Ask Bertha: Running Partner Takes Too Many Bathroom Breaks

Dear Bertha,

I prefer to run alone so I can make sure I’m sticking to my training plan. However, I feel bad to constantly turn my friend down who frequently asks me to run with her, so I’ve started doing one of my weekly easy runs with her. At first it was ok, but over the last few weeks she started to stop to use the restroom. It’s gotten to the point where we run for an hour and we stop three times! It’s driving me crazy! I feel like I’m not fulfilling the purpose of the hour run when I break it up into three parts with several minute stops each time. But I hate to be a jerk. What do I do?

Signed, Not Training For a PQ

Bertha – your go-to gal for running etiquette


Thanks for writing in, my bladder-endurance-gifted friend. Urine luck, because I have thoughts to share! I’m sure we’ve all been on both sides of your dilemma: we are all the one who has to pee a lot, but we are also the one who can’t stand to stop for a minute because dammit, we’ve got one job here and only an hour to do it!

So, not surprisingly, your letter raises issues that reflect this dichotomy.

Part 1: Why are you doing these runs in the first place?

The initial issue that jumps out from your letter is the fact that you apparently don’t especially want to run with your friend, even before she started peeing all the time, but you don’t want to disappoint her by saying no. This is a very, very, VERY common problem among women in general: doing things you don’t really want to do because it would be rude to say no. Well, I bring you glad tidings, NTFPQ. It’s not rude to say no. Boundaries are our friends, and we should embrace them like a box of donuts after a long run.

If that simile just made you scream because you don’t even like donuts and also how the F are you supposed to say no to your friend and risk the deadly social awkwardness that might ensue, you’re not alone in that either. We’ve been socialized to be “nice”, and to equate being nice with never saying no, as if we only exist to fulfill other people’s needs. But how nice is it really to be dishonest with our friends? Isn’t it a little insulting to her, this attitude that she couldn’t possibly cope with hearing the “wrong” answer?

Now maybe I misunderstood, and you do in fact value the friend time but it’s the pee stops that piss you off (we’ll get to that in a minute). If that’s the case, cool. If not, and the next time she asks you to run you internally cringe but are tempted to say yes regardless, I recommend stepping back for a second. Ask yourself: do I really want to run with her? If the answer is no, then say no. Be gentle but clear. You may be tempted to apologize, feeling like that makes it less terrible. Do not apologize. If I were having this conversation, I’d say something like, “I’d love to see you, but I also really need/want/prefer to run alone. Wanna meet at Starbucks after we run?” Obviously you can insert the hangout of your choice there, but only suggest this if you really want to. In the event that you don’t particularly want to hang out at all, skip that part.

That’s it. That’s your job in this situation: be clear about what you need. If you’re not used to setting boundaries, you’re going to feel like a hideous, sociopathic monster. You’re not! You’ve just done an excellent thing! Now it’s up to her to respond. She might be totally fine with it and you’ll see her for post-run nitro cold brews. Then again, some people respond very badly to the whole boundary thing. Remember, if she gets offended, that’s her problem. It is not wrong to have a need that conflicts with hers. She might also be like “ugh but I’m so busy, I don’t have time for Starbucks and I can only slot you in during this run.” Oh well! It’s entirely conceivable that she doesn’t even care about hanging out with you, she just wants someone (anyone) to run with because she hates running alone. Who knows? You might find out, but only if you’re honest.

Part 2: Why is your friend suddenly peeing a lot, and how can you ask without sounding like a concern troll?

Now, maybe you really do value the time with your friend, but the pee thing is getting on your nerves. I 100% guarantee she’s not doing it to annoy you! Your friend’s bathroom needs have drastically changed since you started running together, and peeing every 20 minutes does seem like a lot. This gives you an opening to gently inquire whether everything’s OK with her, health-wise. “We don’t have to talk about this at all if you don’t want to, but I noticed you’ve started peeing a lot when we run. Is everything OK?” Only do this if you really care, though. Otherwise you sound like a concern troll, and that’s never a good look.

There are a lot of possible reasons for your friend’s sudden pee-stravaganza. She might be pregnant! She might be over-hydrating. Or maybe the pace is a little too much for her and stopping is her way of coping with the discomfort. Some of these are fixable. Others not so much. If you’re coming from a place of true caring, as opposed to a place of annoyance, then just ask. If she doesn’t want to discuss it, be cool with that.

Part 3: So you stop a couple of times during your easy run. So what?

You seem like you have a serious training plan and a serious goal in mind, NTFPQ. Because you refer to this one-hour run as your easy run, I’m wondering why it matters if you stop for what, three minutes? Four? Two? What’s the purpose of the easy run, anyway? Usually it’s a recovery-type effort between harder or longer workouts. So… take it easy. Your body deserves it. Stretch your calves while she takes 90 seconds to pee. Do some leg swings. Or be that person who jogs in tiny circles while you wait — usually seen at stoplights, but transferable to any unacceptable pause in forward motion.

I promise that the thing standing between you and your big hairy goal is not your friend’s pee breaks. In the grand scheme of your training plan, they don’t even register as a tiny blip in your progress. In fact, if you’re as goal-oriented and driven as many runners with a serious plan, taking those tiny breaks that make the run even easier may actually be good for you as it keeps the day super easy where you’d otherwise tend to subconsciously push the pace. So my final piece of advice is to try to embrace the breaks and enjoy the time with your friend.  Friend time is (hopefully) relaxing and gives you some social support, both of which are crucial to reaching our true potential.

Those are my thoughts, NTFPQ. Thanks so much for writing in, and let us know what happens and how your race goes!

Do you have a question for Bertha? Let us know!

I'm a 43-year-old living in Berlin, Germany and currently training for the 2020 Berlin Marathon.

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