to conventional wisdom, it’s caused by air trapped in the digestive system. When we eat, we’re also swallowing air. This extra air gets trapped in our digestive tract, only to eventually find its way out of the body either through flatulence or belching.

Exercise speeds up the digestive process, forcing the release of gases caught in the digestive tract. The jarring nature of running can flex the sphincter muscles in a way that releases gas suddenly.

The Fix

To avoid stomach discomfort and gas, try the following:

  • Limit high-fiber or sugar foods within three to four hours before exercise, including beans, bran, and some vegetables.
  • Eat more slowly. While eating or drinking, you’re also swallowing air.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration hinders proper movement of the bowels and potentiates gas.
  • Consider taking digestive aids. These can help break down complex carbs in gassy foods.
  • Feign ignorance and act like it never happened. This usually works for me.
  • If symptoms worsen, consult your doctor to determine whether there’s a medical concern.

2. Excessive Sweating

Are you embarrassed by your running sweat? You shouldn’t be.

As a runner, sweat is your best friend. It’s your body’s natural means of regulating your core temperature. The more you run, the more your body heats up and the more you sweat. Without sweat, you’d overheat, and that achieves nothing but trouble.

In addition to sweating while you’re running, it’s also perfectly normal to find that once you start running, you’re sweating more than you used to. As you get fitter, your body becomes more efficient at cooling down its core temperature through sweating. That’s why well-trained athletes sweat more than weekend warriors.

There is such a thing as too much sweat. Some cases of profuse sweating, known as hyperhidrosis, can be a medical issue that occurs when the body’s cooling system malfunctions.

The Fix

To regulate your sweating, do the following:

  • Wear the right clothing to deal with excessive sweat. These “wick” moisture away from your body to the surface, keeping you dry and comfortable.
  • Use antiperspirants containing aluminum chloride.
  • Keep well hydrated. Drink plenty of water both before and after your runs. For sessions longer than an hour, drink on the run.
  • Accept the fact that you’re a runner, and runners sweat. That’s the price you pay to work out and be fit.
  • Consult your doctor if the problem worsens or persists, as it may indicate an underlying issue or illness.

3. Chafing

Chafing, the skin-to-skin and/or skin-to-clothing rubbing, can result in a red, raw rash that can sting, and even bleed.

How they happen is no mystery. When you combine friction and sweat, you set the stage for chafing, whether it’s rubbed thighs, bloody nipples, or irritation from your running shorts or sports bra.

Vulnerable spots include the underarms, nipples, inner thighs, and along the bra line (female runners know). Ignoring these issues can wreck a good run—and you don’t want that.

The Fix

To help prevent chafing, do the following:

  • Wear tight-fitting, synthetic underwear that wicks moisture away from the skin. Baggy clothing has excess fabric that can irritate.
  • Get synthetic running shorts with “built-in” underwear. You can also go for spandex compression shorts instead of underwear.
  • Apply a skin lubricant on the feet, underarms, groin, or anywhere that blisters or chafing can develop.

4. Bloody Nipples

Don’t get alarmed if you see strips of blood trailing down the front of your shirt—especially following a long run. When you run, your shirt can repeatedly rub against your nipples organs made from delicate tissue. This results in irritation, dryness, and even bleeding.

It’s quite painful, and a common affliction that often plagues male runners. They scared me the first time I had them, but now I see them as a minor nuisance, and as a rite of passage for any aspiring long-distance runner.

The Fix

You can prevent bloody nipple by:

  • Opting for the right clothing. These should be made from synthetic materials — not cotton.
  • Avoiding loose-fitting shirts. Instead, go for compression shirts. I’d also recommend wearing a tight inner layer (made from a synthetic material, like Dri-Fit, not cotton) before putting on your shirt.
  • Sticking a waterproof bandage over your nipples before exercise.
  • Cover your chest with a lubricant such as Body Glide or Vaseline to reduce friction before a long run.

5. Runner’s Diarrhea

Also known as runner’s trots, runner’s diarrhea is not only humiliating, but can also ruin your workout like nothing else. Surveys show that around 30 to 50 percent of all runners suffer from the urge to defecate on the run every now and then.

The main causes may be dietary or could be caused by reduced blood flow to the digestive tract while running. Dehydration and the jarring nature of running can make symptoms worse.

Check my full guide to runner’s diarrhea here.

The Fix

To keep runner’s diarrhea at bay, try these tactics and see if they make a difference:

  • Eat at least three hours before a run. The longer the time between your meals and your workouts, the better. It gives your digestive system plenty of time to carry out its job.
  • Avoid high-fiber foods (fruits, whole grains, legumes and some veggies) as well as caffeine and artificial sweeteners before a run.
  • Hydrate. Dehydration can increase the risk of GI issues and slows gastric emptying by a colossal rate. Here’s your full guide to proper hydration.
  • Map out your long runs along routes where pit-stops or bathrooms are accessible. Remember to carry some extra toilet paper with you.
  • Consult a doctor about taking anti-diarrhea medicine. Ailments such as colitis, lactose intolerance, and irritable bowel syndrome are common culprits.

6. Leaky Bladder

Also known as “exercise-induced urinary incontinence,” leaky bladder is pretty common, especially among female runners. In fact, surveys show that roughly 25 percent of women have experienced it to a point where it bothered them during exercise.

Both men and women can experience leaky bladder, but childbirth weakens pelvic floor muscles, which are the muscles you use to stop urine flow. That’s why it’s more common in women who have just given birth.

When these muscles become weak, anything from a cough to the up-and-down motion of running can squeeze urine from the bladder, causing a leak.

The Fix

I’m no expert on bladder issues, but my research says you should try the following:

  • Practice Kegel exercises. These strengthen the pelvic-wall floor muscles and are the recommended cure for most cases of incontinence.
  • Go to the bathroom before exercise. Stopping by the toilet before you head out the door can make a huge difference in controlling leaks.
  • Consult your doctor if everything else fails. Severe cases may require surgical intervention.

7. Black Toenails

A week ago I did a long run and forgot to clip my toenails the night before. The next day I paid the price for my slip-up,  losing one big toe toenail, and yesterday I lost the other one.

Black toenails are caused by the unceasing rubbing of one (or many) of the toes against the front of the shoe, causing a blood blister to form under the nail. They’re commonly found in people whose running shoes don’t fit properly and those running long-distance events.

The Fix

To prevent black toenails, do the following:

  • Opt for the correct shoe size. That means wearing a pair that’s at least a half size bigger than your casual shoes.
  • Trim your toenails more often
  • Put on synthetic wicking socks instead of standard cotton ones. This helps keep your feet moisture free while running.
  • If you get a black toenail, leave it alone. It’ll heal on its own unless it’s painful or you notice any infection or redness. Then see your doctor.

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That’s it. This is my list of the top six embarrassing running issues that I think are the most common in the running world.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of the most embarrassing moments you faced as a runner and how did you handle it (them)?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

In the meantime thank you for dropping by.

Keep Running Strong.

David D