Runners with the runs

Most of us will at some point have had that feeling when we’ve set off on a run and then suddenly out of nowhere we HAVE to go to the toilet (we’re talking number 2’s here) and we have to go NOW!

Runner’s trots pop up on Twitter more often than we’d all like. I mean, who really wants to talk about their bowels on social media? But, desperation leads to ‘over sharing’ and the hunt for a cure tempts many into toilet tweets.

So, what are the runner’s trots, why do they happen and what on earth can you do about them?

What are the runner’s trots?
This is a running-related sudden urge to have a poo. It’s usually urgent and the motions are often loose, watery and explosive. Abdominal pain and cramps usually accompany the ‘call to stool’. It can happen before you race, once you start running and for a day or two afterwards too. It’s more common in a race environment or if your run is particularly long, strenuous or intense.

Why do they happen?
There are lots of theories and often it’s a combination of factors. The one that seems to make the most sense to me is that the bowel simply doesn’t appreciate being jiggled up and down. It reacts in anger by wanting to expel its contents. The bowel needs a good blood supply to work properly and once you’re running your muscles are demanding blood too. The bulk of the blood is diverted to your muscles leaving your bowel unable to function normally.

Pre-race bowel movements are often triggered by nerves. That unsettled, anxious feeling you get in your belly due to loads of adrenalin pumping round your body. Food is propelled quickly through the system and there’s not enough time for water to be reabsorbed on the journey so the result is often a loose runny motion.

If you have a pre-existing bowel condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) then you might be more prone to bouts of loose stools when you run. However, running can actually help some IBS sufferers by easing constipation, bloating and reducing stress levels which are a common trigger for IBS.

Another thing that can cause the sudden need to go to the loo in women, is a weak pelvic floor. The muscles supporting the pelvic organs and the lower loops of bowel can’t take the extra pressure that running creates and the sensation that you need to empty your bowel can be overwhelming.

What can you do?

  1. Allow enough time for food to digest before you run. For some people this may be up to 3 hours.
  2. Keep an eye out for foods that might be a trigger for you e.g artificial sweeteners, rich and spicy foods and too much fibre. It might be what you eat the days before you run that’s causing the problems.
  3. Avoid caffeine; that pre-race coffee might speed you up but could be to blame for your speedy bowel too. Watch out for sports gels containing caffeine too.
  4. Try fuelling your long runs with ‘normal food’ rather than sports supplements if gels and sports drinks upset your guts.
  5. Slowly increase the duration and intensity of your runs. Too big a step up can cause the trots. Stick to the 10% rule and let your bowel adjust gradually to the increased effort.
  6. Keep a training diary if you’re badly affected to see if you can spot any triggers such as foods, drinks, fatigue or stress.
  7. Ensure you keep well hydrated. You need extra fluids including electrolytes if you’ve had a bout of diarrhoea.
  8. If nothing is helping then you can try using anti-diarrhoea tablets such as loperamide. Be warned they can bung you up for a day or two and can cause stomach cramps.
  9. Plan your routes and know where the toilets or suitable bushes are. Pack tissues in your running belt, just in case!

See your GP if you’ve noticed a change in your bowel habit persisting for 6 weeks or you see any blood in your stools.

Anyone else care to share their tips?