Q I get diarrhoea; sometimes in the middle of my run and always afterwards. Please can you advise me about this? It's putting me off completely. I need to go so badly sometimes it's all I can think about before and during the run and I worry I might "do a Paula". The last thing I need is to get home and discover I've sharted.
A I loved your question. It had me laughing out loud, reminding me of a scene from the film, Along Came Polly when Philip Seymour Hoffman has to leave an art gallery in haste because he's just "sharted" (meaning: when, to one's mortifying surprise, a gaseous emission from the bowel morphs into something altogether more sinister, and liquified). Much more embarrassing and urgent surely in those circumstances than for you on a solitary run, wearing clothes that were going to need washing anyway.
At least you don’t need to explain why you are running home and avoiding talking to people, this being the obvious point of running in the first place.
Joking aside, “runner’s trots” is a common problem, affecting between 20 and 50 per cent of distance runners.
A range of symptoms are reported from cramping and nausea to bouts of gas and, worst of all, diarrhoea, as in your case. It is not known for certain why this happens but an obvious starting point is the up and down jostling motion generated by running stirring up the bowels and all of their contents.
During a long run, the blood supply ordinarily directed towards the intestines is diverted to the legs which can further trigger cramping and diarrhea.
The first red flag that comes to mind is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or any other bowel disease, and/or lactose intolerance, all of which, if underlying the problem, are most certainly going to be aggravated by running, so do get this investigated by your doctor first and ruled out as the root cause.
The good news is that there are measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of this happening, particularly once those more serious conditions have been ruled out. Take the following tips on board and then trot out on your runs with greater confidence that your bowel will cope.
1Good hydration is absolutely key. And that means drinking plenty of water, not tea or coffee which, remember, act as diuretics and ultimately dehydrate. Not sugary drinks or fruit drinks either which can irritate the bowel, just plenty of good old fashioned H2O from the tap (as a guide, 16oz of water an hour, roughly two glasses, before a run is ideal to allow any excess to pass through before the run), and remain well hydrated throughout the day, every day.
Any warm drink can speed up the movement of waste products through the intestines thus potentially setting you up for a sharting episode, so stick to cold water from the tap to be on the safe side.
2 Try to avoid eating for at least two hours before going for a run – the presence of any food in the stomach will only make matters worse. Limit your intake of dairy products which can irritate the bowel, and remember to investigate and rule out an underlying lactose intolerance.
3Don’t go nuts for highly fibrous foods in the meal preceding your long run.
4Ideally go running after a big bowel movement.
5Get to know your bowel movements better by keeping a food diary, familiarising yourself with the relationship between the two: what you eat with when and how you defecate. Once you are clear on which specific foods produce the loose stools, you can avoid eating them, particularly in the meal preceding a run.
6If you are racing and are anxious about having an episode during the race, get yourself some immodium or a similar over- the-counter product, which will put your mind at rest and enable you to focus on the task in hand.
7 Make sure your regular running route includes a toilet facility. Because you often develop the urgency while running, you will be able to plan your route according to where the toilet is and this will give you the confidence to go running anyway, knowing this backup – pun intended – is available.
Let’s not forget that in general terms, running is an excellent thing for the bowel, for stimulating peristalsis (movement of waste products through the gut) and for maintaining bowel health. This may be why there is a decreased incidence of colon cancer among regular runners.
So any readers with arse-shaped dents in their sofas and an army of excuses as to why they don't run, please don't add the risk of sharting to your list. Ruth Field is author of Run Fat B!tch Run, Get Your Sh!t Together and Cut the Crap.