It is a frequent nightmare for all long distance runners:
You are pounding the pavement, making good time, feeling those endorphins cheering you on. Just as you hit the mid-point, you start to feel a little rumble in your guts. Trying to ignore it, you continue pushing yourself to finish the miles. But that rumble turns into a roar, and before you know it you are slowing down so you can clench your butt-cheeks and avoid a disaster.
Welcome to the running trots, a gastrointestinal complaint that almost all distance runners experience, and yet hardly anyone speaks about. For first time racers, this can be an insanely humiliating realization. But it’s a really common occurrence for long distance runners.
What Causes The Trots?
Experts say it could be the up and down motion, added to the force of your feet hitting the road, which stimulates the bowels. Others claim a lack of blood flow to the GI tract as it is instead diverted to the muscles needed to run. Some believe it is a simple matter of dehydration.
More likely, it is a combination of these three factors alongside diet, your body’s familiarity with long runs (new runners often experience much worse trots than experienced ones), and the intensity of your workout. Just understand that many factors contribute to your bowels wanting to empty themselves somewhere around mile thirteen.
How To Deal (Without Dying Of Embarrassment)
It would be awesome to say this issue disappears over time, but the truth is that every runner is going to run into it occasionally, even after their hundredth marathon. You need to learn how to deal with the issue, without expiring from pure mortification.
- You’ve Got To Relax – First of all, you need to calm down. Stress and anxiety can trigger gastrointestinal problems at the best of times, much less when you are taking part in activities that are known for causing it. Take deep breaths, center yourself, and realize that all runners get the runs on their runs, if you know what I mean. No one is going to judge you for it. Try to know in advance where the rest stops are so you can plan to use the bathroom and avoid having to relieve yourself in public arenas and televised events like these athletes did.
- Plan ahead – Develop a system for relieving yourself before your run. Especially when training for a marathon, get into the habit of unloading your bowels before starting the race. It might not prevent all the GI problems your long distance run can induce, but the less that’s in there at the start, the less that will force its way out during the race.
- Plug Yourself Up – It is possible to combat the problem with a bit of preparation, though at the end of it you are probably going to need some Preparation H. Constipation is a pretty effective – albeit, uncomfortable – solution to runner’s trots. For a couple of days before a big race eat plenty of high fiber foods: leafy vegetables, potatoes, white rice, white bread, etc. Nothing will be moving down there.
- Just Let It Go – What did the legendary Paula Radcliffe teach us? If you gotta go, you gotta go. When you are running in a race it isn’t always feasible to make sure a bathroom is nearby. Making sure you go before the race could work, and at least make you less likely to unload in the middle of it. But otherwise, plan your runs on routes with public toilets along the way. Or run in a gym, or at home on a treadmill.
Everybody Does IT – Especially Runners
In the end, this is a very human, normal problem. It is also one that runners are tragically familiar with. When it happens to you, you can consider it a rite of passage!