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Friday, June 12, 2015
The Scoop on Poop
If you’re like me and my running buddies, we’ve had conversations about just about everything under the sun while on the run, but for some reason, poop rarely makes the list. Everyone wants to ask, but often don’t. Maybe it’s looked at as a sign of weakness, because it’s something we feel we can’t control. Or maybe it’s because of our 5th-grade nature to make fun of poop…example just recently when the football player pooped his pants during a play making national news.
Well, I don’t’ think much is going to change regarding the humor around poop. It will always be the butt of jokes (no pun intended…well maybe, LOL!). So that’s why I’m writing this post on poop. Yes, there will always be those times where out of the blue, you have a gut attack on a run, and you have no idea where it came from or why? You suffer through the run miserable. But there are some things that can be done to lessen the frequency of poop attacks on the run as well as how to better deal with them when they do occur.
I’m somewhat of an expert on this issue. You see, I have ulcerative colitis-an autoimmune disease which affects the gut. I was diagnosed with UC about 15 years ago. Luckily I’ve been able to keep it pretty much in remission, although what’s normal for me probably isn’t normal for a non UC person. Four bathroom visits In a day is the “new normal” for me. That’s good! A person in the midst of a UC flare can go 15+ times a day. Even though my “remission” keeps things pretty tame, I’ve had to learn how to adapt my running accordingly. Below are a few tips that will help anyone dealing with poop issues on the run:
Happens to the Best of Us: I truly think people don’t talk about this topic or seek help, because it makes us look like we are weak, have no control. Well my best advice for that is “get over it.” Even elite runners have bouts with the dreaded poop attack on a run. Paula Radcliffe had to pull off the course in 2005 to take a dump right there in front of everyone. Finishing with a little lighter load, she went on to win the race. I’ll never forget years ago watching the NYC marathon with one of my favorite marathoners, 9-time NYC winner Greta Weiss. She had diarrhea and was running with toilet paper. Of course the press gave her no mercy and had a camera on her the entire race. Even so, she prevailed and won the race. Uta Pippig, the 1996 Women’s winner of the Boston Marathon won that race with cramps and diarrhea. Even Greensboro claim to tennis fame, John Isner had to take a bathroom break during the marathon match in 2010 with Nicolas Mahut. So, you are not alone. Everybody poops.
Food for Thought: A little advance planning with your eating can be a big help in deterring poop attacks. I’m all about a high fiber diet including whole grains, fruits, and veggies. However, these awesome foods are not very run friendly, particularly long-runs. The day before a really long run or an endurance race or event, cut way back on the complex carbs and high fiber foods. You need to stock your body with glycogen which is the fuel you’ll be using on the run, but the day before, eat simple carbs (regular pasta, white bread, white rice, etc.). Yes…you have my permission to each simple carbs the day before a long run. BUT……these simple carbs should not be laden with a lot of fat. High fiber and fatty foods take longer to digest. So, even if you cut back to only simple carbs the day before a long run or race, if all you ate were Dunkin Donuts, all that fat may still be churning in your gut the next day on the run. A churning gut is not what you want on a long run. So, eat the day before. Eat plenty, but keep it simple and low in fat.
Clear the Gut: Reducing bulk is a great way to prevent bathroom issues on the run. Clearing out the pipes before the run is another good method. Having a routine before a long run and/or race is your best bet. Train your body to go to the bathroom after eating your pre-run meal. It can be done. I’ve found that having coffee with my pre-run meal helps. Caffeine causes peristalsis which is what triggers your brain to know it needs to go to the bathroom. Also, I think the warmth of the coffee moves things along. This may mean getting up earlier to eat, drink, and poop. Those few less minutes of sleep are worth it. A friend of mine that has UC has discovered that drinking a glass of Metamucil before going to bed ensures that he’s able to clear his gut before his run. This may not work for everyone, but for him it helps ensure that he’s “empty” for the run. Note: Do not try this the night before a race, if you’ve never tried it before!!!
Back to That Caffeine Thing: Caffeine is a great energy booster. Seems like just about everything now has added caffeine, even many of sports gels. Problem is that the same caffeine that produces an energy boost, can start peristalsis…what tells your brain you need to poop. So, if you’re prone to poop attacks on the run, ask yourself if they tend to happen shortly after taking a gel? If so, and your gels contain caffeine, try using a non-caffeinated gel and see if you get the same result.
Watch the Sugar-Free Foods: Sugar-free sounds good. Lower carbs means lower sugar and high-sugar foods can sometimes upset the GI tract. BUT...many sugar-free foods contain sorbitol which is known to cause diarrhea. Many sugar-free chewing gums and sugar-free hard candy contains sorbitol. So, check the label.
Stay Hydrated: You greatly increase your chance of GI distress when you sweat out 4% of your body weight on a run. That's about 5lbs in a 125lb runner and about 6lbs for a 150lb runner. Six pounds sounds like a lot, but you can easily lose that much fluid on a long run. So, go into your long runs and races well hydrated by drinking water throughout the day before the run. Don't drink to excess, however. Then on the run, be sure to replace fluids by drinking water/sports drink throughout the run.
Stick to Your Routine: Sometimes I think I may appear unsocial when it comes to group race trips because I tend not to partake in the group house sharing. I usually get my own hotel room. Reason? Well, I need to know that I can stick to my race morning routine. I need to know that the bathroom will be free. I need to not be worried that my morning blasts will be heard by all. I need to be relaxed and in my normal routine. Nothing will break your confidence more going into a race than thinking, dang I should have gone to the potty one more time.
Wipes to the Rescue: I’ve had runners tell me many different things they’ve used to clean themselves when surprised by a poop attack during a run with no bathroom available. Everything from socks, to race bibs, to leaves. Be careful with using the natural fauna, the one runner I know that thought using nearby leaves was a good idea soon had a bigger issue…poison ivy. OUCH! If you’re prone to bathroom issues and you’re running an unfamiliar route or if you just want to be on the safe side in a race or long run, try packing some wipes. Take 5 or 6 personal wipes and place them in a Ziploc baggie. Press all the air out, then seal the bag. Fold the bag up and put it in a pocket in your shorts, the little pocket on many hydration belts or handheld water bottles, or just pin it to the inside or outside of your shorts.
Acclimation Baby!: Runner's trots is common among beginning runners. Why? Well increased exercise or just increasing your activity level beyond what your body is used to can cause an overactive GI. Hang in there, your body will adapt. Marathon trainers often experience a similar thing at the onset of their training. Even though they are used to running and have a normally high activity level, when they increase it with added speed workouts and long runs, the body can say , Whoaa!! The body will adapt once if figures out you're going to keep doing this.
“Poop-ouflage”: Prone to bathroom issues? Wear black! May not help with the physical symptoms you’re experiencing, but it will help keep the masses from knowing (at least visually) if you’ve had an accident.
Plot out the Potties: If you’re running city greenways and /or parks, scope out where the public restrooms are located and then plot your running route so that they fall strategically within your route. Even if you don’t need them for a bathroom break, it’s good to know one is along the route just in case. I discovered one such public facility at a ball park along one of our greenways that’s in a perfect location. I can easily run about 7 miles to this location and then do two different out-n-backs from the same facility making for a great 20-mile run. I can use the bathroom if need be as well as refill my water bottle (there’s a water fountain here as well) several times. For race time, find out where the port-o-potties will be located along the race course. If the information is not provided on the race website, email the race director. They should be able to provide you with this information.