Running Incontinence – My Journey

I’m keen to talk about this rather unglamorous side of running so that others who also suffer know how common it is.

This is going to sound a little bizarre, but the first time I realised the extent to which I was ‘crying down my legs’ was about 4 miles into a trail half marathon around the beautiful grounds of Harewood House.

How on earth had I not noticed it before? Well, as a very new runner, coupled with that all too familiar and very annoying ‘mum guilt’ my training had, at most, been 1 – 2 runs a week. I kept my runs to the flattest sections of the Yorkshire Dales I could find (which is pretty hard) and so I hadn’t really realised what perhaps was already happening.

I also started running too soon after having my second child. I was running 3-4 weeks after having my second child and ran a 4 mile race at my village fete 6 weeks after giving birth. In hindsight this has massively contributed to the extent of my incontinence. If I’d seen a post partum physio and waited for my 6 week check before getting back into it, I wouldn’t have such a big mountain to climb now. But I was so desperate to get back into it, not just solely to lose my pregnancy weight, but primarily because I was terrified I would sink into post natal depression like I had done with my first born. Going for a run was what I did when I needed to get out of the house and have a break.

Anyway, back to Harewood….and little did I know, but this run is known for its hills!!! As I was romping down one of them I could feel a constant drip and with each stride a little more and a little more. I remember telling myself – ‘it’ll be alright, that’s probably the worst of the downhills done’ but one after the other the hills kept on coming. Eventually I remember looking down at my crotch and seeing the dreaded wet patch forming. I went into quite an intense internal breakdown for about 5 minutes thinking ‘what the hell am I going to do’ I had nothing to tie around my waist to hide the fact I was leaking uncontrollably. I was done for! I might as well just naff it off and save the embarrassment. But then I had a very sudden and welcome epiphany – I remember thinking ‘who the hells cares if you are p*ssing yourself, you are here to run 13.1 miles and prove to yourself you can do it so get on with it.’

Me and the girls celebrating our achievement at the Harewood House Half Marathon

So I didn’t pull out, I kept on going, cried with pride a little when I crossed the line and the bolted to the car to collect my change of clothes before anyone could see the extent of my wet patch.

Most people would probably seek help at this point but it took me 3 years to go and see my GP to get some help. It is all too easy for us women to put ourselves last. We occupy most of our time with making sure everyone else is ok that we end up neglecting ourselves.

In those three years my running has increased quite dramatically and unfortunately the leakage has too.

My biggest fear when I went to see the GP was not having to be examined but that they would tell me I needed to stop running in order to fix it. Luckily this didn’t happen, my GP assured me it was ok to continue running and referred me to a Pelvic Floor Physio at my local hospital.

Before the appointment you have to keep a bladder diary which is a little bit of a pain in the arse but it needs to be done to help understand what type of incontinence you are suffering from. For three days you have to write down everything you drink and pass urine into a jug to measure how your body is deal with fluids going in and out. You also have to make notes of leakages, when they happen and the extent of the leak.

At the appointment we talked through the bladder diary and the physio explained why incontinence happens. Here’s the science bit –

Diagram shows the importance of the pelvic floor muscles

The pelvic floor muscles lie across the base of your pelvis to help keep the pelvic organs – bladder uterus and bowel – in the correct position. The muscles are held in place by ligaments that support the organs especially when there is an increase in pressure in the abdomen that occurs with lifting, bending, carrying and straining. This is called the intra-abdominal pressure and when it increases the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles brace so that the internal organs such as the uterus and bladder are not pushed downwards.

The pelvic floor muscles work to help keep the bladder and bowel closed to prevent unwanted leakage and they relax to allow easy bladder emptying. Your pelvic floor muscles are also important in posture and with the abdominal muscles help to support your spine.

Having a greater understanding of how it all worked helped me understand why I also struggle with my lower back when I’m training for longer distances. The importance of strengthening my pelvic floor became clear and not only will it help stop the annoying leaking, but also help improve my running.

My physio set me some exercises, focusing on quality rather than quantity and off I went, to come back in 6 weeks to see how I’d got on.

Now I am going to be 100% honest here, when I first got home I was keen as mustard and told everyone what I’d learnt and tried my best to get into a routine with my exercises. I’m ashamed to say that this enthusiasm didn’t last long. I found the concentration I needed to make sure I was really working the deeper muscles too hard to do whilst driving, or when you are waiting in the queue at the Post Office – I needed to take myself away and really focus. As many of us mums know, having a wee on your own is a rarity so finding a quiet moment with a toddler is difficult. Let’s also not beat about the bush (!) I also found the exercises really bloody hard to do!

Excuses excuses, we all know, if you really want something and you work hard enough you can achieve it. So I went back, feeling a little like a naughty school girl who hadn’t done her homework, and hung my head in shame. My physio was great, she gave me a pep talk and sent me on my way to focus and come back again in another 6 weeks. She assured me that the first bit is the hardest, making the time and getting into a routine of doing the exercises is tough, but get over that initial phase and you can start to see the benefits. Just what I tell my Couch to 5k runners….time to start practicing what I preach!

And that’s where I am – I’m determined to sort it out this time, I have started doing my exercises after I’ve been to the loo and with the amount of times I go to the loo, I’ll get loads done every day!! Wish me luck, I will update you on how it’s going in the New Year!!