In her fortnightly column for The Irish Times Health Plus, Ruth Field (writer of Run Fat B!tch Run) and her alter ego The Grit Doctor deal with a running query on the most personal of issues
I HAVE another 5km next month! My latest hiccup in training is the desperate need to empty my bowels after about 20 minutes of running! Ewww.
This is in fact quite a common problem among beginners and elite athletes alike and across the whole spectrum in between.
I am always delighted for the positive impact a good long run has on my bowels. My goodness, if you are in any way stuck in that area, a run will almost certainly get things moving again.
And this is a very good thing – all those waste products flushing out of you thick and fast, so be grateful that everything is working so well down there. It is also a huge bonus that the massive roast dinner with all the trimmings that you ate on Sunday is coming out the other end rather than settling nicely into rolls of fat around your thighs . . .
However, it is not cool when the urge to go is so overpowering mid-run that it is stopping you completing your circuit. If and when this happens again:
Relieve yourself as soon as you can when you feel the need to go.
Bring some toilet paper with you on runs so that you can relieve yourself without the whole incident turning into a train smash.
Never try and hold it in on a run and wait till you get home. This will make you extremely uncomfortable and bloated and possibly constipated too, so is to be avoided at all costs.
But prevention is better than cure in this case. Your body may well be adjusting to all this new vigorous activity and will no doubt settle down in due course but in the meantime there are a few things you can try to help prevent it happening again: Try and get your bowels going before you set off on your run. A strong cup of coffee and some stretching might be enough to do the trick, or if you have the luxury of choosing when to run over the course of your day, wait till after you have emptied your bowels before setting off.
Give yourself some time sitting on the loo before your 5k race. Nerves and excitement pre-race ought to loosen you up nicely.
Sports drinks can have a big impact on your bowels. Avoid them.
Make sure you are properly hydrated at all times.
Analyse your diet. It may be that you are eating a lot of fruit and veg if you are trying to lose weight and this is a good thing, but reorganising when you eat it may help stave off the urge to go mid-run. Make sure you are eating enough fibre.
In major races, there are portaloos along the route, investigate if this is the case in your upcoming 5km race. If there are no portaloos along the route, bring toilet paper just in case and pray that you won’t need to use it!
If your prayers go unanswered and you are in grave danger of doing it in your knickers, find a discreet bush or tree. Fellow runners are quite forgiving and understand the predicament.
Unless you are trying for a personal best or are an elite athlete, or are simply a grit-fiend gone mad, there is no need to go on the run during a race. Avoid doing any of this on a training run as you may end up getting arrested.
A tale to make you feel better: Paula Radcliffe was four miles from winning the 2005 London Marathon when she stopped suddenly, moved quickly to the side of the course and took a dump right there on the street within two feet of a startled spectator.
“I didn’t really want to resort to that in front of hundreds of thousands of people,” she said. “But when I’m racing, I’m totally focused on winning the race and running as fast as possible. I thought, I just need to go and I’ll be fine.”
She had been struggling in the preceding miles but after her pit-stop she breezed through the next four miles to win by more than five minutes and set a world record.
It turns out to be extremely common among athletes and indeed, perfectly acceptable behaviour for elite athletes. Gives us all something to aim for eh?
The Grit Doctor says:
When feeling particularly s***ty, remember that it happens to the best of them.
Tweet your running queries to Ruth at: @gritdoctor.