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The Leak that just Won’t Quit

I sneezed and peed. I coughed and peed. I laughed and peed. I did a double-under and peed. I ran and peed.

One in three women suffer from exercise-induced incontinence.  Aging and childbirth can increase the likelihood of this lovely phenomenon (also called stress incontinence) but it can still occur even if you’re 22 and carelessly child-free.

Peeing your pants is not fun. It’s also not comfortable and doesn’t help your self-esteem. I experienced it for the first time when I was pregnant at age 39. After gaining the first twenty of my eventual forty pounds, my bladder was feeling the strain. The first time I sneezed and peed, it was a rush, not a dribble. Shortly after that, I noticed that if I went for a run with even the tiniest trace of urine in my bladder, I leaked. I finally understood what many of my friends often joked and complained about during runs.

I also finally took seriously the many women who have asked me to make a product to address these needs. I clearly remember being approached by a woman runner in a Fleet Feet store about seven years ago. She told me she was frustrated with her leaking and hated that people could see it. She begged me to make a product that would help hide this issue. Since then, countless women have asked me for the same thing. I finally decided to do something about it.

In October, Skirt Sports introduced on Kickstarter the Gotta Go Running Skirt featuring a pad-compatible, quick-pee Trap Door compartment. It allows women to drop trow quickly and cleanly without mooning the world. It also allows women to use an easy-to-change-out pad. Not the coolest of concepts to talk about, but definitely a necessary product based on the fact that the $35,000 goal was met in just over two weeks with cries for more Gotta Go styles in varying silhouettes.

We’re not the only company to address this issue. In 2009, GoGirl introduced a silicone pee funnel for women. It allows for a quick, clean, well-aimed pee while standing if desired. Of course you can pee standing up anytime you want, but the urine flies all over the place. Their device is clean, hygienic, easy-to-use and allows you to control the flow.

Ultrarunners especially love the concept of peeing without squatting. As Amy S, an ultrarunner from Cary, NC says, “The idea of ‘not squatting’ is very common among ultrarunners and even marathoners. Obviously it eats up more time [to squat], but the leg fatigue is really the key factor. I ran as a pacer this past weekend at the Uwharrie 100 and the girl I paced did exactly what I described – she stepped off the trail, pulled the panty to the side and peed standing up. Hygiene and modesty go down in proportion to the number of hours you are out there and getting up out of a squat position is miserable after 30+ hours on your legs.”

Runners aren’t alone. I recently came across this hilarious, humbling and just-plain-real video from the 2013 CrossFit Games. Several top-tier CrossFit rockstars openly admitted to peeing – especially when doing Double Unders. For those of you unfamiliar with CrossFit jargon, Double Unders are a jump rope move when you jump higher than normal, swinging the rope twice under your feet. As Karianne Dickson famously announced when asked about Double Unders, “I get wet during workouts.”

The good news is that you can do exercises that will help with stress incontinence.

Kegel: The all-encompassing kegel. I feel like anytime a woman mentions an issue with her lady parts, the first suggestion is “Kegels!” like doing kegels will fix all the world’s problems. The great thing about kegels is that they can be done anytime anywhere. In fact, I can guarantee that most of you just did a kegel, simply by reading the word.

The “Ha’s:” JustGoGirl suggests a deep ab set with a pelvic squeeze. You can also do these most anywhere although you’ll just be slightly more conspicuous when you utter “Ha” 10-20 times in a row.

Squats: Another theory suggests that kegels can actually aggravate a tight pelvic floor and according to this article, squats are the way to go. Even if your doctor still recommends kegels, I suggest adding squats to the mix.

Even if you do all the best practices for strengthening your pelvic floor, exercise-induced leakage can persist. If you can’t control your pee, it doesn’t mean you suck at exercising your pelvic floor. You didn’t do anything wrong. This is just one of those things that happens to women. Patti F, lifelong runner and mom of four puts it this way, “If you’ve had one or four or however many kids, your bladder changes. Running, laughing, sneezing coughing – it all puts pressure on your bladder.”

Women’s athletic leakage has become an industry. Businesses are getting involved and making the point that this is an issue we need to take seriously, even if it’s uncomfortable to talk about. Look at JustGoGirl athletically-inspired pads for women that are made to cooperate with athletic apparel and move unnoticeably without folding or chafing during workouts. This pad has become one of the staple topics of conversation on many a long run with the ladies.

It’s clear that leaking while exercising is a pretty normal thing. It’s also an uncomfortable issue to talk about. But when the flood gates open, women feel a rush of relief that they are not alone out there. It’s great to know that we can improve stress incontinence, but it may never completely go away, so there are products that can help make it more comfortable and tolerable.

And don’t get me started on pooping. I recently spoke at an event and a woman approached me afterward to thank me for the invention of the Gotta Go Skirt. She had one question, “Is the relief hatch far enough back? You see, my issue isn’t peeing. My Instagram handle is @Ivegotthetrots.”

This is about more than leakage. It’s about giving women the confidence and support they need to keep running, even when the tide rushes in.


[1] Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1988;296:1300