How to Keep Your Next Run from Ending in the Port-a-Potty

Hi CNC readers! I’m Theodora, and I blog over at Losing Weight in the City about maintaining my 50-pound weight loss through running and healthy eating without sacrificing my fun NYC lifestyle.

When Tina started having her digestive issues recently, my heart really went out to her. I wanted to go up to Boston and just give her a huge hug. Not only could I tell how upset she was, but I knew exactly how she felt.

Since I graduated college six years ago, I’ve been dealing with digestive issues of my own. While at least I mostly know what I’m dealing with now, it’s still not fun and I remember being as scared as Tina was when they first came on–just as suddenly as hers did.

But like Tina, I haven’t let my digestive issues get in the way of running. I’ve run a marathon, six half-marathons and countless shorter races and only had to stop to use the bathroom during a race once.

I am not a doctor or a medical expert, just an expert in having to plan running routes around bathrooms, so if you are having your own stomach issues, please have them checked out by a doctor.

Here are my tips on how to avoid the runs while running (or if you can’t avoid them, how to deal with them):

Immodium: Honestly, before a long race or run, Immodium is my BFF. (I even took it before my marathon.) If my stomach feels upset at all, I take it. While it makes you a bit more dehydrated, to me, that’s worth not potentially having to stop five times to use the bathroom. I always make sure to drink extra water if I do. As with anything running-related, do not try this for the first time on race day.

Drink plenty of water: Even if you’re not taking Immodium, running is dehydrating and can lead to an upset stomach because of dehydration, so make sure you’re drinking tons of water. (Which you should be doing anyway, obviously.) I also like to use this as a good excuse to drink coconut water. I mean, I’m doing it for the good of my stomach.

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Find what works for you: I know a popular pre-run breakfast for many is toast or an English muffin with a nut butter and a banana, but this would be way too heavy for me. In fact, before my marathon, all I had to eat was a Luna bar and a banana, because I knew it worked for me and I didn’t want to deal with 26.2 miles of an upset stomach. Sometimes my stomach can’t even handle that, and I have to eat even less before I run. During my 16-miler at the Healthy Living Summit last summer, my stomach was really bothering me, and I couldn’t stomach anything to eat before my long run. I brought extra Gus with me, and sucked back on them while running.

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Know where bathrooms are. Thankfully, in NYC, where I live, there are no shortages of bathrooms. On my 15-miler last summer, I needed to stop twice and I stopped in a nail salon and Whole Foods. There’s no shame: when you gotta go, you gotta go. (I sometimes get a little jealous of my less-urban runner friends who can just go in a bush.)
 
Get plenty of rest. So many digestive issues stem from stress, so make sure to give yourself some downtime, too.
 
Breathe through it. When I get the rumbles while running, sometimes slowing down and just being aware of my breath helps calm down my stomach for at least a little while.

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(This is not how you breathe through it, though.)
 
Just have fun! Unless you’re getting paid to run, it should be fun. It’s fine to take it seriously (and I do), but never take it so seriously that it causes you more stomach issues! Like Tina, I’m also training for the 2011 NYC Marathon! Come follow my training over on my blog.

49 Comments

  1. What a great post, thank you for sharing! I have HORRIBLE digestive issues so I’m with you on that. You just have to keep going or take care of it! I once let my stomach issues define me and define what I did everyday, now I just take the proper precautions so I can continue living.

  2. I am running my first half marathon next weekend and I was mildly freaking out about this because for some reason hills make me gotta go really bad…. wierd?! Eating before a race doesn’t work for me; I just pack extra mid-run fuel and go with it!

  3. So nice to ‘meet’ you Theodora! 🙂

    I used to struggle with digestive issues that were worsened by running as well but have been able to overcome them through stress reduction and diet changes (less dairy.) Your tips are great and my heart really goes out to all the runners that struggle with tummy troubles!

    Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

  4. I’m so glad someone finally wrote about this. When I run outside I stay close to home because of bathroom issues. I’ve been afraid to run a half marathon because of it. I’ve read on the internet this is a big issue for runners but can never find anyone with any advise on how to help the problem. I’ve been to the dr. and they say nothing is wrong, but it just doesn’t seem normal. Thanks to your blog I think I’m finally ready to try and run a half marathon, of course I’ll have the imodium handy. Thanks for the advise.

  5. Hahah — I was half expecting (and secretly hoping) you were going to explain how to deal with pooping your pants on long runs. I think I would have had to give you a medal, had you written that. Thanks for the fun post though, Theodora! AND love the last picture — amazing

  6. Be aware coconut water has some magnesium, which makes you poo in larger doses. I drink mine after activities, never during. That’s mostly because I’m a hypochondriac… but still.

  7. Nausea is something I know all too well during long runs unfortunately. But many of these tips I utilized through my marathon training, and I was able to complete it without a single trip to the bathroom! It was after that the intense nausea and dehydration hit, but I was happy to have made it through. It can be very upsetting and even scary when dealing with issues while running.

  8. Awesome post! Why do you need an excuse to drink coconut water? If it’s because of the price… I’m with ya! So delicious, yet so pricy.

  9. As someone who also suffers from GI issues, I am also very careful about what I eat the night before a race. I usually have something very simple like a couple of peanut butter sandwiches the night before, so that I won’t have an upset stomach in the morning. I also find that if I fuel properly the night before I can run a half marathon without eating the morning of the race (in fact, I do it every weekend). I guess everyone is different, but I do recommend being careful for at least a couple of days before the race, not just the day of.

  10. Love all this info! My poor sister actually had to watch a woman pee along side of the road in a half marathon we ran a few years ago. She was really upset when that woman ended up beating her.

    I also love the last pic. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Great post! I have problems with my tummy too, but they seem to be mostly stress related so they usually lead up to the race (including that morning) but then during the actual race I am okay. I also can’t do peanut butter before though- I have to shove food in my mouth most of the time!

  12. I have a lot of problems with this and not only while running, but also during high impact classes (ex: Body Attack). I often have to run out of class to “take care of business”. It’s incredibly annoying, uncomfortable and people always stare when you come back into class like you’re weak or needed a break… I’m still in the progress of figuring out the right foods to eat before/after and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there with these issues.

  13. awesome guest post 🙂 I feel better knowing that stomach issues and running isn’t just something I have to plan for, I’m not alone! I had a small bowl of soup before my half marathon and it shocked my friends that I didn’t want to eat a ton for fuel but I was afraid I’d have stomach problems the whole time! Thanks for the tips!

  14. I love this post! Theodora, you are hilarious, and this information is really practical and insightful!
    I had my first “uh oh – gotta cut this long run short” issue last weekend and this post couldnt come at a better time.
    Question for you – and I’m totally putting this out there even though it may be a TMI question – how long after a race do you “go” after having taken Immodium? It doesn’t hold “things” up for days or anything, does it? So long as you rehydrate?

  15. Love the title! Runner’s Rhea is my biggest fear with my upcoming marathon. I hate immodium because it makes me blocked up…man IBS sucks! Thanks for being honest about the whole thing!

  16. Thanks for the tips. I also cannot eat too much before a race. It seems like everything else I read tells me eating is necessary, or to eat a certain number of calories. It is nice to see advice that tells you to listen to your own body!

  17. GREAT tips! I think so many people struggle with this.

    I personally, will only use Immodium in extreme cases. I find that for me, personally the Immodium backlash is TERRIBLE. After taking just one dose, I am normally constipated for a week and then have two days of digestive fireworks afterwards. But if you’ve been training for a marathon for months and need to be positive you’ll be poo-free for one day, Immodium does the trick.

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  19. I will be running my 6th marathon this weekend and was hoping to avoid the “tummy issues” I have had in the past. Thank you for the great post and tips. I am so happy to know I am not alone in this matter. I too avoid coffee the morning of the race, because on any given day coffee sometimes upsets my tummy.

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