Sunday, November 25, 2012

Marathon preparations: toilet training

Today, something a bit scatalogical: the PRP, or Pre-Race Poo. If you don't want to read a load of shit, you can skip this.

Few things are so disruptive of a good race as finding half way through that your bowels have an urgent appointment that you can't allow them to miss. I think runners suffer from this more than cyclists (the constant bouncing stimulates the motion of stuff through your alimentary canal). It's worse in cold weather, because you're more likely to have more layers on, and thus when you stop to drop the kids off at the pool, there's all the extra fumbling to contend with (and with helpfully numb fingers).

There are famous examples of this bringing people low (Paula Radcliffe in the Athens Marathon) but you might think it's something you can easily avoid. Why not just have a really big dump before the race, and eliminate the risk of needing to stop midway?

Oh, how naïve people are. Most races start early in the morning, before your guts have awoken and realised there's something to dispose of. Many's the time I've been perched above the porcelain, waiting for something to show itself, and being disappointed. Disappointed and dismayed, because if nothing arrives, I know there's going to be something in the mail a bit later. Most likely at the least opportune moment.

You could drink coffee to try to move things along, but the risk is that will accelerate things a bit too much, and you'll have roiling guts for the next few hours. You could avoid eating anything fibrous the previous day, but depriving yourself of roughage is probably going to make the moment more painful when it does come. There's even special constipatory chocolate that the British Army was rumoured to use, to prevent unnecessary deployment in the field, but I don't have access to military-grade confectionary. And who knows what will happen when you need to be unbunged again?

So in short, the Pre-Race Poo is often a source of frustration and worry, and conversely, when it is a productive exercise, you can become unfeasibly excited. It's a hard lesson to learn, but your significant other is unlikely to be impressed when you holler for them to come see what you've done.

This morning, nothing but a couple of rabbit pellets. My guts have been sewn up tight since the morning I arrived in Osaka, so I was very worried, and I would have been even if I wasn't going to wear my unfeasibly tight tights today.

You don't want to use the toilets on the race course if you can possibly help it. It's not just that you're sweaty and wobbly from the race, they're the most disgusting environment you can imagine. Even if you were the front runner in the race, I bet if you went in the plastic thunderbox you'd find yourself in a shit-smeared hell, the stench of bleach and urine almost enough to overpower you and have you faint and fall into the miniature septic tank. By the time x thousand people have used it, it won't magically improve.

Somehow, I survived 42.195 kilometres, deaf to the call of nature. I got to the end, changed, phoned home to tell my wife the good news (about the race, not my defecation schedule) and then realised it was time for me to let a little bit go.

I went to the crowded toilet in the Convention Centre, and waited what seemed an age for a cubicle to become free. Eventually a small child walked out, and gave me the dirtiest look I've had all week. I felt that was wholly undeserved: I mean, I might look like a creepy Santa Claus right now, but just because the little oik hasn't had any Christmas presents yet is no reason to blame me. There's at least four more weeks for him to wait.

I suppose I was taken aback, because everyone else in Japan is charming and (possibly too) polite. Being scowled at for no apparent reason is a bit jarring.

Then I stepped inside the cubicle, and realised it was worse: I should have been giving the hairy eyeball, because he'd left the toilet comprehensively polluted and not deigned to flush. But you can't chase after small children in Japan and scream at them about toilets, and I was exhausted from the race, so this time I let it go.


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