Running is an unnatural act, except from enemies and to the bathroom.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in early September. The marathon was only a month away and I was in the midst of a grueling training regimen. On this particular day I was scheduled for a fourteen-mile run, the longest I would have all week. So before I left, as always, I did some light stretching, ate a small snack, and of course, drank plenty of fluids. Soon enough I had my sneakers tied, headphones covering my ears, and was out the door.
The conditions were ideal for running—temperature in the mid-60s, clear blue skies, and a gentle breeze. With autumn knocking on summer's door I wondered if there would be many more days with such wonderful weather. I headed west towards the city center, seven miles one way, seven miles back. I reached the downtown high-rises with my body relaxed, my lungs breathing in a perfect rhythm and my legs feeling as strong as ever. But then, suddenly, out of nowhere, just as I reached the halfway point, I had to go.
It comes as no surprise, when running for hours at a time, that one would have to relieve oneself at some point. Normally it's not much of a problem, especially if you were lucky enough to be born a male, as I was. You simply jog off to the side of the road, find a concealed area, usually some bushes, and proceed to conduct your business. But on this day it was different. I was in the middle of one of the largest cities on the West Coast. There were no bushes or shrubs, only open sidewalks and exposed brick buildings. And on top of that there were people everywhere, strolling the city streets, enjoying the sunny day. I'd run myself into quite the predicament.
I headed back towards my apartment and with every step the feeling in my body became more intense. I began eyeballing side streets and alleyways, but with little luck. There always seemed to be a person walking around, or a slow-moving car in the near vicinity. Damn this beautiful day, I told myself. If it would only start raining, that would clear the streets and give me some privacy. But the sun continued to shine and the people laughed and smiled, as if they somehow knew what I was going through and were in on the joke.
I came upon a fast food restaurant and knew that they would have a bathroom inside. On the men's room door there was a sign that read, "Restroom Key at Front Counter." I patiently waited in the short line. When the people in front of me were finally done ordering I very nicely asked the cashier for the bathroom key. "The bathroom is for customers only," she said. "If you want to use it, then you will have to purchase something."
I tried my best to explain my situation. "I'm out training for the upcoming marathon," I pleaded. "I don't have any money on me, but if you give me a break, I promise to come back later and buy something."
"Sorry, paying customers only."
I wanted nothing more than to scream, but was afraid that it might make it worse. What was the world coming to? Is there nowhere to go to the bathroom? I continued east. My muscles felt fine, but the faster I ran, the worse it got, so I had little choice but to keep a moderate pace. Everything around me seemed to be a reminder of the situation I was in. There was a woman watering her flowers with a garden hose. And a man washing his pickup truck. Then I saw a dog lift his leg on a fire hydrant and almost lost it. It was probably the only moment in my entire life when I actually wished that I were an animal.
Finally I felt like I couldn't hold it any longer. I saw some bushes in front of a house and considered taking my chances. But then I looked around, and if it wasn't just my luck, there was a police department directly across the street. I weighed my options. On the one hand I really had to go, but on the other, how would I ever explain being arrested for such a foolish thing?
In the end I decided to hightail it home. I was only a couple of miles away, and ran faster than I had ever run before. I probably set a personal record that day in the two-mile, and when I finally arrived at my apartment I could have been the happiest man on Earth. I frantically searched my pocket for the door key and then fumbled around trying to insert it into the slot. I slammed the door behind me and sprinted through the living room. At last I reached the bathroom, and of course, it was locked. My roommate was taking a shower.