How to Use a Portable Toilet During a Race

Porta-potty, port-a-john, port-a-san, port-a-loo -- whatever you want to call it, there's no way to make a portable toilet sound more appealing. But, if you're a runner who enjoys road racing, using the porta-potties is pretty unavoidable.

At the start of a race, especially a big one like a marathon, your pre-race hydration efforts may cause several trips to the porta-potty. If you've never used a portable toilet before and you're wondering what to expect, here are some tips.

Do

  • Try to be quick

  • Avoid making a mess

  • Use hand wipes or sanitizer

Don't

  • Use your phone in line

  • Throw trash down the toilet

  • Forget to lock the door

Check Availability

Before you even start your race, it’s a good idea to check out the bathroom accommodations and try to plan accordingly.

Where to Look

  • At the start of the course
  • Mid-course (events shorter than a half-marathon may not have portable toilets located in the middle of the course, but longer races usually have additional facilities placed at locations throughout the race)
  • At the finish line

The number and location of bathroom accommodations depend on a number of factors including the length of the course, where the event is held, the total number of participants, the weather, and whether food, alcohol, and other beverages are served at the event.

In the past, race event organizers often determined the number of toilets needed for an event based on how many times each unit could be used before it needed to be serviced. The problem with this formula is that race events are characterized by a large number of people needing to use porta-potties at the same time, particularly at the start and end of the race. Too few toilets available would then lead to long lines and wait times.

Race organizers often try to follow a rule of thumb to have one portable toilet for every 30 race participants.

Will You Need to Use the Toilet?

The majority of runners won't need to stop to use the bathroom mid-run, but it does happen. Poor pre-race food choices, excessive fluid intake, or a case of the runner's trots are all things that might leave you scurrying to find a toilet during a race or marathon.

Just based on your training and personal needs, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of whether you will need to use the toilet before, during, or after a race. Have a plan beforehand and check the race course to see what will be available, but also be prepared for unexpected needs to arise.

Look Around for Undiscovered Portable Toilets

line of portable toilets
David Zimmerman/Getty Images

If you're at the start of a big race and there are huge lines for portable toilets, don't assume that the toilets with the long lines are the only ones available.

Scan the starting area and see if there are others. Sometimes you can find another set of toilets with much shorter lines because people haven't discovered them yet. You'll save time waiting in line and you'll also find a cleaner, better-stocked porta-potty.

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute

Even if you think you don't really have to go to the bathroom before the race begins, get in line anyway. The wait can be longer than you think, and you don't want to risk missing the start of the race.

Be Prepared With Your Own Supplies

Porta-potties usually start out fully-stocked with plenty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but they inevitably run out.

Bring your own toilet paper and a small bottle of hand sanitizer, so you're prepared, just in case.

You'll be able to check your extra supplies in your race bag at the start (or you could always leave them in a porta-potty for the next runners).

Pick the Line With the Most Men In It

It may not always be the case, but men tend to be in and out of restrooms more quickly than women. Find a line with more men than women in it, and it's likely to move faster.

Don't Forget to Lock the Door

To avoid getting caught with your pants (or shorts) down, turn around and lock the door, as soon as you step into the porta-potty. If other runners see that a porta-potty door is unlocked, they'll try to open it without knocking first. Forgetting to lock the door can be embarrassing and make other runners feel bad or awkward for barging in on you.

Use the Hover Method

Many women have already mastered the art of hovering (not fully sitting on the toilet seat) when using public bathrooms. Whether it's the pre-race nerves or poor lighting, people tend to have ​worse aim in porta-potties at races.

So, if ever you wanted to start hovering over the toilet seat, now's a good time to give it a try.

Most porta-potties don't have those sanitary toilet seat covers.

Hold the Handle for Balance If Needed

Most porta-potties have a handle on the back of the door that you can hold onto. This will help you keep your balance when using the hover method.

Make Sure You Have Everything Before Leaving

Many people are in such a rush to get out of a porta-potty that they leave behind something important, like their running sunglasses.

By the time you realize you never picked up your stuff off the floor, it may be impossible to figure out which porta-potty you were actually in. 

Practice Good Etiquette

There are not any official guidelines for what to do (and not do) when using portable toilets at a race, but there are some basic etiquette points you should try to observe.

  • Don’t hold up the line. Taking pics, tweeting, or updating your social media means you’ll be staring at your phone and not paying attention to the line moving forward. Save your updates for later and just focus on keeping things moving forward as quickly as possible.
  • Do your business as quickly as possible. Obviously, do what you need to do, but it’s courteous to get in and out as soon as possible. And, really, it’s exactly a place where you want to hang out anyways.
  • Don’t throw trash in the toilet. It’s rude and it makes clean-up much more difficult.
  • Be courteous. Try to be considerate of other racers who might be having a genuine bathroom emergency. If someone looks like they urgently need the bathroom, do them a kindness and let them cut in line.

A Word From Verywell

Bathroom breaks during a race might not be ideal, but it is important to remember that it happens and you should heed your body’s needs. Trying to hold it to avoid losing time can be uncomfortable, and it might end up slowing your down more anyways. In most cases, your best bet is to stop, use the restroom as quickly as possible, and then get back to your race. You’ll feel better, which will ultimately help you perform your best.

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