By Jonathan Gault
March 3, 2020
Marty Hehir grabbed his bottle, but he did not drink. Instead, two thoughts entered his mind.
If I drink this, I’m gonna poop myself.
If I don’t drink this…I’m probably still going to poop myself.
More than anything, Hehir, a runner for the Reebok Boston Track Club, was angry. He was 18 miles into Saturday’s US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, and he was running the race of his life, part of a large pack chasing down the breakaway group of five men up front. His muscles and his lungs felt ready to make a move. But his stomach was telling him to pull over.
It had begun during mile 11, and by the time Hehir downed his drink at 14 miles, he knew. He had to poop. Badly.
“I can usually put it in the back of my head and forget about it, but it was definitely getting worse,” Hehir said.
Then, like an oasis in the desert, he saw it: a line of porta potties on his side of the road, just past the drinks station at 18 miles. He weighed his options. Pull over, and cost himself guaranteed time. Or try to make it eight more miles without pooping his pants. Pooping his pants was one thing he definitely wasn’t considering (more on that later).
Hehir knew what he had to do, but he wasn’t happy about it. Slamming his bottle to the ground in frustration, he ran into the porta potty, did his business, and burst through the door to rejoin the race. He popped out right in front of Scott Smith, who later told Hehir that he shot out of the porta potty like “a bat out of hell.”
Hehir estimates his pit stop cost him 15-20 seconds (slightly more than Shalane Flanagan‘s bathroom visit during the 2018 Boston Marathon), but believes it was worth it.
“I was only going to slow down if I tried not to [stop],” Hehir said. “As far as a smart racing decision, that was my best move to get to the finish line faster. Purely strategical.”
It didn’t take Hehir long to get rolling again. At 19 miles, he was 21st, 14 seconds back of the chase pack. But with his stomach no longer bothering him, Hehir was able to claw back that deficit and then some. Of the 13 men he was running with when he pulled off the course just past 18 miles, Hehir caught all but one of them: Jake Riley, who made the Olympic team by finishing second.
Hehir, part of Syracuse University’s NCAA cross country title team in 2015, crossed the line in sixth place in a personal best of 2:11:29 — over two minutes faster than his 2:13:49 debut at the 2018 California International Marathon. Not bad for a guy who balances professional running with med school (he’s a student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia) and raising a young daughter (McKenna, who is 21 months) with his wife, Monica.
When I caught up with Hehir over the phone on Monday, he was in good spirits about the whole thing (wouldn’t you be, if you ran a two-minute PR at the Olympic Trials?). He said he felt no shame, in part because he knows he is in good company. Germany’s Uta Pippig won the 1996 Boston Marathon while battling diarrhea (if you open that link, don’t say I didn’t warn you). Paula Radcliffe had to go so badly during the 2005 London Marathon that she couldn’t even wait for a porta potty — she just pulled over to a drinks station and went on the course. She won that race too, by the way.
“You see it all the time — runners will cite I had stomach issues, I had GI issues,” Hehir says. “I feel like nine times out of 10, that just means you had to poo. It’s just no one likes to admit it.”
Before I let Hehir go, I have just one more question. The one everyone wants to know.
Did you wipe?
“Not a chance. Look, my line was: I wasn’t going to be the guy that shit himself in the race. That was not going to be my one-liner after that race. But anything short of that was fair game.”
Talk about this article on the LRC messageboard / fan forum. MB: Trials mystery solved. Did Marty Hehir wipe when he took his poop break at mile 18 at the US Olympic Marathon Trials?