There’s an old bit from a Robin Williams stand-up routine: a marathon runner crosses the finish line and he’s being interviewed. “How do you feel?” the interviewer asks him.
“I’m alive!” the marathoner shouts. “I’m covered in my own shit – but I’m alive!”
It’s one part funny and two parts gross – like all poop jokes – but there’s some truth in there, goal crushers: runners tend to run into a lot, and I mean way too many, gastrointestinal problems on long runs. More than one marathon runner has had to interrupt their run to go dash to the port-a-potty (or even worse, a close-by bush) and answer the call of the wild at the worst possible time.
How is This a Thing?
Runner’s Diarrhea is distressingly common. A combination of the stress and excitement leading up to a race, the fact that blood migrates away from your intestines to power your muscles during a run, and poor choices when it comes to pre-race food can cause your innards to tie themselves up in knots and then leave you no choice but to evacuate your bowels – usually in the middle of a race or a run when you’re far from any gas station bathrooms. It’s so common that some scientific journals have found as many as 93 percent of runners have had at least one symptom of gastrointestinal distress during a long run or a race, whether it’s gas, cramping, or having to make a mad dash for the tree line.
Please Tell Me There’s a Way to Avoid It!
Don’t worry – not every long-distance runner ends up pooping themselves on race day. There are plenty of things you can do to reduce your chances of encountering GI distress while long-distance running. The biggest is making sure you don’t have anything in your system in the first place. Don’t eat anything up at least two hours before race time. This doesn’t include water of course – you’ve got to stay hydrated – but some nutritionists say that warm water should be avoided, as it has the annoying habit of kick-starting your gastrointestinal gag reflex, if you know what I mean.
Additionally, make sure your diet in the days leading up to your long run is relatively devoid of dairy, fatty foods, and high-fiber foods – basically the types of foods that help you go if you need to. As long as you continue to drink plenty of water you won’t run the risk of becoming constipated, but your body’s need to eliminate waste should slow down pretty dramatically as a result.
Finally, if you’re really worried that you’ll end up on the local news with your running shorts around your ankles and a roll of toilet paper in your hands, you can always take some Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, or a similar “gastric distress” product just prior to race time. Yes, this might end up backing you up worse than I-95 at rush hour, but if the alternative is to poop your pants on a run, the temporary (and very much private) pain and suffering may be worth it.
If All Else Fails…
Of course, sometimes not all the prep in the world can guarantee you a poop-free long distance run. Best advice in this case is to take a look at the route ahead of time and see if there are any places you can relieve yourself safely and securely. If you’re going to be traveling an urban route, look for restaurants, gas stations, and other places along the route that you can make a pit stop safely. Scout out the locations of any port-a-johnnies beforehand as well, if you can. Otherwise, just pray that your guts don’t start a-gurgling!
What about you? Ever end up with bubble-gut while on a run? Share your own stories below – or tips on how to avoid the ignoble fate of crapping in public.
Until next time – keep crushing those goals!