shoes-1260718_1920Those first few strides are the hardest as a beginning runner. In fact, those first few strides are difficult even if you have run before and are trying to get back into it. Even if you have completed races before, watching “real” runners pass you on the trail or line up at the start of a race can be intimidating.

The truth is, you are a runner the moment you lace up your shoes and commit to moving your body and raising your heart rate. Running is a wonderful sport because it requires nothing more than a solid pair of shoes and breathing deeply. However, there are several common problems that can happen to all runners that are rarely discussed. The following is a list of helpful hints from friends, mostly women, who wished they would have known these tips sooner rather than later when starting on their running journey:

  • Pee happens If you have had children, and even if you haven’t, you may leak urine or pee a little bit while running. It is common to experience “stress urinary incontinence” from activities with moderate to high impact. One study of young, otherwise healthy college athletes (who had not given birth) noted that overall 28% experienced some degree of stress urinary incontinence while participating in their sport. This varied depending on the degree of impact as follows: 67% of gymnasts, 66% of basketball players, 29% of track athletes, and 0% of golfers(1). Other studies suggest that 1 in 4 women in the U.S. report some degree of pelvic floor weakness (2). So what can you do can if you pee when you run? Recognizing that you are not the only one can be helpful, but practical tips include the following:
    • Strengthen your core and pelvic muscles. If regular core strengthening and pelvic floor strengthening exercises are not completely helping, talk to your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist who specializes in exercises that can strengthen muscles of the pelvic floor. Your doctor may also refer you to a urogynecologist or other specialist who can perform testing and discuss effective surgical options if the above strategies do not work.
    • Urinate as close to the start of your run or race as possible. Most organized races have portable restrooms available near the start line. Longer races such as half marathons and marathons have restrooms distributed along the race route.
    • Wear a maxi-pad to absorb small leaks that may occur.
    • Wear black running shorts or pants, and understand that many of your fellow female runners are experiencing the same thing. Let it go, so to speak.
  • Runner’s Gut When running longer distances or pushing yourself harder during a shorter run, you might experience “runner’s gut”, or abdominal cramping and diarrhea. There are likely multiple factors that contribute to intestinal problems during and after running, including the normal redistribution of blood flow while exercising, dehydration, dietary factors, and metabolic and hormonal changes while running. Tips for helping with abdominal cramping, diarrhea, or the urge to have a bowel movement while running include:
    • Stay hydrated. For shorter distances in normal Ohio weather, water works well. Avoid drinks with artificial sweeteners or added sugar because these can exacerbate the problem.
    • Keep track of what you eat before you run to see what bothers your stomach. Avoid eating at least an hour prior to running. Eating high fiber foods, coffee, juice and other foods that stimulate the gut before a run can exacerbate problems. Avoid artificial sweeteners as they can cause diarrhea even without running.
    • If the diarrhea persists or if there is any blood in your bowel movements, be sure to see your physician. It is never normal to have blood in your stool.
  • Stay Safe It is important to stay safe while running. If you are running alone, take a phone, make sure someone knows where you are and approximately how long you will be gone, and stick to trails or routes that are well-traveled by other runners. During the fall and early spring mornings and evenings can be dark, so illuminate your path by wearing a headlamp and make sure cars can see you by wearing reflective clothing.
  • Chafing Skin can chafe in uncomfortable places. Sweat will pour from places you did not know your body sweats (your chest, under your breasts, your groin). This can lead to wet clothing that can rub against tender skin such as nipples, inner thighs, and for women, the perineum. The following strategies can help prevent chafing:
    • Proper clothing selection. Wear properly fitting clothing made from synthetic fabrics that wick moisture rather than cotton that can absorb it. Look for tag-less, seamless clothing and sports bras.
    • Apply lubricants before running. Apply a lubricant to sensitive areas prior to running. Vaseline, Aquaphor, and Body Glide work well. Some women carry a tube of Chapstick to apply to areas that begin to rub.
    • Apply physical barriers. If lubricant alone does not help prevent nipple chafing, a physical barrier placed over the nipples such as BandAids can help protect sensitive skin.
    • Heal chafed skin. If the above measures fail, treat chafing with a soothing diaper cream such as Desitin or A &D with zinc.


[1] Nygaard, I. et al. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2016; 214: 164-71.

[2] Nygaard, I. et al. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 1994; 84: 183-7.

A Girlfriend’s Guide to Running