The fine art of on-bike evacuation

by Mark Montgomery 5.9.02 (www.slowtwitch.com)

Drain the main vein, pissing up a rope, pissing in the wind, take a leak, leak the lizard, and at least a thousand other descriptions apply to the everyday recycling job our bodies have to perform. I was talking with Dan after Wildflower this weekend and he commented on his improvement from last year and complained about the minutes he lost having to stop twice and relieve himself on the bike. Apparently he had never in his career had to piss on the bike, and therefore didn't know how to do it without losing time.

It’s something we all have to do, but I’ve never seen the "how-to" articles in Triathlete Magazine or Inside Triathlon or any of the other mainstream media for our sport. So here it is—unedited, uncouth, and under the line of decency.

I've been told that many guys have a kind of performance anxiety when it comes to pissing in public. I had never experienced that kind of anxiety until I tried my first on-the-bike pee. I went on a lot of rides with my training partner Jurgen Zack, and that guy always had to pee. He would just slide to the back of the pack, pull it out through the bottom of his shorts, and let it fly into the wind. It looked pretty easy, so I tried it. One of the tricks is that you have to stop pedaling to be able to get the flow going. So I stopped pedaling and started getting dropped from the group.

Now, you all know about getting-dropped anxiety. I just never figured that it would turn into peeing anxiety. So there I was, coasting behind the peloton, holding onto little Monty with a full bladder, and not a drop. The pack was getting further and further away, and I would chase back up and try it again and again with the same results. The pressure began to get unbearable, but there was no apparent outlet. If I got off, I would be dropped and riding alone for the rest of the day. If I didn't, I would explode from the inside. Then while sitting in the saddle I just let it go, and go, and go. I took a water bottle and gave myself a quick shower in the shorts. It’s not as gross as it sounds—the urine during a ride or race is mostly just clear salt water. After a wash and a few miles of blow drying, I was good as new. I had discovered what most women already knew, the sit down and let it flow method. Probably best if you do this at the rear of the pack.

I remember one race in which I was following the first place guy and had to pee. We'd been running 20 yards apart for about five miles and it was just a few to the finish. I couldn't afford to stop for the minute it would take to drain the main vein, so I whipped it to the side and did it on the run. What a mess. It was like a loose garden hose under full pressure, flying about in every direction. After giving my shoes and legs a good soaking, I surged on to win the race. I don’t do that any more—I just take a break and water the local flora.

I believe it was about 10 years ago that I was watching the New York City Marathon and Grete Waitz was leading, as she had done many times before. Late in the race she began to grab back at her hamstring. The announcers were commenting that she could be in trouble, and it became the focus of the show. It must have been a live broadcast, because what happened next just blew my mind. She wasn't grabbing at an injured hamstring, she was pulling the bottom of her shorts open so that she could let out some number two. I was going crazy in front of the TV. The announcers still didn't get it and kept commenting about that hamstring problem, and all the cameras were on her rear. This went on for miles and miles. Diarrhea had kicked in, and Grete never missed a stride. That was one tough chick.

One of the other endurance sports that I compete in is rowing. The big race of the year is the Catalina 26-mile channel crossing. We row these two-man dorys with holes in the sides that allow crashing waves to flow through the boat. The race takes about four hours, so the dreaded evacuation of the bowels and bladder is a real problem. One of my partners couldn't go unless he popped down into the water. Another had to turn away from me and go through one of the holes in the boat. One year I had Grete Waitz’s problem while we were battling three other boats for a top-five placing. Not wanting to lose any ground, my bow man kept rowing while I went to the stern to sit on the railing. I pulled down my shorts while facing my partner, and it was like taking a cork out of an upended bottle. I learned something new at that moment. You cannot keep racing when you are in full hysterical laughter. I didn't have to worry about the competition, either. They were watching this show I was putting on, number two off the railing and number one shooting straight at my partner. Four boats sitting dead in the water, everybody laughing so hard that not a stroke was taken. True story.

Spencer Smith says, "Just stand up on the bike and go." Do you pull it out the top or the bottom, I ask? "I don’t pull it out, I haven’t got the time. Plus, depending on the wind, I’d end up wearing most of it anyway."

Scott Tinley echoes Spencer. Stand up, scoot it off to one side of your shorts, brace one leg against the top tube, and go. But whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t roll down into your shoe. That’s bad. You’ll never get it out.

"But that’s not the challenge," Tinley says. "The real challenge is peeing while running—fast. If you can do that, that’s total Zen enlightenment. I’ve managed to pee while running 6:10 miles. No lie."

Are there any legal problems to consider? One USA Triathlon official said that the competitive rules don't specifically forbid "le flying pee-pee" but that there is a rule athletes should consider. It's Rule 3.3b, and it requires that competitors "conduct themselves in a matter that is not offensive in any way to fellow participants, spectators, officials or volunteers and is considered reasonable and acceptable in the community."

This official also recalled being at Vineman a few years ago when officials were asked to enforce a "no pee-pee" rule to keep neighbors of the race happy and to ensure that athletes weren't using nearby vineyards as watering holes. Athletes were told, in pre-race briefings, that they should use the porta-potties only and not nearby front yards, vineyards, trees, etc.

This brings up a tactical point, however, which is that, ironically, you might be less likely to get a penalty with a stealthful release on the bike than a more obvious evacuation by the side of the road. If you do get a penalty for the latter infraction, we haven’t yet gotten confirmation whether it is appealable, what the time penalty would be, and whether you get credit for the time it took you to do your biz.

Should you choose the on-bike method favored by the pros above, there is one final tactical issue I ought to remind you of, which is that you’ll need a removable bottle of clear water on the bike. No between the bars aero bottle will do, and if the round bottle in your cage is full of fluid replacement, it’s up to you whether you’re better off showering with that or to just let things be.

Truly, there's no right or wrong way to solve our food recycling problems—there's just the way that works for you. I've described some extreme measures I have taken to save some time, but I’ll leave it to each of you choose your own dignified, or not, method of returning the salts to the earth.