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Running a marathon: incontinence won’t stop you

Running a marathon: incontinence won’t stop you

The London Marathon is back in town on the 28th of April with more than 400,000 runners signed up, 49% of these runners are women. Created in 1981, the London Marathon always included women and the first female winner was Joyce Smith who ran the women's race in 1981 in 2 hours and 59 minutes. However, in marathon history this hasn’t always been the case. Before the 80s, even if women were allowed to run, it couldn’t exceed between 800 and 1500 meters according to different race rules. Running marathons has been largely male-dominated sport for a long time and marathons were explicitly closed to women. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a number on a bib, only allowed to men at that time.  Although a race official tried to stop her from running by pulling off her bib, her boyfriend blocked him and she managed to finish the race in a heroic four hours and twenty minutes. It was only in 1972 that women were finally allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially.


In the 21st Century, women’s participation in marathon races has grown and it’s not showing signs of stopping. Nowadays, women run marathons just as well as men (or even better, as a study led by Jens Jakob Andersen showed women were 19% better at maintaining a controlled pace than men). Gender is not stopping us anymore! But sometimes you can wonder if you’re able to run a long distance. Not because you didn’t train enough, we trust you on that part, but because many women can experience incontinence that will affect their running. Stress incontinence to be more precise. This is common but there are ways to help you deal with it.  


When stress incontinence prevents you from running.


According to the NHS, there are different types of urinary incontinence:

  • The urge incontinence happens when you suddenly feel a urinary leak or a sudden need to go to the toilet
  • The overflow incontinence, also known as chronic urinary retention, is when your bladder can’t completely empty which often leads to leaks
  • You can also be unable to keep urine in your bladder at all, that is called total incontinence
  • The stress incontinence comes from the fact that your bladder can be under pressure in different situations such as coughing, running, heavy lifting or even laughing too much


Stress incontinence is actually very common among women, more than men because of factors such as pregnancy and childbirth that weaken their pelvic floor and leads to urinary incontinence.


What can you do about stress incontinence?


In the UK, approximately one-third of women suffer from stress incontinence. Even if it is very common among women you should not continue to suffer from it. Seek medical advice for any type of incontinence.


Here are some tips that can help you strengthen your pelvic floor, reduce your stress incontinence symptoms and make running easier:


  • Train your pelvic floor with Kegel exercises or use a pelvic floor trainer. Consider integrating these into your running training plan
  • Change your lifestyle habits such as quitting smoking or losing extra weight. Both are linked to incontinence
  • Drink a lot of water to hydrate your muscles
  • Sleep and let your body rest to restore and repair your muscles, including your pelvic floor.  


Read more about preventing incontinence from running long distances written by Lisa Gimenez-Codd, a health & Holistic Core Restore® Coach and don’t forget, there are solutions to incontinence. You shouldn’t let it stop you from hitting your goals whether that’s dancing at a wedding or running a little over 26 miles. Kathrine didn’t stop and in 2017, 50 years after her historic run, she put her trainers on again and completed it.