Disclaimer: If you’re not comfortable with discussing bodily functions then move along.
You know all those memes about coffee and poop? You definitely do! Stop lying! Here’s one: “I don’t always have a Starbucks coffee, but when I do, I immediately have to poop.”
While running a 21km road race in 2019, I was shocked by something that I saw. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more terrible for someone in my life.
We were nearing the end of the race and I had plateaued with one lady and she suddenly trailed off to the pavement. She rushed to pull down her pants and assume a squat position. I thought she desperately needed to pee but obviously I didn’t stop to stare. I continued running. I had my earphones in (I know you’re not meant to), and even over the beats of Kanye West, I blatantly heard her sh*t herself. She couldn’t even make it up a side road – that is obviously how badly she just needed to “go”.
After googling this topic, it’s very obvious that this is something that many runners tend to have problems with at some point in their running “career”. I have also had a few of the girls in the group share their TMI information with me, but I’m a runner, so bring it on! With many more of you taking on longer distances at the moment, I thought now would be a good time for us to dive into why this happens and what we can do to avoid it.
Why is this something that happens?
1. Blood flow being redirected
2. Pre-race/pre-run anxiety
1. Basically, when you’re running, your body diverts the blood that would usually be within your digestive tract and shifts it to the spots we need it most in order to smash out a run that everyone will give us “kudos” for. Due to this happening, the food takes a longer amount of time to digest, which means that whilst we are pounding the ground, our tummies are taking quite a knock with all that food left in them. This in turn, leads to an upset stomach. It can present itself through reflux, vomiting, or the other end. #Awks for when you’re that lady in the first story I mentioned.
2. The connection between our mental health and our guts is not something to be doubted. Anxiety without running can already cause stomach issues for plenty of people, so adding anxiety to the mix of a race can lead to runners tummy too.
3. Cortisol is a stress hormone which can be released after high endurance exercise. This can lead to the feeling of needing to “go.”
4. This topic will be addressed more below as I outline the foods which you should steer clear of when working towards a long run, however just know that there are certain foods which can increase the chances of this happening to you.
Things we can do to prevent this:
Before a longer run, keep the high fat foods at bay. Fat tends to take much longer to digest, and so rather than a steak, opt for the chicken. Things like whole wheat toast, oats or bananas are also good options pre-race.
Stay hydrated ahead of the race. Water water water!
Unless if you know your stomach well, coffee before a run is an absolute no no. It acts as a natural laxative for most people and so this seriously is one to not take on.
If you’re curious about running with the gels and sweets that people speak of, perhaps test them out in our CMIYC runs so that you can see how your body reacts – you know we won’t judge if you need to stop at a petrol station en route.
Dried fruit and bulky veg is also not the greatest idea for a race due to their high fibre content.
The more I read about gastrointestinal issues, the more frustrated I become. Scientists are exploring more about the gut-mind relationship and the impact that our bodies “second brain” may have on us. I don’t even mean constipation or diarrhoea. I am talking about things you’d not even think of as a contributing factor to your gut. Things like mood swings and depression to anxiety and stress. Stress free living is definitely the way to go – now is the time where we all just disappear to the beach for a while!
As fascinating as microbiome and gut health topics are, it would be great if we could just eat and poop as we’d like, when we’d like, but seeing as that’s definitely not the case, I think that when taking on longer distances, give this article a think and perhaps do a little more reading yourself, because I don’t know about you, but I sure as shit (pun intended) don’t ever want to be that person from the beginning of this post. 😀