OK, I have to warn you what you’re about to read is neither charming nor particularly pleasant. It’s not the kind of topic you can coolly slip into conversation at a casual social gathering. It’s not even the kind of thing you would necessarily approach your GP with for medical advice. In fact it’s probably not something you find easy to discuss with anyone, even people you have a pretty good idea share your woes. It is, however, a big deal for many people like me who suffer with this in some form or another on a regular basis.
Now’s your chance to bail out!
I understand if you don’t want to read further. The information that is about to follow is something you can do without in your life if you don’t need it, believe me. If, on the other hand, you, like me, often incorporate a little “involuntary lower-ab work” into your running sessions then you might find the following of some use.
Still with me? OK then, brace yourself. Here we go…
Let’s cut to the chase. I’m talking, of course, about ‘Runner’s Trots’, or “exercise-induced, compulsory defecation”. See, told you it was an uncomfortable topic. However unpleasant the definition sounds, though, the reality is much worse.
On any given run, there usually comes a point when a call of the wild is raised and my concentration is brought crashing back towards the painful griping and gargling going on deep within my gizzards. This can be after 4 or 5 miles or almost immediately after I begin – it really is a lottery sometimes. On last night’s 7-miler, its onset began after only a mile. Being another mile from home at that point forced me to make a decision – did I grit my teeth and bear it or succumb and make a pit-stop? Call it mental weakness but I opted for the latter; the positive after-effects being a 1-mile, 06:50 stride to re-group with the others!
I’ve had this for as long as I can remember so I’m well conversed by now with gauging how far I can continue before the point of no return, as it were. Sometimes this is before my planned finish point and an “unauthorised stop” is called for. An emergency kit of toilet-paper, hand-sanitiser and a mobile phone are regular features in my running kit. The intensity of the problem seems to be directly proportional to the intensity of my effort, too. A stride or tempo session usually causes me more problems than a slower distance-run. Things seem to be getting more frequent, though, and therein lies a problem. Come marathon race day, I can’t count on being able to ‘just nip to the loo’ like I can when I’m passing home. I really need to do something about it if I can to break the habit and destroy my mental barriers.
So what’s going on?
Well, after last night’s caper I set off on a quest for knowledge intent on finding out more. The first thing I discovered is that it is a much more common complaint than I would have at first given credit. The estimations are that somewhere between 40% and 60% of runners suffer with this in one form or another. That’s a lot of people! There’s some mystery surrounding the exact causes of Runner’s Trots, but what does seem to be widely accepted is that it is likely to be associated with the diversion of blood flow away from the gastrointestinal tract. As exercise occurs, blood which normally feeds the gut with oxygen and removes water is diverted to feed the muscles who need it more. It’s a biological case of he who shouts loudest. The trouble is the gut, now starved by as much as 80% of its normal oxygen requirements, still has to go about its business, including getting rid of its water, and now void of its usual method of transportation it is left with only one exit strategy. Oh joy. The harder you run, the more oxygen your muscles need, therefore the more blood gets diverted and the less oxygen your poor old gut has to perform its duty. Makes perfect sense.
So, given that muscles will always need more oxygen when working hard, how can I avoid it?
Well it seems there are some things you can do or avoid to help the problem, so here are the best of the top tips out there for avoiding the trots:
Tip #1: Plan Meal Times. Avoid eating for at least two hours before exercise – food in your stomach will only make things worse or contribute to the problem so don’t make things worse for yourself unnecessarily. Allow 4 to 6 hours after a large meal before running hard. Also, a pre-run meal of any of the following can help to dam the river, as they serve to slow down the gut and effectively constipate:
- plain bagels
Tip #2: Avoid Caffeine. Oops. According to advice, “avoid the intake of caffeine and warm fluids as it is possible for this to speed up the movement of wastes through the intestines”. As anyone who knows me knows, I’m partial to a cup of tea. Thing is I like ’em strong too – strong enough to skate a mouse across the top. In a normal day I’d have about 5 cups in a morning, probably 3 or 4 in the afternoon and another 3 or 4 on an evening. Crikey, that’s a lot now I look at it. I think I’m going to have to cut down. Caffeine comes in all kinds of forms too. Energy bars and drinks sometimes contain it and “decaffeinated” drinks sometimes are only reduced in caffeine. Brilliant.
Tip #3: Avoid Sugars. Doubly so artificial sweeteners (although that’s not easy – artificial sweeteners are literally everwhere!). Drinks like fruit juices and milk also both contain sugars – lactose and fructose respectively. Fructose is particularly aggravating. A regular day for me consists of at least an apple, a pear, a banana and an orange. Or should I say did consist. And here I was thinking “I know, I’ll eat lots of fruit, that’s good for me”. I suppose it would be if I wasn’t pushing my body hard several times a week. Ah well, at least I can carry on eating lots of vegetables. I do like my veg. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to give those up.
Tip #4: Watch the amount of fibre, fat and spicy foods you eat. Athletes with a high fibre intake reported more GI complaints than those with less fiber. Cut back on high fiber cereals and, if needed, fruits, whole grains and veggies. Oh great. I guess I could always cut out a little more fat but avoiding fibre is a toughy. I already know that nuts like me less than I like them, so they’re out of bounds most of the time but I always thought fibre was good for you. I rely on porridge for my breakfast.
Is there anything I can eat?!!
Tip #5: Avoid alcohol. As well as making you walk, talk and dance funny, alcohol can irritate the intestines. For many health reasons, moderate alcohol intake. Thankfully I hardly ever drink nowadays so I can comfortably write this off my ‘hit list’
Tip #6: Minimise Dairy Products. An intolerance to lactose, however minor, can add to your problems. Often people have a dairy intolerance without knowing but exercise amplifies the symptoms and you might not be aware. If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience gas, bloating, and diarrhoea. It may be wise to see your GP if you suspect you could have this but there are lactose-free alternatives out there.
I guess, as I’ve posted before, it’s all about balance, and most things are OK in moderation.
Tip #7: Drink plenty of water. For many, many reasons, drink plenty of water. Dehydration slows the body’s ability to digest foods and sets the stage for intestinal trouble. ‘Nuff said.
So, it is with this new knowledge that I have decided to make some changes in the spirit of experimentation and in the hope of a more enjoyable speed session next time round. After all, it was Einstein who said “The definition if insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Can’t argue with that.
Starting today I have (under great duress) reduced my intake of tea. Only 3 cups this morning (it would have been 2 but I needed one to accompany a scone made by my son for elevenses!), and none this afternoon or this evening. I have also cut out my usual daily bounty of fruit. When I think about how much natural sugar I was ingesting it is actually quite an amount. I’ll give all this a few days and see how I go on next week’s faster sessions.
If you’ve got this far only because of a macabre inability to look away then hey, you might have had your eyes opened to something you wouldn’t have otherwise. I did warn you though! To conclude I want to thank everyone who has been open to discussing this with me. It’s a difficult subject to raise and an even more difficult one to contribute to, so I want to sincerely thank everyone who has felt comfortable enough to open up to me and share. It really helps.
And all manner of Google searches. There’s more material out there than you might imagine!