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16 most embarrassing running questions… answered!
From your sex life, to flatulence, to black toenails… there are some things you just can’t ask a friend. And to make sure you don’t have to, we’ve found experts to answer your most awkward running questions.
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1. Does running affect your sex life?

Runners may have endurance on the road – but what about between the sheets? Do long workouts sap your energy for… another kind of workout?

And how do elite runners manage to make babies while running more than 100 kays every week?

According to experts and runners, it turns out that running can improve performance, and not just at the races.

Many runners report that running increases their desire for a roll in the hay. “Being active is a potent aphrodisiac for both women and men,” says Tina Penhollow, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Health Promotion at Florida Atlantic University.

What explains that connection? Confidence, for one thing.

In an annual survey of runners by Brooks, 41 per cent of respondents said they feel frisky after a run, with 54 per cent being turned on by the energy boost, and 51 per cent saying it makes them feel strong and confident.

“You tend to have a heightened libido when you’re proud of yourself,” reports obstetrician, gynaecologist and marathoner Julia Levitt.

Running boosts self-esteem, and research shows that people who exercise have a more positive body image and feel more desirable and confident in the bedroom. “They feel good in their bodies,” says Ian Kerner, a sex therapist. “They’re really able to translate that into sex, where they feel free and comfortable and uninhibited to a greater extent.”

Physical activity makes women more sensitive to touch, and men report better orgasms and greater levels of satisfaction.

And of course, being in shape means more stamina. “Certainly, exercise and training for exercise will benefit the exercise of sex,” says Kerner. – Teal Burrell

2. Is it okay to have sex the night before a big race?

“As runners, we’re a superstitious group. We don’t want to do anything different – even if it’s something we love,” says Levitt. “But physiologically, there’s no reason you can’t or shouldn’t have sex the night before a race.”

One cut-to-the-chase editorial in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, titled ‘Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance?’, reviewed three studies on pre-race sex – and found no reason it would cause a decline in performance.

Granted, it’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am sort of thing; the editorial notes the average married couple only burns 105 to 210 kilojoules each during sex – the equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs.

That’s not going to put a big dent in your precious glycogen reserves.

However, if you go for a marathon romp – letting it cut into your all-important sleep time – it can definitely drain your energy levels. “Keep it short and sweet. Don’t participate in an endurance event before the endurance event,” Levitt says.

What’s more, making it a quickie could prevent any next-day soreness or irritation, she says. As can keeping it gentle: deep, rough sex can cause the cervix to bleed.

If the lining of your uterus is thin, you may experience some irritation and bleeding. Levitt says that even long training runs can cause spotting in some women.

Remember that water-based lubricants can prevent friction-caused irritations. – K. Aleisha Fetters

3. Why does my running kit smell bad?

According to research published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, synthetic exercise gear smelled worse than cotton gear a day after both had been worn during a sweaty workout.

Belgian researchers got 26 people to do a hard, hour-long spin-bike workout. The shirts the exercisers wore were then incubated for 28 hours.

Then the researchers analysed what bacteria were present on the shirts, and what the researchers called “a trained odour panel” assessed the shirts’ relative mephitis (‘noxious or foul-smelling gas or vapour’ – we had to look it up too).

“The polyester T-shirts smelled significantly less pleasant and more intense compared to the cotton T-shirts,” is how the researchers summarised the panel’s conclusions.

One of the researchers, Chris Callewaert of Ghent University, Belgium, said that one bacterium, micrococci, largely explained the difference.

“They are known for their enzymatic potential to transform long-chain fatty acids, hormones, and amino acids into smaller, volatile compounds, which have a typical malodor,” Callewaert said in a press release accompanying the research’s publication.

The researchers found that during the 28 hours of incubation, micrococci were able to grow much better on the synthetic workout shirts than on the cotton.

Callewaert said that freshly secreted sweat has little odour. It’s only when micrococci and other bacteria get to work breaking down sweat’s long-chain fatty acids that the characteristic runner’s stink emerges.

In the unlikely scenario you don’t want to launder your apparel after just a single run, one way to reduce post-workout stink is to rinse sweat out before bacteria can convert perspiration into ‘pee-yoo!’.

This study suggests that wearing cotton gear will reduce the chance of your house smelling like a changing room; merino wool is also known for resisting odour intrusion. – Scott Douglas

4. I need to poo midway through a run. Why?

The jostling motion of running sometimes irritates the intestines. And when blood flow that’s needed for digestion is diverted to the legs, stomach cramping can result.

Gastroenterologist Dr David Bjorkman, dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine and a veteran of more than 60 marathons, recommends eating at least two hours before a run.

Caffeine can speed the movement of wastes through your system, and artificial sweeteners (such as mannitol and sorbitol), which are often found in energy bars, can cause GI distress.

Although it’s not wise to have a bran muffin before a race, Dr Bjorkman says you should incorporate more fibre in your diet (work up to 20 grams a day).

“Adding fibre can make you more regular,” he says. “You can get your system to operate like clockwork, so that you can reliably ‘go’ before a run.” If all else fails, he suggests taking an over-the-counter anti-diarrhoeal medication before a run.

5. Post-run, I have blood in my urine!

“When you run long, cells in the kidneys may leak and bleed,” says Dr Lewis Maharam, medical director of the New York Road Runners, Elite Racing, and Team in Training.

“The bladder can also suffer minor injury on a run.” But there’s probably no need for concern; no serious damage is done.

If you know you’re prone to this, Dr Maharam advises against scheduling doctor’s appointments until 48 hours after a long run.

Blood in your urine could alarm an unsuspecting physician.

If you notice that your urine is still off-colour 48 hours after a run, see your doctor to rule out other issues.

6. Sometimes I pee a little when I’m running…

Urinary incontinence can be a problem for women, especially those who have given birth.

Once the muscles that support the pelvic floor become weakened, anything from a cough to a fartlek can cause a leak, says Dr Patty Kulpa, a sports gynaecologist who has run eight marathons.

“Kegel exercises help strengthen the pelvic-wall floor, and are an effective cure for most cases of incontinence,” she says.

To find these muscles, stop your urine stream while you pee. Before you get out of bed in the morning, contract the muscles for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 10 times.

Do the same thing throughout the day. Another trick is to run with a tampon, which can sometimes prevent leakage and help maintain muscle tone.

7. Medically, is there any reason a woman shouldn’t ‘free-bleed’ during a marathon?

Three out of three doctors we asked agree: nope, no health hazard here. After all, women both ran and had periods long before you could pick up a pack of tampons at the supermarket.

As for other runners around you, sure, you might expose them to a bit of blood, but it’s not like anyone makes it to kilometre 32 squeaky clean and perfectly hygienic.

“Many runners lose control of bowel and bladder during races and have to deal with bodily fluids,” says Dr Holly Benjamin, director of primary care sports medicine at the University of Chicago.

The biggest downside will probably sound familiar to any runner – female or otherwise.

“If menstrual blood flow were to cause excess moistness in your shorts or running tights, it could increase the chances for chafing during the run,” says Elizabeth Stevenson-Gargiulo, an obstetrician/gynaecologist on the medical staff of Baylor University Medical Centre in Dallas (and a blogger at www.runningthroughpregnancy.com).

“As any marathoner knows, significant chafing could ruin a race.” 

8. I’m literally drenched in sweat after a run

Hyperhidrosis, or profuse sweating, occurs when the body’s normal cooling operations malfunction, says Dr William Roberts, medical director of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

This isn’t just a concern for summertime runs. “If you’re running in cold weather, you’ll feel warmer if you stay dry,” Dr Roberts says.

Ask your doctor about prescription-strength antiperspirants containing aluminium chloride. Since heavy sweaters are prone to blistering, he advises putting antiperspirant on the feet.

Some excessive sweaters seek out medication or surgery. But beware: too little sweating during strenuous exercise could increase your risk of heat-related illness.

9. Why do my toenails go black during big training weeks?

There are several causes of black nails in runners and non-runners.

The most common among runners is bruising or slight bleeding under the nail from repetitive trauma – the top of the shoe striking the nail with each step, or the toe sliding forward into the end of the shoe.

This is common in runners training for marathons and in highly competitive runners training at high intensity and volume.

These nail injuries are generally not painful, though sometimes the nails do thicken. They will heal when the training volume and intensity decreases, and the repetitive trauma ceases.

A shoe with adequate toe room will also help in some cases. (Note: drilling a hole into the nail to ‘drain’ the blood will not help this problem, and may hurt!)

There are other causes of black toenails to consider. One is fungal infection, which can thicken the nail and which sometimes turns the nail dark, almost black.

This can be treated with oral anti-fungal medications over a period of six months. The thickened nails can be painful, but generally don’t throb. – Karen Asp

10. Why does running make my breasts smaller?

Breasts are composed of fat and fibrous tissues, says Michelle Norris, senior researcher in the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at Portsmouth University.

“So if a person is training and eating well, and they’re reducing their overall body fat, it’s reasonable to think they could also decrease their breast size, because they’re decreasing the fat in their breasts.

It’s more like decreasing overall body fat, rather than spot reduction.”

11. I have itchy athlete’s foot, and I can’t get rid of it!

This fungal infection results in dry, scaly, red skin between the toes, which can itch or burn. Because the fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, summertime is a ripe time for athlete’s foot.

Wear light, moisture-wicking, synthetic (not cotton) socks, says Stephen Pribut, a sports podiatrist.

After you run, change out of your soggy socks and shoes and slip into dry after-sport shoes before you go for coffee or run errands.

Don’t stash your sweaty pair inside a dark gym bag or your car boot, where they can’t air out.

You can also sprinkle anti-fungal powder on your feet before running.

Apply an anti-fungal cream for at least four weeks, even if symptoms appear to be gone in half that time, to make sure the infection is gone.

Soothe the itch by soaking your feet for 10 minutes in equal portions lukewarm water and apple cider vinegar (which has anti-fungal properties).

If the condition persists, see a dermatologist, who may prescribe an oral anti-fungal.

12. Should I pop my blisters?

“This is probably the number-one race-day injury,” says Paul Langer, a podiatrist and 26-time marathoner. These fluid-filled bubbles are caused by friction, excessive moisture (sweaty feet, wet weather), or shoes that are too small, too big, or tied too tightly.


“Ignore blisters smaller than five millimetres (the size of a pencil eraser), since they’re usually not painful,” says Gregory Papadeas, a dermatologist.

But go ahead and pop the big ones, especially if they hurt. With a sterile needle, prick the side of the blister and drain it. Don’t remove the blister ‘roof’ – cover it with an antibiotic ointment, and moleskin or a bandage.

13. Will running make my breasts sag?

Researchers continue to study breast motion during sports, bra technology is improving all the time, and evidence is growing that running is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from breast cancer.

Here’s what scientists know – and what runners should, too – about taking care of your pair.

1. The body is not naturally kind to the breasts. “Depending on the size, they can be very heavy,” says Dr Andrea Cheville, physical medicine and rehabilitation researcher and director of the Cancer Rehabilitation Programme at Mayo Clinic. “The body doesn’t support them very well.

There’s not much to keep them stable and immobilised.” Just your skin and a few ligaments.

“You can run and your insides don’t jiggle around, because we have a strong, fibrous envelope. But that’s not true of the breasts. They have essentially no support. And yet they have pain receptors. And when the limited support elements are stretched, that hurts.”

2. They move more than you think. Michelle Norris, senior research associate in the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, studies breast movement and tests breast support products in the lab.

To do so, she and her colleagues get women to run on a treadmill bare-breasted (bless those ladies), and then in low- or high-support bras. They use 3-D motion capture to look at the range of movement of the breasts.

“We have some very willing participants – and we owe them a lot,” Norris says.

In the lab, Norris and her colleagues have found that breasts move in a figure-eight pattern.

Not just up and down – that vertical movement is what most runners think of – but also side to side, and backwards and forwards as well. “[The breast is] just a mass of tissue, not a muscle,” Norris says. “It’s not a rigid structure. It can move in all three dimensions when we run.” And it does.

3. A good bra is a must-have. With all that movement, female runners need support.

14. Why can’t I stop farting during my runs?

The causes of run-induced flatulence are multi-faceted, says Dr Niket Sonpal, assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City.

The first cause is all that heavy breathing. “This excess air gets trapped in the digestive tract, only to be released through the anus,” he says.

The second issue is that your sweat sessions tend to speed up digestion.

“Aerobic exercises help move food through the digestive process faster, promoting the release of gases caught in the digestive tract,” Sonpal says. And unfortunately, anaerobic exercise – a.k.a. strength training – isn’t really any better.

“Whenever you do a workout squeezing those core muscles, it makes you squeeze your colon too, literally pushing the air out,” he adds.

While you can’t totally eliminate your risk of ripping one while out with your running partners, there are a few things you can do to make it less likely.

“Stay away from gas-producing foods before a run, such as wheat, corn and potatoes, and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, lentils and cauliflower,” says Sonpal.

On that same note, avoid carbonated water. During your run, focus on your breathing, and try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. “That way you swallow less air, and in turn have less wind for the trumpet to play,” Sonpal says.

At the end of the day, remember that farting is simply a fact of life – no track, treadmill, or yoga class is immune.

“Trying to hold it in and can lead to distension, bloating, and cramps,” says Sonpal. “In the words of Shrek… better out than in!” – Macaela Mackenzie, for Women’s Health.

15. My testicles hurt after a long run!

Roughly one out of every seven men experiences some testicle pain caused by a varicocele – a kind of enlarged, malfunctioning vein inside your scrotum, says Dr Tobias Köhler, a urologist and chief of male infertility at Southern Illinois University in the US.

Varicoceles are genetic, and if you have one, the muscle clenching involved in running can cause blood flow to back up and enlarge the varicocele, which leads to extra pain.

Some guys also experience pain that defies explanation. “I have men come in worried about cancer, but a lot of the time their pain just doesn’t have an identifiable cause,” Köhler says.

But even in those unexplained cases, running can heighten your agony, he adds.

Wearing compression shorts, or normal running shorts with a liner, can help by keeping your ‘boys’ secure from jostling, he adds.

16. I chafe pretty much everywhere: my butt cheeks, under my arms, inner thighs… how do I reduce the pain?

Skin-to-skin and skin-to-clothing rubbing can cause a red, raw rash that can bleed, sting, and make you yelp during your post-run shower.

Moisture and salt on the body make it worse. Underarms, inner thighs, along the bra line (women), and nipples (men) are vulnerable spots.

Wear moisture-wicking, seamless, tagless gear. Fit is important – baggy shirts have excess material that can cause irritation; a too-snug sports bra can dig into skin.

Apply Vaseline, sports lube, Band-Aids or NipGuards before you run. And moisturise after you shower. “Drier skin tends to chafe more,” Papadeas says.

Wash the area with soap and water, apply an anti-bacterial ointment, and cover with a bandage. If you’re wearing sports lube and quality clothing and are still experiencing redness, visit a dermatologist.

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