How to Use a Porta-Potty

Tips on Using Portable Toilets at Races

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 porta-potty before and you're wondering what to expect, here are some tips:

Look around for undiscovered porta-potties.

portable toilet
David Zimmerman/Getty

If you're at the start of a big race and there are huge lines for the porta-potties, don't assume that the toilets with the long lines are the only ones. 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 to get on line.

Even if you think you don't really have to go to the bathroom just yet, get on line anyway. I've waited on porta-potty lines for 30 minutes or more. In some cases, if I had waited any longer to get on line, I would have missed 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.

I've always found that those lines move the fastest. Women certainly aren't primping in the porta-potties, but men just seem to get in and out a little 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.

Use the hover method.

Many women have already mastered the art of hovering, or not fully sitting on the toilet seat, when using public bathrooms. I don’t know if it's because of pre-race nerves or poor lighting, but 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.

Hang onto the handle.

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 (see above).

Make sure you have everything before you leave.

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. They all look and smell basically the same.

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