Needing the Toilet When Running a Marathon

Author profile image of Ben Fraser
Author: Ben Fraser
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Where to go to the loo during a marathon

When it comes to physical activity and needing the toilet there aren’t many movements that surpass running. 

This whole body exercise redirects blood away from the intestines to the working muscles. Less blood in the intestines and bowels means your body is more likely to evacuate what’s there. 

A question that keeps being asked by runners new to running events, such as marathons – where can I go to the toilet? How can I manage this so I am not caught short!

A good place to start is looking at what you eat. 

What to Eat in the Build-up to a Marathon?

Eat Broccoli and Kale before a marathon

There’s a good chance you’re already following a weekly meal and snack plan as part of your marathon training schedule. Logging what you eat and drink will help you build a pattern of how your body responds to what you put in it. 

Some simple diet changes in the days leading up the marathon will help you slow the frequency of your bowel movements. Start by completely cutting out calorific rich cuisines like fried foods and creamy sauces; and cut down on your whole fat dairy intake. 

At the same time it is recommended to move from complex (fibrous) to simple (stoggy) carbohydrates. And when it comes to fruit and veg you need to stay away from cruciferous veggies (the green stuff!) like broccoli and kale. 

How to Manage Food and Drink Intake on the Day?

Manage your food and drink intake for a good marathon

A running mate with hundreds of long distance events let me in on their event day preparation: 

I always manage to wake up at least two hours before a run, have a cup of coffee and a glass of juice. I eat half a serving of oatmeal and leave it at that for intake.

This simple routine worked for him every-time, and I can’t stress it enough that you need to test a routine that works specifically for you.

Fuelling your body and using the toilet just before an event is the intention on the morning of your marathon. This should give you as much time moving on your feet before nature calls again. 

During the race, when you inevitably need to eat and drink, it’s helpful to eat and drink slowly to prevent ‘gastrointestinal distress’. Sipping and nibbling will slowly absorb nutrients while being kind to your bowel movements. 

Where to Wee During a Marathon?


All this talk of well-timed toilet visits doesn’t detract from the possibility that you may still need to wee during a marathon; after-all a marathon can average between 4-5 hours. If you need to, here’s some mid-race options to relieve yourself:

Find the most secluded spot

Find a hidden spot to go to the loo at a marathon

If the urge comes in-between the portaloo stop offs – there are usually a couple of these between the start and finish of a marathon – then the next best thing is to merge yourself into what little natural seclusion you can find. Corners and bends in the course will cut you out of sight of other runners. But check you aren’t on private property before committing.

A wooded area works well for this. Many marathons including the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon are set in a mix of urban and rural landscapes. With all the greenery comes more opportunities to nip just off the course for a nature wee. 

One important thing to consider when weeing in a wooded area is you don’t do it close to a water source. This is because human urine contains nitrates, which promote algae production in fresh water, making it more toxic to fish and other wildlife.  

Keep a Lookout

Meercats keep look out for toilet

Running the marathon with a friend has lots of perks. The fact you’re both running together allows you both to support one another’s routines and comfort breaks. Your running partner can act as an extra pair of eyes while you go for a wee behind the nearest bush.  

Plan the Portaloo Stops

For road marathons that start and finish in cities there can be a portaloo stop every 1-3 miles depending on the size of the event. This frequency gets smaller and smaller the more niche and rural the marathon gets. 

Are There Toilets on a Marathon Course?

Secret map of marathon toilet stops

More commonly a marathon that takes place in an urban city location are the running races that have designated toilets. 

The London Marathon has portaloo stops every 2-miles; and the New York Marathon tops the list with a toilet stop every 1-mile. We know that there will be 8-portaloo-stations on the Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon course – an average of a toilet break every 3-miles. 

However, if you’re running a more rural marathon, like a trail course, then you’re less likely to have regular toilet breaks.

With this important information you can plan your toilet breaks throughout the 26.2 mile course. Think of this as your very own Formula 1 pit stop. And don’t forget the sanitiser!

Is it Acceptable to Wee Your Pants During a Marathon?

The question on every lips of a marathon runner is – how socially acceptable is it to just wee myself while I’m running? 

If you’re an elite runner this social taboo has been well and truly busted. Many world class runners regularly wee on the move during a competitive long distance running event. Unless you take our word for it and find out for yourself, here’s a couple of things to consider before you let go of your bladder while running. 

Forgetting whether or not it’s socially acceptable, you should be aware that weeing in your running gear can cause irritation. Depending on what you’ve been drinking, urine can be super acidic. The contact between groin and material when soaked in wee can cause a case of severe chafing. 

Let’s say you’ve gone for a mid-marathon-run-wee (to save a bit of time!). A way to counteract the inevitable chafing is to come prepared by wearing quick-dry clothing. In decent weather dousing yourself in water to wash away the excess urine is hygienically kind. And with the sun beating down on the quick-dry material you’ll return to relative dryness in good-time!

How Can You Wee Less During A Marathon?

Let’s get straight to the point. Drinking less fluid with the hope you’re going to wee less is a bad idea. 

Reducing your liquid intake when you’re sweating as much as 3-4 litres per hour –  dependent on your size and metabolic rate – will simply begin the process of dehydration. It’s best to come to the event and the start of your marathon fully hydrated, and having used the toilet multiple times before the race begins. 

There’s even tad bits of evidence to suggest that running hydrated will actually decrease the amount of urine flowing into the bladder. This is due to the antidiuretic hormone

Are There Ways Women can Wee Discreetly During a Marathon? 

For marathon runners who don’t have urinating in their surroundings as a convenient option – in particular women – there are other weeing options available when running a marathon. 

A more remote marathon in the countryside will have fewer portaloo stops on the route. In these environments the Shee Wee is a game changer. They have been designed so a woman can squat and wee without making a mess. The Shee Wee comes easily disguised in a small bag – easy enough to fit into a running backpack!  

Where to Poo During a Marathon?

With all the talk of weeing it’s important to tackle the bigger elephant in the room. Pooing mid-marathon on the road isn’t ok! You need to find a portaloo to do this. 

More familiarly known in running circles as the ‘Runners Trots’. Runners are notorious at running up the urge to poo, because the blood is rushing away from the intestines. If this happens, it’s the right time to find a toilet! 

And one other trick (which is a bit of a last resort) is to try an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication. This will act as a blocker to needing the toilet. It’s recommended that you test this out on a long training run before the big day to see how your body responds.

A Recap

Prepare in the days leading up to the race by adjusting your diet to settle your stomach.  

Listening to your body before the race, and going as often as you need to is strong advice – follow this and most of the time you’ll be alright. If you find that you need to use the toilet during the marathon, come prepared knowing when your loo stops are. 

And if you miss these breaks on the course, find a secluded spot but be prepared to feel a little less comfortable, especially if you have to let it go while running.    

Author profile image of Ben Fraser
Ben Fraser

Ben is an experienced runner and fitness enthusiast who has been working in the sport and fitness industry for over 10 years. His passion for running began when he founded the Run Leeds project, while working for England Athletics. Ben is passionate about the sport of running and is always looking for ways to improve it. He is dedicated to helping runners of all ages and abilities to achieve their goals. He believes that running is one of the most enjoyable and accessible sports and loves to spread the joy of running.

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