I have a long standing interest in the sport of triathlon and I’ve always been in awe of those athletes that manage to achieve the “big one” – the Ironman. The Ironman consists of a 3.86km swim, a 180.25km ride and a 42.20km run. Naturally, it takes several hours to achieve such a goal and the thought of undertaking such a mammoth event comes with a whole stack of questions. One of the biggest ones I have heard as both coach and athlete is, “do or do I not pee on the bike?” during the event. Intrigued, I decided that some journalistic investigation in the area was warranted. I decided to hit up various triathlete group Facebook pages with the “to pee or not to pee” question with varying success.
It would seem that many triathletes are reticent to describe their ablution habits during a race. After all, nobody wants to admit to having a wee during a race, even though over hours of endurance racing, it’s likely a given. I have come to the conclusion that if you publicly admit your ablutions, you’ll send some poor triathlete you met and friended in the swim leg, reason to regret appreciating the apparent warmth of the water. A scenario which I completely understand. However, some kind souls were happy to offer their advice, which varied across the board.
Unless you are going for a Kona slot, just stop. The 2-3 minutes won’t make that much of a difference and you can save yourself from sitting in urine filled shorts all day.” Triathlete A.
“Just stop to pee. You, and everyone around you, will be much more comfortable. And you can still qualify for Kona.” Triathlete B.
“Learn to pee on the bike. It’s a skill like everything else. I worked on it during training so it was not an issue racing. I time it based on need, course and where the aid stations are – using water to rinse off. I do draw the line at peeing in my running shoes. That is just…wrong. Pee soaked socks are gross. Much easier to stop on the run then the bike. Unless it is super hot and humid, my shorts dry pretty quickly – tri shorts that is.” Triathlete C.
“If you are going to pee, make sure nobody is behind you.” Triathlete D.
“I’ve done both. The porta-pot: bonus of this is that the volunteers have always asked if I needed anything, so I got both bottles replaced and there was usually a volunteer holding my bike ready for me to go. Peeing on the bike takes practice/patience and to be honest it’s a little gross. You’ll most likely need a downhill, but not steep. It takes a while to get it to start. I can’t pee while pedaling at all. Also… if you think you might try to pee on the bike… set yourself a reminder for after the race to clean your bike off.” Triathlete E.
(Liz’s note – I really like Triathlete E’s salient reminder)
As you can see, opinion is mixed on the subject. My take on this situation as an athlete and a coach with a background in health is to consider these few points.
- If you are choosing to pee, do it when riding on a slight downhill, which means you don’t need to pedal and there’s probably slightly more downward pressure on bladder which may encourage you to go.
- If you are choosing to pee, it’s also worth remembering that urine is completely sterile as it is passed. However, exposure to a grimy sweaty body changes this, so there may be some risk of infection if you’re running around in urine soaked kit all day. If you’re doing an Ironman in a hot, humid environment and you’re not aiming to break a world record, I’d consider taking a break.
- If you are choosing to take a quick break, use the opportunity to have a quick stretch and gently move your spine into extension (as you are in a flexed position over the 180km cycle portion).
- If you are choosing to take a quick break, you may be able to use the lap counter function or similar on your GPS device to calculate the time off the bike so you can subtract it from your recorded time.
- If you are choosing to take a quick break, you have the advantage of being able to check your urine colour and monitor dehydration.
To pee or not to pee really is a personal choice, however for most athletes aiming to complete, rather than compete, an Ironman, taking a break is an easier, and potentially safer option. It goes without saying that a fuelling/hydration strategy needs to be in place long before the race itself both as a safety and performance mechanism so be sure to consult with an accredited sports dietitian who can guide you with a plan.