Flatulence on the Run

The subject may be taboo, but, hey, it happens. Often within earshot of teammates. Here’s how to respond.

In 1999, I was in year 8, and running at school.  After finishing a hill workout, I was starting my cool down.

From the top of the hill, I heard a voice scream, “Ohmygod!” I almost sprinted up the hill again to see what was going on, but an eruption of uncontrolled laughter let me know everything was okay. Still, I upped my pace to see what was so funny, but I was too late. The source of the humour wasn’t visible anyway, but according to ear-witnesses, it was plenty audible. For a solid 12 seconds.

The jarring nature of running makes flatulence during workouts a fact of life. And it provides endless opportunities for embarrassment. There’s the “Every Step You Take” variety that sounds like a sputtering old engine trying to catch. There’s the “Hitting The Wall” kind, where you run into the stench of silent-but-deadly gas from a runner in front of you. “Whomp!” farts come out of nowhere in quick loud bursts, to the surprise of everyone. Often, there’s nothing a runner can do about it, even when they try to hold it in – which can lead to a “Squeaker” that escapes your control and sounds like a door creaking open.

Leslie Bonci, nutrition guru, explains it this way: “The foods our body can’t digest break down and produce gas that we eliminate via belching or farting.” Some foods tend to make you gassier than others, so she warns to watch out for bran, beans, cabbage family vegetables, and not to eat too much fruit at once. “If you don’t want to toot,” she says, “decrease your portions of gaseous foods, especially in the meals prior to running.”

Even with a perfect diet, a runner might let one loose during a run with friends. If you do fart on a run, there are a few options: you can act like it never happened and feign ignorance. You can claim your foot slipping on the ground sounds a lot like “phhhrrt.” You could blame a younger member of the team.  Or you could cop to it immediately.

Another option is getting rid of the stigma by talking about it. Often. Russell Brown and Will Leer have a lasting friendship, forged during the time they trained together in 2009 and 2010 with the Oregon Track Club in Eugene. Brown, a 3:51 miler, now runs with the New Jersey-New York Track Club while Leer, a 3:56 miler, currently trains by himself in southern California.

When they trained together, they talked about cutting the cheese. “Will loves talking about farts, hearing about farts and even farting,” Brown says, and Leer agrees: “I do enjoy a good fart.”

Brown has to stop and catch his breath, he’s laughing so hard remembering old “Whomp!” and “Every Step You Take” stories. And he’s not overstating Leer’s appreciation for a good gas story, especially when it relates to running. “Running and farting are a perfect match, as old as time itself,” Leer says. “There’s the hilarity of the fart sound and none of the stinky repercussions. Running is a safe zone for farts. You can just let ’em rip.”

Leer’s openness notwithstanding, gaseous emissions are not a subject a lot of people want to go on the record about. Brown hesitated when I asked him whether I could include his name. Another elite athlete I know laughed hysterically as she told me her most memorable running toot story, but she refused to let me use her name in print. Which went something like this:

The athlete, Runner A, noticed her shoelaces needed tightening just before the start of an interval on the track. Her teammate, Runner B, was inches in front of her. Runner B’s stomach acted up just as Runner A reached her laces. It was a “Whomp.” Then coach told the girls to go. Says Runner A, “I tasted it through the entire interval.” She can barely get the words out, as she’s overcome by uncontrollable chuckling.

Laughing it off is always the easiest way to handle the embarrassment of an unexpected toot during a workout. Because, fundamentally, running farts are funny.

Add handling flatulence to the unspoken rules in running: Don’t start conversations asking, “What’s your mile time?” Don’t run two steps in front of someone you’re going for an easy jog with. And make sure to jog to the side so that no one’s behind you if you have to, ahem, cook eggs.

Flatulence may stink up an interval, but it can’t break up friendships. Runner A and Runner B are still tight. My friends Ben and Andy from high school are still bonded to this day by what sounded like a really bad trumpeter holding a note. That lasted up an entire hill.

So if something escapes at an inopportune time in a workout, well, console yourself with this: It might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.



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