It had been a full 10 years since I’d run a race of any distance. In the meantime, there’d been a wedding, two cross-country moves, a kid who was somehow pushing 5, and a few halfhearted and ultimately failed attempts at reigniting my running practice. I was excited to finally be back in the game. I’d been running regularly for over a month, and dang, if I wasn’t feeling pretty all right. Even a little puffed up. Proud.
So when my husband and I let our friends talk us into signing up for a popular 10K a town over, I figured I’d treat it as a training run leading up to a half marathon I had my eye on. I mean, 10K? I could do a 10K—especially one that was still more than a month away.
Fast-forward to race day. My husband and I parked the car and jogged to the start. I took comfort in noting that at least at this particular race, things looked and sounded about the same as they had in ’08: swirls of runners, sponsor booths, row of portable toilets, benign musical entertainment, bannered arch over the start line, and, before I knew it, the starter's gun. We were off!
As I’d done countless times before, I went out too fast—but realized it soon enough and slowed in time to hopefully finish with roughly even splits.
There was new turf, though, and I'm not just talking about a course that was hillier than anticipated.
The waterworks began early in the second mile—an uphill stretch that would’ve been hard enough without the creeping wetness.
At first, it was just mildly disconcerting but soon progressed to…beyond that. Surrounded on all sides by hardy, all-in runners, I was all-out peeing my tights.
Also striking was the fact that I’d had no warning whatsoever, not a twinge of urgency. How did this happen? I wondered.
Faster and hillier running than I was used to? Check. Two cups of coffee pre-run rather than my usual one? Check. A skipped bathroom stop at the start? Check.
Fine, but were a couple of stupid mistakes enough to account for the fact that my so-called moisture-wicking leggings were soaked through, with pee droplets visibly catching air? Seemed likelier that pushing a baby out of my body five years ago was at the root of my dilemma. As SELF has reported, incontinence after childbirth is quite common. (Thanks, kid!) And I was only getting wetter.
But what was I to do? It didn’t feel good—warm, saturating, spreading—and it must have been noticeable to runners behind me, but I was striding through a quiet residential stretch of Holyoke, Massachusetts, nary a plastic potty in sight. I could knock on the door of a random house to ask for, what, a toilet and some dry clothes? And then resume running? Right.
I considered dropping out. Just calling it a day and walking back to the start.
But although slowing down would fix one issue—the droplets ricocheting off me into the air as I ran—getting to dry pants was hardly a hop, skip, and a jump away. And anyway, who was I kidding? I wasn’t quitting. I’d never quit a race, and I’d worked hard to get to that day.
Besides, it was just pee, I reminded myself, on repeat. Sure, it wasn’t comfortable, but then neither was the hill I was making my way up. Nor the one before it, nor the one before that. But wait—was that the 3-mile marker? Meaning I was halfway there? Well, all right!
And as I also reminded myself: No one cares. They’re focused on their own race.
It’s just pee. I’ve got this.
And I did. All the way to the finish, and with a time I would’ve celebrated even under less soggy circumstances.
In the hours and days after, I mulled over an experience that had admittedly felt pretty surreal in the unfolding.
I also had to chuckle at the surprise bonus of wetting my pants as distraction from other physical discomforts. The heavy legs. The labored breathing. The dry, stale runner’s mouth. Oh, that? Who cares! I’ve lost all control of my bladder!
But mostly, I thought about how I’d managed to keep myself in the race, and about how freaking good it felt to come out of a decade-long hiatus to rejoin a community of people whose strength—physical, mental, and beyond—sometimes shows itself in, um, surprising ways.
And also: It’s just pee.