Running is hard enough when your stomach isn’t rebelling against you with every step. But when the urge to dash to the nearest port-a-potty strikes before you’re even at Mile 1 during a race, that can make an event turn from fun to mortifying. Don’t be embarrassed though: “Runner’s trots” are common enough to warrant their own name. With a bit of preemptive work, you can avoid in-run runs (ahem).
6 Ways to Prevent “The Runs”
1. Don’t fill up on fiber prerun. Since fiber—while incredibly healthy—tends to make you have to “go,” skip the big salad right before a run. Ditto most fruits and high-fiber cereals. Or, at least, give yourself a bit of time between eating and running—especially in the morning.
2. Skip the coffee, or drink it with enough time between your a.m. jolt of caffeine and your morning run. Caffeine can stimulate the bowels, which can be a great thing if you have a bit of time before you’re heading out the door, or a dangerous thing if you’re drinking an espresso right before your run.
3. Don’t eat and run. Some people can have a snack as they run out the door, but if you’re prone to runner’s trots, you’ll want to give yourself around 90 minutes to 2 hours between a snack and your run.
4. Know your triggers. This is sort of the same as the first two tips, but a bit more personal. If you have trouble on some runs but not others, start keeping a journal of what you ate in the few hours before every run, and a couple of notes (in code, if you’re nervous about others seeing it!) about when you’re hitting the restroom in the hours before and during your run. Then look for patterns that cause you to sprint for the nearest large tree midrun, and look at what you did on the days your stomach behaved. You’ll start to notice certain behaviors and habits to avoid and ones to keep up.
5. Don’t have time to wait around before you run? Plan your run route with a good stopping spot when you typically need to go. For most people, that’s in the beginning of the run, about a mile or so in. So having a coffee shop or a McDonald’s that you can duck into can be extremely helpful.
6. Keep calm, and don’t stress about it. Often, stress affects our bowel movements so, ironically, worrying about needing to poop on a run may actually make you have to poop on that run!
How to Make the Right Food Choice Prerun
The key to a good prerun meal is to keep it light. Too much of anything—carbs, protein or fat—will leave you feeling heavy and potentially lead to the need to void in-run. Lead dietitian for the Pan Am Games Nanci Guest, MSc, RD, CSCS, has a few easy prerun meals and snacks that will leave you run-ready while avoiding GI issues. The trick? Combining a small amount of fast-burning carbs with some lean protein while avoiding high amounts of fat and fiber.
Here are some small meals to try:
1. Lower-fiber toast with a thin spread of peanut butter
2. White rice with a small amount of protein (1 ounce chicken or fish), with a small amount of easy-to-digest vegetables like cooked peas or carrots
3. Banana and 1/2 cup skim milk
4. 1/2 bagel with nothing on it or spread thinly with jam or low-fat cream cheese
Luckily, race days are often accompanied by enough nerves that you’ll be hitting the toilets long before the start of the race. Sticking to your normal routine and prerun meals is ultraimportant on these days. For example, if you have coffee every morning, make sure you have it, otherwise you may end up a bit bound up before your race start. But if you’re not a habitual coffee drinker, this isn’t the time to start a new habit. A race is not the time to try a new energy gel or prerace meal. Stick with what you know fuels your run right.
Lastly, if you’re really nervous about needing to run to a restroom along the race course, do an easy warm-up jog or run before the race start to loosen things up and get your bowels and legs moving. And don’t stress—a lot of courses have port-a-potties along the way, so you should be able to make it to one if the urge strikes. Remember: Stressing about it will only make matters worse!
Good luck out there, and remember: It’s not just you. Odds are, that guy you just passed on the trail is having the same problems you are!