It seems I have become the poop counselor. The fart correspondent. The shart expert.

I am not sure if it is favorable to be a pro in this area. I fear that one day I will be asked to testify in a court of law and that I will be qualified as an expert in poopology. I guess there could be worse things, but I can’t think of what they might be.

I received a question from a reader that went exactly like this:

You seem honest to a fault, so I’m hoping you can give me some tips. I haven’t run more than a 5K because (and this is embarrassing to admit) I have “digestive issues.” I’m terrified to be miles from home without a bathroom. Before a 5K, I swear, I’m in the bathroom ten times because of nerves! How do you handle long runs and races?

“Honest to a fault?” She makes it sound like a bad thing.

All kidding aside, this subject is a very important one. Runners notoriously suffer from bad cases of the trots, or at the very least, an upset stomach. Although I’ve heard many theories explaining this tendency, the most predominant one is that when we run, the blood goes to our muscles and neglects our digestive system. This shunting leads to cramps, turtling, and severe panic about crapping one’s pants.

You may be a liar, or you may be the exception, but this need to evacuate has happened to the best of us, to most of us. I, in particular, have been a victim one too many times.

I’ve done my best to figure out what works to avoid this messy conundrum. The following are a few surefire ways to minimize the risk of crapping one’s pants while running and racing:

  • The single most helpful thing for me has been to eliminate or drastically reduce fiber, dairy and fatty foods up to 36 hours before a long run or race. Typically, my diet is pretty rich in roughage, whole grains, beans, etc. But, I really do change things up the days before the race. I take in lots of water and reduce my intake of fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cheese and any higher fat foods. I’ve had great success with this plan.
  • Overly exerting myself makes things worse. On long runs, I stick to long-run pace (60 to 90 seconds slower than my ideal marathon pace), which helps significantly. In races, I am usually exerting a great deal, so this plan doesn’t work well under those circumstances.
  • Don’t laugh, but I try to get on a strict poop schedule. I train my body by eating and sleeping with a routine in mind (as much as possible). A cup of coffee in the morning usually gets stuff going. Nine times out of 10, if I can get something out before a long run or race, I’m good to go. Occasionally there will be a lingering nugget in there that causes problems, but not usually.
  • It helps to not eat the two hours before a long run or race. Give your body time to digest your pancakes. Once, in all of my naivety, I ate a huge bowl of beef stroganoff right before a run. This decision was a like a huge practical joke I played on myself.
  • Pre-race nerves are clearly an issue and can get stuff moving when you wish it would stay put. That’s why I’ve been known to take multiple dumps on an airplane. I hate to fly, and I’m nervous. Do everything in your power to minimize any extra anxiety on race day. Give yourself enough time, breathe deeply, and think about the nap you will take later. Distraction is a great tool because the mind can only think about one thing at a time. Don’t let it take you hostage.
  • I never mix gels/chews with sports drinks. I choose one or the other. I find that mixing various sugar types and chemicals doesn’t bode well for my colon and me. Ever hear the saying, “Sports drinks and gel, your stomach will give you hell”?
  • I hate to stop and do business during a race. But, it does help to have a backup plan in your mind. Know your potty options. Plan long runs around your favorite bushes or gas-station bathrooms. Study your race map or drive the course so that you know your potty-ops. Taking charge and knowing what to expect may reduce some poop anxiety.
  • I know some people take Imodium to calm things down. I have not tried to mostly because that stuff constipates me. Yes, that is the point, but I find it really messes with my system. I have a hard time getting back to normal, even days later.

Here’s to crap-less runs!

Has anyone had similar experiences or other tips to share? Ever had a bathroom emergency on a long run or during a race?


By Nichols