What to Do When You Have to Poop or Pee but There’s Nowhere to Go

Porta Potty by David Shankbone
Normally vile, even nasty construction site port-a-potties are an incredibly welcomed site to a runner who has to go. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s early. Really early. So early you can finish this run and get ready for work and be there on time. So early you woke right at the alarm and headed straight out the door, skipping your usual pre-morning run routine. Today is a good day for an out and back, you think. So you head 3.5 miles out the lonely quiet road and turn around. And of course, as Murphy’s Law dictates, just as you’re at the farthest point from home base (and a bathroom) nature calls.

You try to ignore it. The impulse subsides, only to come roaring back like a wave. You make it three waves or so before you realize you are going to have to take care of this business or the business will happen anyway. In your shorts. You look around and see neighborhood houses or trees or open fields or whatever, but no official places to do your business.

Aw, crap.

What the heck are you supposed to do?

First, let’s discuss what not to do. This, for instance:

The pooping on the building. The doing it more than once in the same public spot. The surveillance cameras. The no wiping (seriously, wtf?) All. Wrong. Here’s what you need to know about pooping on the run the right way.

Where to go.

Always try to find a toilet. Maybe there’s a house under construction in the neighborhood and a port-a-potty for the construction workers.  Maybe you know there’s a Starbucks half a mile away.  Maybe your brother’s girlfriend’s great aunt lives not too far. If there’s a known toilet within a mile of where you are, do whatever you can to hold it and make it to the toilet. McDonald’s, Libraries, whatever. Use their toilet!

Sometimes we all have to go outside of the box. (Photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict))

If you can’t hold it or there is no known toilet, then you’re really going to have to improvise. My first choice is always woods. There’s an access drive through the woods that’s overgrown on one of my potty-less neighborhood routes and that’s where I peed when I was pregnant. It was cut back just enough that I could get through, but not too much that there was no cover. If you poop, definitely think about where you could go that would provide a little privacy and would not be an intrusion on someone’s life. Unlike “Malicious Fecal Deposit Lady,” avoid private property if at all possible and definitely avoid going in the middle of where other people have to be – like in someone’s driveway or something like that! I like to find a place where I can cover it. I figure cats gotta know what they’re doing.

If it’s just pee and I’m wearing shorts, I squat, pull the shorts to the side and pee. I can pretty much make it look like I’m tying my shoe. I’ve never tried pooping without pulling the shorts off. In theory it should be able to work, but I really don’t want to carry any souvenirs home from a woods poop, so I have never tried it.


English: Ground level poison ivy in Perrot Sta...
This is poison ivy. Looks harmless, but it’s not, especially to the privates. Leaves of 3, let it be! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I have to go outside of a toilet, I don’t bother wiping if it’s just pee. After three kids, I always have a little pee in the shorts anymore so what’s a little more?  And really, it’s nothing a quick hand wash won’t take care of.

If it’s #2, wiping is a must. If you’re going on a long run and are in doubt about the availability of a toilet, consider bringing TP in a sandwich bag. If you find yourself TP-less and toiletless, go for a big leaf from a tree. Make sure it’s a tree. DO NOT WIPE YOURSELF WITH ANYTHING THAT MIGHT BE POISON IVY.

Ok we’re going to get into the nitty gritty here. Sorry, we gotta go there. When you wipe out in the woods, especially with something like a leaf, it’s not going to do a perfect job, but it’s better than nothing. Use more than one leaf if you have to.  Use one hand and make sure to keep the other hand out of that business and clean. That way if you have to wipe something out of your eye or blow a snot rocket, you have a clean hand for the job. Also, be sure to hit the shower and change ASAP. You don’t want a UTI from the bacteria sure to be on your shorts or tights.

If needing to go becomes a regular problem.

Of course, if needing to go on the run becomes a regular problem, you should plan your routes to include bathrooms if possible or consider taking steps to avoid the urge.

If it’s pee you can’t hold, don’t drink within 45 minutes of leaving for your run. That has helped me during pregnancy and those early postpartum months when I have a harder time holding it.

If it’s poop, I find waking up at least 45 minutes before running and having a half a cup of coffee is enough to empty things out.  I also avoid ice cream and alcohol the evening before an early morning run. They just don’t work for me. You need to experiment with what works for you. Coffee, no coffee. Roll right out of bed, wake up a certain amount of time before hitting the roads. One summer, I found that even with coffee I still had to go during my long runs. So, I tried immodium for long runs and it worked great for me. It causes drowsiness in some, so definitely keep that in mind if you try it.

For more on this subject, read our poop posts.

So dear readers, tell us about your most harrowing “gotta go” experiences. And please, please share your tips for stealthy pooping!

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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  1. Ug. Yes. It happens to most of us sometime or another. I actually plan my long runs around knowing if/where there is a potty. A few months ago I went on a trail run at a very heavily populated trail. For the last 10 minutes I literally prayed that there were construction porto potties over by the ball fields and there were. One was jammed up against the other so that one door didn’t open and the other didn’t close but I didn’t care. I feel like standards change so quickly when you become a runner. I spent most of my life hating porto potties and that day it was my savior.

    1. You know you’re a runner when you type the words “Porto pottie was my savior” 🙂

  2. And when the leaves look “iffy” and you’ve forgotten the “poopie pack” (that’s what I call the TP in the sandwich bag) – never underestimate the power of the sock. When the choice is a foot blister or a dirty bum … take the blister.

  3. This is so funny as I had a most UN funny #2 incident in Golden Gate Park the other week. I obviously had no toilet paper and was freaked out that the leaves I had to use might contain poison oak. So far, no itching! Equally obviously, I found a toilet literally a hundred metres further along my run!

    Good advice here on how to handle it relatively gracefully. My only comfort is that we all do it 🙂

  4. Quote of the post: “You make it three waves or so before you realize you are going to have to take care of this business or the business will happen anyway. In your shorts.”

    This is a great post that I’m sure will be useful for many runners down the road, especially beginners who beg to ask the question but don’t know how.

  5. I keep half a washcloth on me for all runs (hahaha). They make a handy nose blower, sweat wipe, and if you must: a bottom wipe. If you get the cheap thin ones they’re small enough to easily pack and can still be used when they’re sweat soaked where Kleenex and tp fall apart.

  6. I keep babywipes in a baggie with me if my inners are feeling dicey before a run, and I always try to plan my long runs with several different bathroom options available. I also carry a bit of money on me in case I have to purchase something in order to gain access to a bathroom. I just wish there were more public washrooms available!

  7. This seems to be a problem I often have, in fact I consider myself an expert on advise. I always carry paper towels folded up and tucked into my shorts. Knowing this is a potential issue I always find places to run where I will not end up like the girl in the video. Hike and bike trails, country roads with woods or corn fields available, or some place you might be passing with public restrooms like gas stations, drugstores, or restaurants. If you have an emergency, again like the girl in the video, for God’s sake avoid the same place for at least a year!

    1. YES! That should be a rule of outside pooping – never go more than once in the same place during a 12 month span 🙂

  8. I’ve been lucky so far. Most recently was about two weeks ago. I was doing an out and back, and felt the urge (#2). I decided to turn back early. There was a McD’s about 1.5 miles away, and I really booked it to get there! The last part was uphill for about a quarter mile, and I think I broke my record for running up that hill.

    Best motivation to running fast: sprinting for the bathroom

    And what is wrong with that girl.

    1. I have been there so many times, especially when NexGen goes down and you pick the worlds longest song to run and pee and you barely make it back – or worse you find out their’s been dead air the ENTIRE TIME.

  9. I take a bag stick in my pants and let go in it and seal/tie it and trow it away
    it always works

  10. I found this thread amusing whilst bursting to go as a passenger on a car journey. Thankfully I made it back without having to resort to some of the suggestions that were made.

  11. I cut the sleeves off several t-shirts & wrap one around each wrist. The right one is for snot & the left one is for sweat. Either is for emergencies & can be left at the scene of the crime.

  12. I poop often during my runs. I try to time things out so I can go at home but even then I sometimes have the encore a few miles into my run. Thankfully I live in a fairly rural area but there are potential public exposures to be careful of. While being caught would be embarrassing, I am more concerned with protecting someone from having to have that mental image stuck in their mind. I am a lover of flushable wipes and I keep a sandwich baggy on me at all times. Walmart sells a really nice Equate brand. I’ve had to return to the same spot before and the evidence is always gone from my previous visit. Also, wipes allow me to clean up perfectly and get my head back into the run without having to concern myself with being dirty. I view the entire thing as sort of a badge of honor that goes with being a dedicated runner.

  13. this makes me feel so much better about pooping on my runs but i still dont know what to do in public places where there is non of the above or the toilets locked or there is none please help me

  14. Such a funny, and practical article- we’ve all been there! My husband has what we like to call poomergencies fairly regularly (early mornings, driving around in the truck all day without consistent bathroom access). Something that he told me that I never really knew or thought about is that all public service stations have public restrooms. He knows all the best fire houses, police stations, town halls, you name it- to stop in at for an emergency!

  15. Not for runners. If in the car and you can pull to the side of the road and you have a four-door car, you can open both of the passenger side doors, which will cover you on three sides from oncoming and following cars. It’s like a little bathroom. Still no fun but better than running out into tick-infested tall grass and squatting.

  16. Right now. This has happened to me often recently. I’m in a house, in bed, and there’s a bathroom available. But I’m too afraid of the dark. It’s horrible.

  17. This is nothing new to me! See I have IBS (the diarrhoea sort)! I have had more than my fair welcome of public diarrhoea accidents! VERY embarrassing ones to say the least! Problem is that as indeed I am only 25yo Japanese-Swiss male (yes mixed race) I consider myself to be indeed continent. So that is not issue here! It is this one element of total surprise, speed, and unexpectedness + urgency that takes me by total surprise, quicker than my reaction reflexes would allow for. So I wind up with sustaining unexpected public embarrassments. Fortunately this doesn’t always happen! But it has happened in the plural before! NO fun!

    Now, couple times this was NOT due to IBS but due to mean-spirited pranksters! (Was this considered being victim of ‘mobbing’)? Both instances I wound up consuming food that unknown to me was tainted with strong laxative or purgative! One happened in swimming pool in California as child and another on a new concrete pier over Hudson River in New York City as adult. Both were embarrassing to EXTREME! Wow!

  18. I was at Mammoth lakes and I took a 20 minute bus ride to a beautiful hiking/running path for a mid morning run. I was 3.6 miles into my 4 mile run when I felt a strong urge to go #2. I decided I was almost done with my run and to get to the trail head asap but after another minute I decided I. Had to go in the bushes, but I couldn’t find anywhere to go!!! There were way to many people around so I just kept fighting the urge and I finally got back to the trail head and immediately ran to the porta potty. I was yanking on the door when I looked up and saw an out of order sign and the door was looked. I was about to cry I had no idea what to do so I decided to keep fighting the urge and I got on the bus ride back down the mountain. I was hoping and praying that I could make it down the mountain on the 20 minute ride!!!! 2 mins into the bus I started to poo my pants. I tried to make it stop but I couldn’t, it just kept coming out. When it finally stopped I could tell by just one little glance that my shorts were completely brown and disgusting and it was very obvious that I had pooed my pants. When the bus finally arrived I ran straight off to a bath room to clean myself up. It was a very extremely embarrassing, and disgusting experience and I hope nothing like that happens to me again.

    1. Whoa! That sucks! Better to bare your butt to a few people and take care of business behind a tree than go through that. Yikes!

  19. So the other day I was running with my dog an all of a sudden it was almost like I had been hit with this enormous wave of a stomach ache an I had to go! No bathrooms nothing! So I literally was about to go #2 alllllll over myself an then I remembered my best friend lived about a quarter of a mile from the place I was jogging…I ran to her house an banged on the door an by now I had tears in my eyes it was just unbearable an she answered an I zoomed in her house an ran into her bathroom…that was really scary! ?

  20. Ahh so nice to know I’m not alone. I have the luxury of planning any run because I’m a homemaker and have IBS while I have been out while it hits I’m able to walk back to my home because running for some reason just makes me leak ewww. But I live in a very rural area think dirt roads no neighbors and completely flat tree less bush less wheat field utopia. I only run up and down my road so I know I’m never far away. I somehow always find myself with explosive diarrhea when I’m driving. I will quickly exit my highway drive a dirt road hopefully least traveled and try to find somewhere that’s blocked. My biggest fear is always having a cop check since its so flat and you can see for miles. Most desperate I’ve been, used my shirt 🙁

  21. Here’s a great story that’s occuring this very moment. So today it snowed at school and my b-ball game was cancelled so I had to take a bus home since my parents were at work. My friend was telling me what she got me for xmas after my last class and I got distracted, so I ran straight to the bus so I wouldn’t be late. So I get on the bus and I kind of have to pee, but I ignore it and continue to online shop on my phone. Then we got stuck in traffic for about 30 min, and I start to feel a sudden MAJOR urge to pee. I don’t really know where we are because everything looks different when it’s snowing, so I look up how far away I am from my house. As it turns out, I AM CURRENTLY 20 MINUTES AWAY FROM MY HOUSE!!!!! HELP ME