Running & S****ing
March 24, 2012 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Two weeks today I'm running a half-marathon (my first). The running is not the problem; issues with my digestion and its effects are. How can I deal with running and the need to poop?

I'm down to run a half-marathon in fourteen days. I haven't run this distance before, although I'm pretty proficient at shorter distances. I've been training hard, and I'm confident that all else being equal I can do the distance without too much pain and suffering. But there's a complication. I have had a medical condition related to my stomach and oesophagus for a few years now, for which I take daily medication. One of the side effects of this med regime is that I experience some IBS-like symptoms (hell, it could really be IBS to be honest): the chronic urgent need to poop which cannot be quelled, bouts of appalling fecal laxity, you get the picture, but it's all extremely unpredictable. Believe me when I say diet doesn't change this, and the meds have been juggled and chopped and changed and the regime I'm currently on is an improvement to how things were. So, with my running, I can be merrily out on the road in the middle of nowhere and get suddenly horribly gripped by a all-powerful need to shit, and it's impossible to carry on. After a couple of close things, I settled on a scheme: how it usually works is I go out first thing in a morning, twice a week, and I make sure that the day before I eat a very light lunch and then skip dinner entirely, so that I have very little in my system, physically, and this will be alright for me to get through an hour's running. But as I've increased my distances in these morning runs in prep for the half-marathon, I've found that with this scheme of very limited food intake 24 hours before running, I find the second hour extremely hard going indeed, almost impossible. So I was wondering if the hive mind has something insight here. Is this a common problem for runners (I don't know any to ask)? Can it be overcome by eating normally, and then taking some sort of pill (like an anti-diarrhea pill) to jam myself all up inside? Or can I get energy from non-food forms, like runners drinks or bars or gels or something? Any other idea about energy-rich foods that will have a very very light impact on my digestive system?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Gels and drinks don't generally provide enough bulk to make you need to stop, so that is one thing that might work for you. I generally take one gel around mile 6 or so and find that I'm good to the end on that. I run about a 2 hour half. I don't have your same medical condition, so obviously YMMV.

You will also find that most well-run half-marathons have porta-potties set up at every water stop (generally every mile and a half or so). Its obviously not ideal to have to stop mid-race, but it may comfort you to know that the option is usually available. I often take a moist towelette to wipe my face (gels are sticky!) but it could perform double duty.

The key thing is that WHATEVER you do, you want to practice on your long runs. Try out your gel and your energy drink. You may find that something bothers you under stress that wouldn't bother you when you are just chilling out. Try to replicate your race conditions as carefully as you can during your practice runs. Personally, I think fasting for 12 hours prior to your race is never going to be an ideal solution. I'd probably blow up mid-race if I did that.
posted by Lame_username at 6:58 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I usually get up early, like hours before the race and drink coffee, and eat something light. Can you have coffee? I think it helps to go before you even leave the house.

I think having to go while running is pretty common.
posted by katinka-katinka at 6:59 PM on March 24, 2012

My daughter had some variety of IBS or c dif a couple of years ago, and my doctor strongly recommended VSL 3 probiotic as being far, far above most probiotics. It's expensive, but to me, it would be worth it for a half marathon prep. Apparently it's succeasfully used to treat severe Crohn's. Good stuff.
posted by instamatic at 7:14 PM on March 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

You say that your diet doesn't affect your bouts of unpredictable urgency (which I question, though fourteen days won't be enough to find out) so I'm confused about your last question Can it be overcome by eating normally, and then taking some sort of pill (like an anti-diarrhea pill) to jam myself all up inside? Unless you have taken these pills successfully in the past or try it out this week, I wouldn't rely on that to work on race day.

As for "Is it normal" -- Many people experience this. What you're describing is sometimes called "Runner's Trots" (sudden urgent need to poop during a run). You can read up on it here (mayo clinic blog post) here (runner's world forums) and here (running blog - informative post!). Search Runner's World (and Google, obvs) for more.

If your half marathon is going to last for longer than an hour, you will want to think about nutrition no matter what. Determine what is a safe calorie boost for your system, and plan on having a small dose of that a half hour before your run and then every fifteen minutes or so during the race. As @Lame_username said, practice during a pre-race long run. You should be able to finish without feeling like you're going to pass out.

I wouldn't recommend coffee as it acts as a stimulant, but I would recommend waking up early to eliminate before the race. Eat something safe for breakfast, if such a thing exists. (Probiotic yogurt would be a great thing to try this week!)

You can also check the race organizer's website to get a route map, which should indicate bathroom pit stops. Knowing there's a bathroom if/when you need one could keep things less stressful, and certainly this should be a good experience and not a stressful one.

Good luck!
posted by ariela at 7:23 PM on March 24, 2012

Just to clarify on the Runner's Trots thing: What you're describing sounds more like a medical problem than a specific-to-exercise issue, but the "urgent need to poop" is definitely something other non-IBS-afflicted people can have, and your medical condition may be triggering that.
posted by ariela at 7:27 PM on March 24, 2012

Just throwing this out there-- is an enema the morning of the race totally out of the question? No fasting in that case, which seems like a bonus to me.
posted by devymetal at 7:34 PM on March 24, 2012

If your half marathon is going to last for longer than an hour
If it is going to last less than an hour, we should be asking you the running questions!
posted by Lame_username at 5:47 AM on March 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Iron supplements are pretty constipating. You would want to check on interactions with whatever other medications you're taking.

On the gels, I assume they're sugary and/or caffeinated? (Haven't used them myself.) I used to have a fruit smoothie and coffee before running, and often experienced urgency; now that I don't do that anymore, no issue. So I'd be cautious about the gels. Caffeine in particular is so great for running because it gets the legs going but also gets other systems going.
posted by lakeroon at 5:50 AM on March 25, 2012

A strategy that a marathon-running friend of mine uses is to switch to Ensure the afternoon/evening before races. But you will also need to make sure to have enough nutrition (a gel, gu, etc) during the race.
posted by statsgirl at 6:47 AM on March 25, 2012

As for speculation on the dietary end of things, you might benefit from experimenting with the Low FODMAP Diet. I'm no expert, but do have a temperamental digestive system, and have found that my own experience jibes with some of the mandates of the diet concerning avoiding items high in certain complex sugars.

By googling "Complete FODMAP List For a Happy Gut" you'll find an, uh, complete FODMAP list for a happy gut on Cassandra Forsythe's site that I've found useful, if perhaps not authoritative.

Oh, and if you're drinking sports drinks and consuming supplemental stuff during the race I'd recommend thinking about avoiding the dye Red #40. It seems to aggravate the old GI system, especially on an empty or empty-ish stomach.
posted by mr. digits at 7:21 AM on March 25, 2012

Nthing caution on the gels. Many people find they, uh, promote the kind of action you're trying to avoid. Definitely experiment beforehand.

More generally, assuming - perhaps for the purposes of this question somewhat stupidly - that you can find something to eat the night before a race, and maybe just a touch of a little something when you're up very early in the morning (even just a yoghurt, some plain bread, whatever); you shouldn't need any food during a race of that distance.

I, too, have a stomach condition (colitis), that can result in unpredictable things, and I have found when I'm going to race, that pre-race nerves pretty much ensures there's very little in the tank by time I hit the starting line (do get there early if you don't live just down the road; queques for toilets pre-race will be intense, I promise you). Additionally, once the race starts, I may get the occasional twinge, but to be honest, I'm very focused on maintaining my splits etc so it doesn't distract too much. Also, I don't drink too much when I'm on the course, that would be a recipe for disaster, and for a half run in cool mornings, assuming you're not dehydrated to start with, you shouldn't need to drink too much, or perhaps anything at all according to the best data I can find. Certainly, in my last half I wouldn't have drunk more than 60-90mls over the course, and I posted 1:44 with no ill effects after. Good luck!
posted by smoke at 2:48 PM on March 25, 2012

This sounds like something you should consult your doctor about since it relates to your specific condition rather than half-marathons ingeneral.

I find that overeating the day or two before a long run creates GI problems, as do specific brands of fuel (for me). Only way to tell is to test in training.
posted by mikewas at 6:36 PM on March 25, 2012

If your half marathon is going to last for longer than an hour
If it is going to last less than an hour, we should be asking you the running questions!
Heh. I suppose I meant if hir long runs (including those before the race) were going to last for longer than an hour... :) Damn, I wish I was even close to that fast...
posted by ariela at 9:43 PM on March 26, 2012

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