It has been twelve years since I started running, again. Over the past twelve years, a silent little (mostly) woman’s issue has been swimming about in my thoughts before, after and during running. Predominantly, when I run fast, run uphill, or run downhill.
Sometimes I am caught out because I genuinely forget I’m female. Sometimes I plan in advance and later can be found high-fiving my operational skills.
What am I talking about? Only a widely felt but little discussed issue of running incontinence.
The reason I’m talking about this is that I don’t come across such articles very often when I’m reading sports material on a plethora of platforms. Yet, it’s usually the first thing that I want to ask someone – does it happen to you too? RunWales sent out their tweet today with the message to Ask Paula (Paula Radcliffe) questions about running. And it was honestly the only question I could think of – does it happen to you too?
I decided to google a search for recent articles on the topic and the top results were by Dr Juliet McGrattan on Women’s Running UK and Rose George for The Guardian. Both articles are full of great content which reveal, to me especially, that this is not only normal, but more common than I ever imagined. Because there was a gap between running as a youth and then taking up running again after my children were born, it is highly likely that I have been contending with Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) since I was 23 years old. What I did not factor in was that I wasn’t powerless to stop it, though I just presumed that it would go away by itself.
When running can make a huge difference to your life for all the right reasons, this is something that can take the shine out of the bling. I’ve done all sorts of races —mostly fell or cross-country, with short, sharp hills, fast downhills, sprints here and there, to long mountainous endurance trails and multi-stage adventure races where there was no option to change my shorts— and I’ve yet to manage any of them without emptying a bladder that I had thought was already empty. I’ve often felt let down by my own body, and brain, for tricking me into a false sense of comfort!
I’ve longed for patterned shorts, tights and skorts (noted by Rose George too) simply to camouflage what is probably noticeable (but I’ll do my best to avoid acknowledgement of it anyhow). My ideal running would be in light wind and rain because then no-one would be any-the-wiser (although I’ve now let the cat out of the bag). I’ve often had to pull back on my effort on the track, field or road because maintaining a speed is starting to really turn the taps on. Not great for trying to get that PB!
So I will put it out there, that yes, if you haven’t figured out by reading this article by now, I deal with SUI on practically every run. Reading Dr Juliet’s article has reminded me that I’ve also been rather lazy at the pelvic-floor training sessions, only remembering every now and then, and never for more than a week or so.
I urge you to check out both articles and if you feel you need to get some help with this issue, then know you’re not alone. Dr Juliet McGrattan recently forwarded a link to the Squeezy app, available for both men and women. Take a look!