Miles of Messiness: Five Gross Ways Running a Marathon Takes its Toll

By Natasha Strydhorst and Sukanya Charuchandra
BU News Service

The human body is capable of some incredible feats—not least, running a marathon. But rare is the runner who hasn’t experienced (or at least heard stories of) some of the gross things that can happen to the body as it’s out pounding the pavement. Here are some of the top contenders for nastiest in-body experiences to look forward to while running a marathon:

1. Losing your lunch

Okay, “lunch” might be a bit generous—we know the marathoners are probably subsisting on astronaut-style “gels and chews”—but throwing up can come with the terrain. Gastrointestinal issues during a run can often be traced straight to the cardiovascular system: oxygenated blood is in high demand for the muscles working the hardest, as well as the heart and lungs to keep the momentum going. The GI organs draw the short straw, take one for the team, and slow down digestion. This reallocation of blood resources makes for less efficient breakdown of nutrients, which may explain why your stomach purges itself during or right after the race. Matthew Laye, a physiologist and ultrarunner speculates for Outside Online that the constant jostling also contributes to the unpleasant phenomenon.


2. “Runner’s toe”

Foot injuries, aches and pains are common among marathon runners. Thankfully, runner’s toe—blackened, bruised toenails—is one of the least common of these, striking less than one percent of all athletes, according to Core Performance, though it’s more prevalent in long-distance runners. According to a review of dermatological complaints among marathoners, runner’s toe afflicted 2.5 percent of the runners in New York’s 1979 marathon. The cause: repetitive slamming of the toenails against the front of a runner’s shoe. The result: blackened toenails that may fall off after the race. Yuck.

Caption: Photo by Sonya Weening-Strydhorst

3. “Jogger’s nipples”

Sadly, this unpleasant sensation is more common than runner’s toe, afflicting between two and 16.3 percent of marathon runners, according to a 2004 review. A recurring theme here is repetitive motion: not only does it do your stomach no favors and put your toes in a world of hurt, the countless ups and downs of a marathon can cause painful chafing of nipples against the runner’s shirt. In the suitably dry phrasing of the review, “lesions may crack or fissure with subsequent bleeding which may result in dramatic marks on the runner’s shirt.”

Dramatic is right… photo by Andy Carvin (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


4. “Runner’s trots”

Sensing a theme here?  It seems marathoners’ maladies are commonly prefaced with the designation “runner’s.” At any rate (though the incidence seems to be higher in faster runners), runner’s trots is the urgent need to defecate during or immediately following the race. As with other running-related GI complaints, this phenomenon has been attributed to both blood flow changes and a speculated connection to jostling motions (since it seems to be a more common complaint among runners than cyclists, for example).

Photo by Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0).


5. Hosepipe nose

Running outside, according to a 2006 study, causes an estimated 56.1 percent of people to start sniffling like crazy. In science-speak, the condition is called EIR: Exercise-Induced Rhinitis. Getting the sniffles while running is especially common when the air is cold and dry.

Photo by OakleyOriginals (CC BY 2.0).

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