Everyone deals with body fluids. Without them we would all be dead. Really, we wouldn’t even be dead. We would never have existed at all. But runners deal with some body fluids on an up close and personal level that many non-runners never deal with. Today we will discuss some of the most important ones and hopefully answer some of the questions everyone is too afraid to ask at the risk of sounding dumb.
First let’s talk about the life and death fluids. Blood and sweat (yes sweat). Blood is often referred to as lifeblood. For obvious reasons, we can’t operate without blood. It carries all the good things to our cells and all the bad things away. For runners, the big thing we want is blood with good oxygen carrying capacity. That happens in your red blood cells which are the home to hemoglobin which in turn carries the oxygen. If you are anemic due to an underlying physical problem or anemic because you have lost blood in some way, you aren’t going to run at optimal capacity. Donating blood is a good thing for society but not for a runner right before a race.
The best measure of your oxygen carrying capacity is your serum ferritin level. This is NOT a routine blood test done at your typical physical. If you want yours tested, you are going to have to specifically request it from your doctor. It’s not a big deal but just isn’t done routinely. Tables found in books will tell you the normal value for serum ferritin is anywhere from 10 to 50 or more. You might be able to function in everyday activity with a level of 10 but you sure aren’t going to do any successful distance running on that. For an active endurance athlete, you really want to be closer to 40 or more. This takes iron. The whole vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian thing will be the subject of future blogs but I will say this for now. You can get enough iron on a vegetarian diet but it is a lot harder than it is for those who eat meat. Personally, I believe there is a lot to be said for a vegetarian diet but my mouth waters every time I drive past a field of black angus cows. Besides liking the taste of burnt cow, I like the easy source of iron and vitamin B12 (which is the one thing you just can’t get from plants). So, get your iron and stay hydrated. Without those, your blood will not be at optimal performance capacity. Should we all take iron supplements? Absolutely not! There is a small percentage of the population that has a problem called hemochromatosis. They are genetically predisposed to an overload of iron in the blood which can lead to disastrous consequences. So, take it if you need it but don’t take a supplement without your doctor’s recommendation.
Runners do not glisten. We do not perspire. We sweat. We sweat buckets and we are proud of it. Sweat is included in the life and death fluids because without it, we are in big trouble. Sweat’s job is to keep you cool as it evaporates from your skin. If you are ever working hard and stop sweating, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY! That is a sign of heat stroke which can kill you. Running in extreme heat is not just uncomfortable, it can be a recipe for major problems. People often ask me how I can run in the winter. My answer is always the same. You can dress for the cold but it’s easier than in the hot temperatures of summer. There is only so much in the way of layers you can take off and stay cool and out of jail. Once again, the advice is to stay hydrated with one small caveat. It is possible to overhydrate and end up with a life-threatening case of hyponatremia. This is too little sodium in the blood. As you sweat, you also sweat out salt which is part sodium. Sodium is a vital part of your physiology and too much or too little are both problems. Hyponatremia is not a common problem and I have never heard of it outside of a marathon but I’m sure it has happened elsewhere. For the really long runs, sports drinks with electrolyte replacements can be helpful.
Now on to the other, less talked about, the bathroom body fluids hereafter referred to as poop and pee. Poop and pee, we all do it and nobody likes to deal with it. Pee is easy. Go before you run and you aren’t likely to run into a problem with it. If for some reason you are prone to having to pee during a run, it will be important for you to plan your route so there are convenient stops along the way that don’t involve dropping your pants behind a tree.
Poop is another subject entirely. Who hasn’t started out their run feeling great and before long you know something bad is brewing in your gut. The best plan is just like pee, try to go before you run. That doesn’t always work but is more likely to work if you can plan your run around your bathroom schedule. Now if you have a problem like irritable bowel syndrome, you have a much bigger problem than just worrying about pooping your shorts on a run. Find yourself a good gastroenterologist and try to get it under control. There are lots of good treatments out there and they just might make your life so much better. Having said all of that, what happens if despite all your efforts and precautions you are out on a run and you know you just aren’t going to make it back in time? Start looking for a place to go. It’s not a crime to cut a run short to avoid disaster. If you are in town, look for a fast food place or anywhere with a public restroom. If you are in the deep woods, good luck. Deal with it as your ancestors did. Last of all what if you are in the middle of a race and you have to go or maybe you just aren’t sure if you can make it or not? If there is a porta-pot on the route, use it. Don’t take the chance. Don’t trust a fart near the end of a race. Been there, done that. Predictable outcome. Not pretty!
This could be your best friend
Our final body fluid involves an art form known as the snot rocket. If your nose runs and you don’t have a tissue or handkerchief (I’m talking to you old-timers who actually have used handkerchiefs in your lifetime) you have a few options. One is to let it run down your face. No thanks, not for me. Another is to wipe it on your shirt or sleeve. Not the end of the world. Your shirt or sleeve is all sweaty and nasty anyway and it’s going into the washer. If it’s winter, I like to wear socks on my hands instead of mittens or gloves. They can wipe a nose and go right into the washer no problem. The last option is the snot rocket. In the book “The Night Before Christmas” after delivering his presents, Santa did a curious thing. He lays his finger aside of his nose and giving a nod up the chimney he rose. Some think this is magic, others believe it is pure science using rocket propulsion. Maybe Santa uses magic. But he does demonstrate perfect form in the following picture.
The technique for a proper snot rocket is to first use the index finger to close off one nostril. Tilt the head to the other side. And blow out with a sharp strong burst of air. Rookie rocketeers will end up with snot all over themselves until they learn the technique. But once you have it down, you will recognize the proper consistency of snot needed for a proper snot rocket and the right amount of force necessary to expel your rocket far enough away from you so you don’t coat your shoes with mucus. A word of caution here, never snot rocket or spit until you have checked to make sure a fellow runner is not in the danger zone. Coating a fellow runner with either substance is not cool in any way. Snot rockets are not the exclusive property of guys. I have seen a lot of girls who have perfected the technique.
Body fluids, a fact of life. Keep running my friends!