Running from the Polar Vortex

This is actually a post about having to find a pit stop during a recent well-below-freezing-but-not-a-polar-vortex day. See paragraph 6. I just tend to preambling.

This links to a NYT article about Grete Waitz, winner of 9 New York Marathons. It does not mention diarrhea.

Dangerous wind chills are supposedly on tap for the next 48 hours or so. Predictions say highs won’t break zero, and that the winds will make it feel like who-knows-what below zero; at a certain point, cold is just cold, at least from a psychological standpoint. Mountaineers, arctic scientists, and excited reporters know the formula for wind chill + exposure time = when frozen snot and frostbite settle in, but I’ll wait until I do some serious mountaineering, research, or reporting to focus on the details. Thankfully, inside = warm and I have the outerwear, including goggles, to likely manage the three block walk or bike ride to Karen’s house if we decide to invite ourselves over for dinner.

Gah–again, a false start. This is not really about the impending temperature plunge. It’s just that it reminded me I’ve been meaning to write about a recent, very cold run, which involved a near panicked search for a place to poop.

There seem to be certain circles and contexts where issues of elimination are discussed with a zeal rather disturbing to others. For example, my mom and I have talked shit for as long as I can remember, much to the deep sigh and red cheeks of my dad, and eye-rolling groans of my husband. Perhaps it is because Mom and I are so short; dropping a load for us can be the difference between pant sizes. Most of my close friends also banter about bowels; I’m not sure what comes first–does sharing your inner GI secrets forge the close friend bond,  or does the bond allow for the sharing? I imagine much research has been done on the evolution of friendships, but I will resist the urge to start looking for it on-line right now.

Shared contexts can also bring out the potty talk among acquaintances and even strangers. Parents of young children share war stories about bathtub Baby Ruths, blowouts, etc. Though I have let go of many memories of Miguel’s march to toilet independence, whenever Michael and I walk past the terminal A food court at BWI airport, we share an awkward “remember when” moment. That’s a story for another day.

Similarly, runners seem comfortable admitting that their top race day worry is not pooping before cueing up for the start. I have read articles and chapters in books devoted to the “runner’s trots” and am flabbergasted and in awe of marathoners, such as the late, great Grete Waitz, forging to the finish with said trots dripping down their legs.*  I wish I could imagine pushing my mind and body to that level of dedication.

Instead, I keep my eyes open for plastic bags.

So, here is the little story, which is out of proportion with the preamble, but that’s just the way I get going.


The other day, when it was cold but not newsfrothing cold, Julie, Clare and I went for a run. We met at Palmer Square and la, la, la, beat our typical path to Humboldt Park. As we began running through the park, my stomach started churning and I told them I was not feeling well and was going to head home. Soon after I turned back, I recognized the discomfort. I needed to take a shit. Gah!!!

While I am not unfamiliar with the squat-stop while running, I have always played the look out (or just wait it out) role for others. I know the drill. Find a plastic bag, look for a secluded spot (not always easy in an urban setting), and, as we tell our pets, “do your business.”

But although I knew that pooping in the public way (and cleaning it up, of course), was–from a runner’s perspective–not a big deal, it was not my preferred course of action. My thought process was likely familiar to others:

“How far away am I from home?” Almost a mile. “Is it better to walk and maybe temper the urgency, or run like hell to get home?” As my mind churned on these questions, I headed towards the nearest alley, plastic bag in hand. I also had flashbacks of other similar situations which may or may not warrant additional posts.

Up the alley I went, but no place seemed suitable. I hit Wabansia and veered west to cross Humboldt Blvd which is basically a city block wide cross section of service roads, parkways, and a busy four lane arterial (see above). In other words, a long way to cross, with no place to hide.

I retreated and returned to the alley. It was now a matter of where instead of if. Brisk walking, lot by lot. Drat! There’s a woman coming out to warm her car. Er, there are a lot of windows on that apartment building. Ooh, is that a construction site? Why, yes it is. Wait–I know that shade of blue! Well, there’s no way the portapotty is open. . . what?? no lock? dial on green?? Well, someone might be sleeping there to escape the cold. . .

I tentatively opened the door. Empty, except for not one, but two rolls of toilet paper. I am trying to think of a milder, secular word than miracle. The phrase Deus ex machinapopped into mind. Maybe I should call it simple good luck. Michael just reminded me I could have run to the nearby Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds. It’s always good to know where you can go before you head out the door. And that brings me back to memories of charting out all the public restrooms before outings with little Miguel.

Hmm, well, I am not sure why I feel compelled to post this, but the words are now down, and I know at least a few people, per paragraph 4, who will appreciate it.

*And here are Grete Waitz’s words:

Finally, the great Norwegian champion Grete Waitz suffered famously from diarrhea at both the London and New York City Marathons, but overcame it to win both races.  In her book “Run Your First Marathon,” she describes the problem:

“One of my most dramatic race stories is also my most awkward. I was in the lead of the London Marathon when I got an attack of diarrhea. (This happened again, in New York.) In my mind, there was no question: I had to keep running, despite the shock of onlookers and worse, the television cameras broadcasting the event to millions of people. If I had stopped the race, for any reason, I would have lost. It was not a pleasant experience, but winning those races was.”

6 thoughts on “Running from the Polar Vortex

    1. I love reading about the female pioneers in the sport. I also can’t believe I have become the type of person who reads up on a sport. Funny, I have never done that with bicycling.

  1. Funny to hear what happened after you left us. Never knew this story. I have never had such a running emergency, however, every time I enter a thrift store, without fail, I have to take a crap. Don’t know what it is. There is never a public bathroom so I have had Zoe lie for me that she had to go so I could gain access. She was not pleased.

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