Do you struggle to stay dry while racing? Don’t be embarrassed, leakage is common. We surveyed elite runners and VIS League athletes, Ella Donoghu & Maddy Price, about their experiences with stress urinary incontinence (SUI) while running. But what is SUI? And how can women runners address it?
What is SUI?
According to the Mayo Clinic, Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is the leaking of urine due to stress put on the bladder through physical movements such as running, jumping, or heavy lifting. It’s relatively common for women in sport, as our bladders are often under high levels of pressure and exertion. For some women, a weak pelvic floor and weak urethra can make leakage more likely.
You're Not Alone!
We asked professional runners, and VIS League athletes, Ella Donaghu and Maddy Price, and both athletes openly shared their experience with SUI during competition and practice. According to both pros, SUI is a common occurrence in the running community, but definitely one that isn’t talked about enough.
When asked if she has ever experienced SUI while running or racing, Donaghu said, “I experienced this basically every time I ran a cross country race in college. Interestingly enough it never seemed to happen on the track, but I think with cross country your body is in a uniquely heightened state of stress for a pretty long time. I know some teammates would have it happen mid-race, but for me it would always happen the second I slowed down across the finish line. I never found it that surprising, just because when you exert yourself that intensely for that long I think the second your muscles are allowed to relax you kind of lose all control.”
Donaghu went on to say, “I would tell people experiencing this to have no shame at all. Those of us who understand how hard what we do is could not give less of a sh** if you peed your pants or not. But if you’re worried about it I know there is physical therapy you can do to help with it.”
““I would tell people experiencing [SUI] to have no shame at all. Those of us who understand how hard what we do is could not give less of a sh** if you peed your pants or not. But if you’re worried about it I know there is physical therapy you can do to help with it.” ”
Price agreed, “I have experienced SUI while running/racing and sometimes still do experience it. I am so glad that you are bringing this up with the VIS community because it is an issue that many of us deal with in silence because it can feel challenging to talk about.”
Specializing in sprinting, Price shared her experience struggling with leakage during training for the 400 meters:
“Starting in highschool I would dread having to do what we call "hurdle hops" where we jump over small or large hurdles in a continuous motion, meaning once we hit the ground we try to react off of it with as much explosiveness as possible to get over the next hurdle. Doing hurdle hops, jumping rope, explosive med ball throws, or even some explosive lifts would sometimes make me 'leak' and I would feel so embarrassed by it and oftentimes I would end up not doing the exercise very well to avoid leaking.”
She said her experience with SUI felt isolating, until she learned about the commonality among women in the running community. She told us, “I felt embarrassed and still do sometimes because at first I thought this only really happened to women after they had children and had to retrain their pelvic floor muscles so I was scared that it was happening to me as a teenager and as a 20-something-year-old athlete.” After years of gaining experience training with a range of athletes, Price said, “This is an issue that I know is way more widespread than you would imagine. I have had many personal conversations with other high school, college and pro athletes about their similar experiences.”
How Can Women Runners Address It?
According to a 2022 article by Aeroflow Urology, Redefining Continence Care, here are the best tips for preventing leakage while exercising:
With an empty bladder, sitting up or lying down, practice tightening your pelvic floor muscles (the ones you would use to stop a stream of urine mid-pee), and then releasing them. Hold this position for 4-6 seconds and then relax. Repeat 8-10 times.
Try Breathing Exercises
Practice deep diaphragmatic breathing: Breathing in deeply for a count of 3 seconds through the nose, holding for 3 seconds, and then breathing out deeply for a count of 3 seconds through the mouth, relaxing the face and body.
Don’t Rush While Peeing and Allow Your Bladder to Empty
Practice not rushing while using the bathroom, and instead allow time to let your bladder completely empty. Tilting your bladder forward may allow your bladder to empty more thoroughly.
Speak to a Professional Pelvic Floor Therapist
If SUI is something you continue to struggle with, or feel like you want to address with a professional, we also encourage you to find a pelvic floor therapist that can continue exercises and personal treatment with you.
Although SUI is common in the running community, it is something that is not talked about enough. As women, we don’t have to struggle alone, or be embarrassed about leakage. Instead, we can feel empowered by our bodies' abilities to complete a race or workout. Take action and try these tips to address your SUI, and be sure to speak to a medical professional for additional help.