Running 101: Perfecting Your Snot-Rocket

Some people see budding trees in the springtime. I see a budding allergy season.
Some people see budding trees in the springtime. I see a budding allergy season.

When I first started running in 2008, I had some shoes, a pair of cotton capris, a purple sports bra that I still wear, and Claire Kowalchik’s book The Complete Book of Running for Women. That book was my bible, really; it taught me how to breathe (in two steps, out three), gave me a basic understanding of running jargon, and by following the three marathon training plans got me to Boston for my third marathon, training entirely by myself. One thing Claire did not teach me, however, was what do with excess snot.

Right around Boston, in 2010, I met the runners that have now become my tribe, and I’ll never forget one of the first times I met up with a group of them for a long run on an early, wintery morning. One guy warmed up with us for a couple of miles before taking off at 6-minute pace. I ran behind him those two miles, and watched as he ejected snot rocket after snot rocket, perfectly-aimed, forceful, and unapologetic. My newbie-runner brain was utterly impressed. Now that snot-rocketing master there? That guy is a real runner.

Well, it’s been almost eight years and with a lot of hard work and determination I have mastered the ways of the snot rocket too. I can forcefully blow one out with expertise while nary breaking stride. How did I get to this point? How can YOU? Read on friends. 

Why does my nose run when I run?

When we run our metabolisms go up, which causes our mucous membranes to produce more mucous in general. For some people, though, the mucous-production hits another level. It’s called exercise-induced rhinitis, and it is incredibly common among, well, everyone who exercises. Rhinorhea (translation: diarrhea of the nose, ewww) occurs in 56% of people who exercise outdoors, compared to 40% who exercise indoors, and is worse in colder temperatures. Just like allergies to environmental factors like pollen can trigger a runny nose, so can exercise for those who suffer from EIR. In very rare cases, some people have full-blown anaphylaxis in response to exercise. Unfortunately, why EIR occurs isn’t exactly understood, though air pollution may be a factor.

What are my options?

So at the least you have a runny nose when you run or, worse, you have EIR. There are several potential solutions to rhinorhea:

  • Carry tissues or, even better, a lace handkerchief and stop frequently to blow your nose like a lady. Yeah, right.
  • Try a nasal spray! Because you need one other thing to tuck into that minuscule lower-back pocket on your tights.
  • Sniff constantly for your entire run and occasionally swallow all that phlegm. Your own personal gag-reflex and running partners beg you to just, please, don’t.
  • Blow it out and leave it to the elements on the pavement or trail behind you. The obvious and best option.

Steps to Perfecting Your Snot-Rocket

Let me start by saying that practicing alone is always a good, no-pressure way to start on your journey to clear airways. Reaching your potential will take practice, lots of it, so these steps must be followed many more times than once. Additionally, because chilly temperatures exacerbate the runny nose problem, I advise wearing those cheap stretchy gloves because they serve wonderfully for wiping up any misses.

  1. As you run and first start feeling that liquid, full-feeling in your nostril fight the urge to sniff. Instead, let the fullness build until you know you have a good nostril’s worth of snot to get rid of.
  2. Close the nostril that is not as full with the index finger, tip or knuckle, of the same-sided hand.
  3. Look slightly in the direction of the open, snotty nostril and cock your head back a touch.
  4. Inhale sharply in the same pattern you normally would and, starting in your diaphragm, blow forcefully out through your open nostril making sure to quickly exhale your entire breath.
  5. Repeat with the other side, if necessary.

Wait, that’s it?

In a nutshell, yes. Besides the steps that I’ve provided, it is really up to you to practice, practice, practice and also to learn the precise angle your sinuses exit your body. Once you have snot-rocketing down, however, it can become so unconscious an act that you might accidentally perform one in a normal public setting. Avoid the resulting ridicule at all costs; keep your snot-rockets for during and after runs, and only when you are with like-minded running buddies or alone.

Are you a snot-rocketing pro? Any other tips to perfecting this basic running technique?

I'm an elementary P.E. teacher with a long-term, ongoing marathon addiction.The next big goal? Keeping up my BQ streak while aiming for a 3:10! I write about the not-so-glamorous side of running and fitting in serious training with a family while staying sane(ish).

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  1. I think your five steps to perfecting the snot rocket might be more helpful with a visual, perhaps photos or a video? I bet Cinnamon would demonstrate.

  2. The snot-rocket was totally abhorrent to my pre-running self.
    But, as soon as I ran my first mucus-producing mile, it was second nature.
    Now, I have to be careful not to just let fly while walking in street clothes. Especially when indoors with clients.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who occasionally gets confused and almost lets one rip when I’m not running. I was once *this* close in a hot yoga class. Started to bring my knuckle to my nose and everything.

  3. I have never been able to do this. Perhaps my snot is just especially viscous. It just ends up trailing behind me in a slimy string until I finally wipe it on my sleeve.

    Which reminds me,you missed an option. a, um, really good friend of mine says you can use your shirt as a Kleenex. I don’t personally know anything about that, of course, but…it’s what I hear.

  4. I’ll put on my allergist hat for a second here (yes, I am actually a board-certified allergist) and recommend either nasal azelastine or nasal atrovent for those with intractable exercise-induced rhinitis. Using one of those 20-30 minutes before you run (or eat spicy food, or are exposed to strong odors, or anything else that might cause non-allergic rhinitis) can be really helpful.

      1. Yes. Spicy food, cold air, some medications which have a side effect of non-allergic rhinitis….all those things. Azelastine comes in a longer-acting formula so is more convenient than atrovent, which you have to take frequently, but it has a bitter taste. Olopatadine is another option. All work pretty well, though – better than nasal steroids, for this type of runny nose.

  5. I could have written this! I’ve been wondering to myself recently why it took me until this winter, 20 years as a runner, to perfect the snot-rocket! And now that I have, I do have to stop myself from doing it at inappropriate times (like walking my daughter to school…) Thanks for a fun read!

  6. I also used the Complete Book of Running for Women when I first started (and it got me to Boston for my 3rd marathon, too!)… but alas, I have yet to conquer the snot rocket. I’m with Caraway’s “friend” on this…

  7. My runny nose is never quite enough for a snot rocket, so I need to let it build up. 😉 I usually just wipe it on the inside of the bottom of my shirt. 😀

  8. i have a bad issue when i run, which is a lot of phlegm build up in my lungs and very runny nose. My asthma doc prescribed me on azelastine and i have tried it just once so far on a run. It did seem to help. BUt i am noticing the side effects of drowsiness and bitter taste. Will keep trying it to see how these work out…