Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trail Trot Terror

Trail Trot Terror:

My First 50 Miler, The Runner's Trots,

& The Acoustic Properties Of Port-o-lets

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras


     In April of 2011 I ran my first 50 mile race, the Mount Si Relay & Ultra Runs. It was another first for me in that it was also the first, and so far only, time that I have suffered any serious sort of gastro-intestinal distress during a race. Enough so that by the end of my tale you may think that the event being named the Mount Si Relay and "Ultra Runs" is not only apropos (apropoo?), but, perhaps, a bit too on the nose.

     Rest assured: I did not accidentally become the Tim Sylvia of ultrarunning. Nor did I suffer a wardrobe/biological malfunction of such memetic magnitude as is pictured below (fictitiously, thanks to Redditor totalitarian_jesus). But I did suffer a widely shared, if not archetypal, experience among endurance runners, commonly referred to as the "runner's trots." Despite the humorous euphemism, this is a genuine biological phenomenon.

graphic by totalitarian_jesus

     In addition to being my first 50 mile race, Mount Si was only my third ultramarathon. And at that point in my life, it would be the farthest I had ever traveled by foot in a single push. I was new and still learning. (Now I'm less new and still learning.) I had not yet begun any of the fueling experiments that I now find so fascinating. In fact, I can't recall exactly what I was eating during ultras at the time. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say this was during my bulk refillable gels, Perpetuem, and Vespa phase. But I really didn't know what I was about when it came to fueling.

     On the morning of the race everything seemed fine. I remember seeing a restroom or two along the course early in and thinking that I didn't need to use one, but it was good to know they were there. Then I didn't see any for a while. Then my intestines started rumbling. Then they started feeling loose. Then I started to worry.

     I had to find a restroom or a Sani-can. I had needs that could not be taken care of behind a tree. And much of this course was suburban gravel trail, not at all conducive to well timed moments of privacy. So I found myself running from one aide station to the next hoping against hope that I would happen upon appropriate facilities before things turned ugly. I was essentially performing a continuous kegel exercise the entire time, as I ran on, clinging to the hope that I would happen upon a Port-o-let in time.

     I passed desperate miles wherein I would occasionally have to stop and walk in order to maintain control of the shituation. Finally, a little more than halfway through the race, I sighted an aide station ahead, with a Honey Bucket front and center. I beelined with a puckered behind, making one last desperate push to quickly cover the ground between me and my Sani-can salvation. A few other runners were just heading out of the station as I darted into the porta-potty, assumed the position, and, to use the Pirate vernacular, I let 'er rip. And this is where the shame began.

     The layout of the aide station was such that you first came up to the drop bags, on the left side of the trail, and the Honey Buckets across from them, off to the right side of the trail. The actual 'aide' part of the aide station was another 50 feet further along the trail. Unfortunately, 50 feet was no where near far enough to give me the privacy I needed, much to my chagrin and that of the poor, beleaguered volunteers. 
     The initial blast emitted by my biological processes produced as much sound as anything else. Equal parts alpenhorn, tuba, and raspberry, the timbre, pitch, and tonal qualities of the noise I emitted were simultaneously concussive and ululating, albeit in a baritone register. I believe it was the low end properties of my performance that reverberated so resoundingly through the plastic walls of the porta-potty. I essentially turned it into the soundbox of an unholy instrument comprised of the eliminatory end of my digestive tract amplified through a six foot tall molded polyethylene elongated cube.

     Although I was inside this aural camera obscura, as it were, I had immediate input from those outside as to how well the sound had carried and how horribly its import had been conveyed. This information took the form of a distraught cry of, "Oh, God!" from one of the aforementioned volunteers innocently manning the aide station some 50 feet away. There was no question; no ambiguity. They knew that whoever was in the Port-o-let had been either the victim or the perpetrator of something horrifically uncouth.

     After I finished taking care of business I felt great. I had done what needed doing, the storm in my innards had passed, and I was ready to get running again, except for a Damoclean sword of shame poised above my head, suspended by a single frail hair of anonymity. I was trapped in Schrodinger's Cat Box. As soon as I was observed I would die of embarrassment. So I waited.

     Although I doubted I could completely avoid being seen exiting the Sani-can,I had two possible means by which I could potentially, if you'll pardon the contextually unappealing visual, muddy the waters. Plan A was to wait until I heard other runners stopping at their drop bags across from me, dart out amongst them, and feign as though I had been with them all along and had no connection to the unseemly events which had played out so recently in yon porta-potty. Plan B was simply to wait so long before making my egress that the volunteers would presume I was an unconnected third party who had come along to make use of the facilities after the fact, and that they had somehow failed to observe the exit of the perpetrator.

     As it turned out, I soon heard runners stop at the drop bags across from me and I made my move. Quick like a bunny, I burst forth explosively from my confines, and was lost among the other runners at their drop bags before the door could slam shut and the volunteers could look up and single me out. I finished at my drop bag and moved up to the aide table along with my new found peer group. I made a solid effort of conveying the sense that I was a serious runner, newly arrived, simply in need of water and a few calories, and in no way associated with the recent unpleasant goings on 50 feet away.

     From the friendly smiles I received and the manner in which the volunteers were unabashedly able to look me in the eye, I concluded my ruse had been successful. They failed to associate the man before them with the cacophony that had assaulted their senses only a few short minutes ago. I counted myself lucky to have made a clean getaway. And if they were just pretending not to know out of politeness, then that is a kindness for which I will forever be grateful.

     To this day, my face reddens in shame any time I call to mind that horrified cry of, "Oh, God!"


  1. "...and i would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for the streamer of toilet paper trailing behind me as i departed."

  2. OMG - my gut hurts from laughing. The hidden shame of the ultra runner. And I now have a vague sense of what an alpenhorn might sound like.