7 embarrassing ailments and how to treat them

Suffering from a niggling, cringeworthy problem that you just can’t bear to share? You're not alone and the solution may be easier than you think, says Emma Larard

Triathlete running in the heat. Credit: IMG

1. Leaking wee

Why has this happened?


“This can occur at any time in training or a race and it’s caused by stress incontinence,” Ashleigh Ahlquist, a Fitness Quality Lead at Nuffield Health, explains. “Simply, it’s urine leaking out when your bladder is under pressure. When you’re running or on the bike, your core will be working overtime and pushing on your bladder.”

How can I fix it?

Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Try and include sets of squeezes within your training plan. In order for them to work, you’ll need to do these exercises consistently.

If you are within the higher BMI categories, aim to reduce to a healthy weight using diet and exercise. This can reduce pressure on your bladder.

Wear an incontinence pad for comfort and peace of mind.

2. Infected toenails/athlete’s foot

Why has this happened?

“Athlete’s foot is caused by a group of mould-like fungi that grow best in warm, moist areas, such as between the toes,” says Dr John Rogers, Performance Chief Medical Officer to British Triathlon. “Trainers that are not completely dry provide the breeding ground for this fungus and one of the most common reasons for triathletes getting athlete’s foot is exercising in damp footwear.”

Ashleigh adds: “Athlete’s foot can then lead to infected toenails, but so can curving your nails when you cut them.”

How can I fix it?

Look after your feet – they’re pieces of kit you can’t simply replace! Clip your nails straight across, wash and dry your feet, moisturise, and apply powder.

Take your shoes and socks off when you have finished running and wash your socks. Don’t be tempted to wear them for another session.

Air out your shoes and if they get wet make sure they dry fully.

If you do get athlete’s foot then make sure you treat it sooner rather than later. Check in with your pharmacist for the best solution.

6 common foot problems triathletes face and how to treat them

3. A runny nose

Why has this happened?

“One of the reasons your nose starts running whenever you go for a run could be because you are suffering with rhinitis,” John explains. “This condition is often triggered by allergies but it can also be triggered by exercise. It’s not clear what triggers it but it is thought to be caused by a reaction the pollutants in the air and is not a cause for concern.”

How can I fix it?

Consult your GP for advice on treatment options including nasal corticosteroid spray.

During training or a race, use one finger to close one side of your nose, look to the other side and forcefully blow out of the open nostril.

Be prepared – carry a tissue, or find gloves that have a soft section on the thumb specifically designed for ‘mopping up’.

4. Saddle sore

Why has this happened?

“Saddle sore is a skin irritation caused by your body coming in to contact with the saddle of a bike and causing chafing and sweating amongst other factors,” says John. “Although saddle sore affects both novice and expert cyclists, people often experience it after a long break from cycling or after getting a new saddle.”

“You might experience something like nappy rash, odd tingling, or in severe cases blisters and open sores,” Ashleigh adds.

How can I fix it?

Invest in the right saddle and spend time achieving the correct bike position and fit. Most bike shops will have a special cushion that measures the distance between your sitting bones – rely on their expertise and ask if they have test saddles you can trial for a few days before purchasing.

Choose a saddle that works for you; don’t assume that bigger and more padding is better – the shape is the most important issue. Look for a saddle with few or no seams as it will reduce the chance of friction.

Find a brand of chamois cream that works for you and use it liberally. It’s designed to reduce friction and it will protect your most delicate parts from that ‘numb’ feeling.

Cycling saddle sores: how to prevent them

How to choose the right triathlon bike saddle

5. Rashes and chafing

Why has this happened?

“Rashes and chafing is the result of friction that occurs when skin rubs against itself or clothing,” John explains. “Triathletes are at risk from chafing as they are carrying out a repeated movement over an extended length of time.”

“We’ve all been there!” Ashleigh laughs. “Sore, raw, chapped and blistered skin in places you never knew you had. It’s often worse in warmer weather as the salt in your sweat acts as an abrasive, turning your clothes into sandpaper.”

How can I fix it?

Apply plenty of lubricant before swimming in your wetsuit, in particular around your neck, wrists, ankles and armpits.

When you transition into the run, pick up a tube of lube with your visor – even a simple chapstick can be a blessing when you’re on the road and you feel a ‘hot spot’ starting.

Ensure that your sportswear fits well, is seamless and doesn’t hold water.

Use lots and lots of chamois cream on exposed limbs that you find are prone to chafing.

6. Sweating and odour

Why has this happened?

“Sweating is the body’s way of regulating its temperature; it occurs when your sweat glands produce perspiration that’s carried to the skin’s surface,” John says. “Most of us sweat when we exercise and, as our body temperature rises, the eccrine sweat glands kick into gear to keep our body temperature stable. Your sweat is actually odourless; it’s the bacteria on your skin breaking sweat down into acid that causes the unpleasant odour.

“Scientists have found that people who are deficient in magnesium, a vital nutrient found in leafy greens and nuts, often have a stronger body odour,” he adds. ‘Equally, foods high in protein which require active metabolic breakdown by the body may also increase your body odour.”

How can I fix it?

Sweating is not a cause for concern; the key thing to remember when doing an endurance sport is ensuring that you remain hydrated.

Wash thoroughly and reduce the amount of bacteria on your skin to reduce body odour.

Experiment with changing your diet.

7. Runner’s trots

Why has this happened?

“Running reduces blood flow to the intestines and stimulates changes in intestinal hormones that accelerates the need to go to the bathroom,” says John. “If you already have a pre-existing bowel problem then you may be even more likely to be impacted and dehydration can also exacerbate the situation.”

How can I fix it?

Make sure you go to the toilet before you put your wetsuit on, and give yourself enough time before the race to ‘go’.

Ensure that your incorporate food into your training and race plans. Many people eat the same thing before every race, so they know exactly how their body will react to it.

Avoid foods such as tomatoes and caffeine which trigger acid reflux and reducing your fibre intake may help, as will avoiding any food that usually irritates your gut.

Dealing with the dreaded ‘runner’s trots’

How to ease gastrointestinal distress when racing

Prevention is better than a cure

Keep any embarrassing problems in check with this handy checklist…

Incorporate pelvic floor exercises into your training regime.

Cut your toenails straight across and not curved.

Choose the best saddle for your bike for you.

Make sure you wear appropriate clothing to avoid chafing and rashes.

Stay hydrated, but sip your drink rather than gulp it.

Avoid eating foods that are fatty or high in fibre the night before a competition.

Practise and train simulating the race conditions as closely as possible

See your pharmacist or GP if any of the above problems persist

Ashleigh Ahlquist

Ashleigh Ahlquist, 30, is a Fitness Quality Lead at Nuffield Health.  She is a qualified swimming teacher and competitive triathlete, who coaches triathlon and supports para triathletes during the transition phase of races. In addition to her work with Nuffield Health she is working with British Triathlon to support athletes in preparation for Tokyo 2020.

Dr John Rogers


Dr John Rogers is a consultant in sport and exercise medicine and Performance Chief Medical Officer to British Triathlon. He is also is a former middle distance runner.