Before I even delve (probably not the best adjective here) into this subject I should cover a few things. First off, Mom, yes this post is about poop. I’m a runner, it happens. If it makes you uncomfortable just don’t share this article with Grandma. Even though I think she’ll think the smiley poop emoticon was cute.
Others, yes this post about poop. Mainly about a topic that most runners talk about, but even less running bloggers blog about. Poop is taboo in many social settings. But, I’ve failed to find that tabooish line yet in running. Though if it existed it probably somewhere talking about it in person compared to writing about it.
But, poop happens. And, hopefully this post can help the runners out there trying to figure out how to avoid being this guy.
Before running the Big Cottonwood Marathon I was sick. No, not cold sick or nausea sick, but like bowels sick. The day before leading up to the marathon my stomach was churning. Even on the bus and while waiting for the gun time my stomach was less than thrilled to be there.
My bowel movements were less than solid and I was dreading the thought of running 26.2 miles down a canyon because the last thing I needed to do was crap my pants. I joke about it, but it’s a legit fear for me. Heck, I didn’t stop wetting the bed until I was over 19 (but, this is another post for another day).
But, with Big Cottonwood being my 75th race I luckily knew a thing or two about how to heal those pains, concerns and out right fears. So, I took some Imodium, ate a couple of bananas and sat on a port-a-potty for about half an hour waiting for everything “to clear.”
And, well, it worked.
I didn’t have many issues with my bowels afterwards besides gas pressure and the subsequent release of such pressure (aka … passing gas, tooting, farting, barking spiders, etc.). After talking to Jill, Mark and Tim about my experience we jokingly talked about how someone should write a guide to running and poop.
So here I am writing it.
But, as tongue in cheek as it might be, it’s a serious concern for long distance runners. Last year during the Utah Valley Marathon there were no port-a-potties between the starting and finish line except at the mid-way point for the marathoners.
It was pandemonium. There were runners shamelessly relieving themselves right on the side of the road. Luckily for me when nature called I was able to find a public restroom on the Provo Trail. I was one of the lucky ones.
That was pretty extreme though caused by bad communication, but I’ve also been at races that had inadequate port-a-potties at the starting line. And, if you REALLY have to go and can’t wait for a couple miles you end up starting after the gun went off. I don’t mind that, but I’m not every runner. It can be frustrating.
But, in my experience there are many little things you can do to avoid these mishaps, blunders or situations. Some take time to become a habit, while others are more easily adopted as routine. I am going to break down the running experience from the day before to the finish line on how you can take care of your bowels and “business” in a much better way.
Two Days Before
On Wednesday and Thursdays of race weeks I focus on eating foods semi-high in fiber. The goal is to kind of flush things out and clean out the ‘ol colon. Some foods I would suggest would be a sandwich on whole-wheat bread or whole-grain anything. Pasta is a favorite of mine.
But, I also like to eat a couple of prunes as well in the evening. They really help with the cleaning out the bowels and are a great natural way of doing so. Just watch that you don’t consume TOO much fiber. That can leave things unpleasant for you and sometimes others around you. Just sayin’ …
The Day Before
The day before a race I am EXTREMELY deliberate with what and when I consume food. Here are some dos and don’ts for the day (and especially night) before your race
- Drink plenty of water.
- Eat as close onto your regular schedule as possible.
- Carbload earlier in the day around lunch time.
- Eat simple carbs that won’t sit in your stomach for a long time (ie-white breads, potatoes, etc.)
- Eat good clean food with minimal processing as possible.
- Have a list of foods that you’ve learned work for you before races.
- Avoid orange juice and other fibrous drinks at all costs.
- Don’t carbload heavily in the evening, especially foods high in fiber.
- Avoid greasy, fatty and cheesy foods especially during dinner.
- Don’t chug a gallon of prune juice.
- If you are remotely sensitive to dairy, avoid it throughout the day. Trust me. Save the ice cream craving AFTER the race.
- Don’t confuse carbloading with pigging out.
The biggest thing really is just stay away from anything that will give yourself an upset stomach. Know your body and what it can handle. I am sure there are some foods you could add to these lists.
And beyond anything else … if you’re iffy if something would react badly in your stomach DON’T EAT/TAKE IT! This I learned the hard way as well.
Race Day Morning
One of the biggest stresses for runners is what to eat the morning of the race. Again, everyone is different. Some runners stick to one food and … well … run with it. For the longest time I just stuck with a bowl of oatmeal and a banana because I knew I wouldn’t get sick off of it.
But, after getting a number of races under my belt and experimenting with foods here and there, I’ve kept pretty much a short list of foods I can handle before a race. Some of these foods include …
- Oatmeal and an apple or banana.
- Toast and Honey with either an apple or banana.
- Peanut Butter and Honey on White Bread.
- Peanut Butter and Jelly on White Bread.
- Baked Sweet Potato (nothing added).
- Baked White Potato (salt to taste, but needed).
Personally, I also like to take caffeine usually right when I wake up on race mornings. This is more of a personal preference because of the early hour. But, when you’re commuting to races at 3-4am you need the extra help. Some people are sensitive to caffeine so just be careful about that. I’ve found if I have too much I don’t just get jittery, but I have to pee more.
Also, I like to drink about 20oz. of water with my breakfast. This helps with the digestion and keeping things going. It also makes you want to go to the bathroom, but before the race that’s good. So make sure to drink your water and get a good routine down.
Hour Before Guntime
About an hour before gun time it’s well advised to take some Imodium. At least I take it. It’s helped me avoid stomach problems and the diarrheas on numerous occasions. But, I’ve also had friends that had issues taking it.
So, the best thing you can do is try it out on some of your training runs. If it works … GREAT! Go with it. And, if it doesn’t … I’d still try it a second time just to make sure it wasn’t another factor. Just avoid taking it for the first time at a race. Just be cautious and listen to your body. Also carbloading effectively (meaning not eating donuts and other junkfood) before your race will help.
But, an hour before the race you should be standing in line for the Honey Bucket. This is one time you shouldn’t listen to your body, if you don’t feel like going … GO! Because the lines are usually long and by the time you get to your turn you’ll want/need to go. Trust me.
If you want to avoid an OVERALL stinky Honey Bucket there are a few things you can do. Let me list the way …
- If your race buses you to the starting line be on one of the first or second bus. The quicker you get to the Honey Buckets the cleaner they are.
- So, if you’re on one of the last buses don’t complain about the smell or condition your HB. It’s your own fault.
- The same goes for non-bussed races. Get to the race well before the start. Generally there will be some HBs around ready for you to use.
- You might want to consider using a public restroom on your way to the race. The public restrooms I would probably avoid are …
- Pretty much any gas station
- Anything that is open 24 hours.
- Actually on second thought just use the restroom before you leave your place. I wouldn’t trust any public bathroom.
In addition to using the restroom I like to eat a small and simple carb like a Fig Newton or banana about an hour before the race. This is up to you and really depends on whether or not you’ve got pre-race jitters.
Oh, and one other thing to note. If you’re in the Honey Bucket and you’re not feeling well … don’t feel like you need to hurry because people are waiting. Just sit there and get up and leave when you feel better.
I’ve done this a couple times. Once I was in the Honey Bucket for almost a half hour before my stomach was just … ugh. But, I figured that the people behind me in line would get one of the 80+ buckets in the meantime. It pays to be a tad selfish in this regard.
Half Hour Before Guntime
If I am not still in the Honey Bucket, a half hour before guntime is when I take my Aleve and a bit more water. I also like to eat something small like a small piece of bread, banana or even a gel pack. It really depends on how I am feeling, but I always need to start my race off with SOMETHING on my stomach or I pay for it later.
Don’t drink too much liquid at this time. 6-8oz. of water or Gatorade is perfectly sufficient. If you drink too much odds are you will need to use the Honey Bucket at the first aid station.
I would also get back in line to use the bathroom. No joke. You’ll find once again that once you get to the front of the line you had to go again.
Fueling throughout the race
I have a routine for every hour or 5-6 miles I am out on the road. I do this to keep my energy up and bowels tempered. Otherwise I either tank or I end up sitting in a Honey Bucket longer than I want.
I have a half marathon fuel plan, again, you’ve got to learn what works for you. Some runners need more fuel and others don’t need that much at all. It really does change from runner to runner. This is my typical fuel plan (this is based off a typical half marathon aid station outline)…
- Station, Mile 3 (1 cup of Gatorade and 2 cups of water)
- Station, Mile 5 (2 cups of water)
- Station, Mile 7 (2 cups of water and caffeinated gel pack)
- Station, Mile 9 (2 cups of water)
- Station, Mile 11 (1 cup of Gatorade and 2 cups of water)
- Station, Mile 12 (1 cup of water)
The reasonings behind this plan are pretty simple …
- Hydration will help with your energy level and performance better than any Gu, powder or magic potion.
- By drinking two cups of water to one cup of Gatorade you are diluting the strength of the sports drink. Sometimes race volunteers will make the Gatorade TOO strong and it won’t sit well with the stomach. So always drink two cups of water along with it to avoid trips to the HB.
- Avoid drinking Gatorade during the same pit stop as you take a gel pack. If you want to crotch into the fetal position mid-race go ahead and do it. Just don’t blame me for never warning you.
- You don’t have to run with a caffeinated gel pack, but I find that mid-race is a great time to fuel with a bit more than just Gatorade. Whatever you fuel with go with that (and yes candy counts as fuel).
If you are running a marathon and need to fuel with that, I would use the same structure as the half marathon fuel plan, but add a few foods to the list that you eat every third station.
Again, that depends on what kind of runner you are. Personally I need to eat through a marathon. I always run with a back pack with gels, gummy candies and usually a PB&H sandwich. When you’re burning over 4,000 calories during a marathon you need to replenish during the race more than a half marathon. Just keep that in mind.
If you need to experiment with foods and gels, remember to try them out during your training runs. Never try a new food at a race. This is how you get stuck on a Honey Bucket for over a half hour at mile 10.
Once you are done with your race you want to replenish your body of what you lost. Carbs and protein are your friends. A favorite among runners is chocolate milk. This is my favorite too.
Just be careful with consuming chocolate milk, because if you are anything like me (I am lactose intolerant) you will end up in desperate need of a finish line Honey Bucket (probably the worst kind of Honey Bucket). Not fun.
Even if you are mildly intolerant make sure you don’t overindulge. Because the body won’t usually respond mildly after running a half or full marathon. Sadly, yes, I have learned this.
But, during the first 30-45 minutes after your race is finished make sure that you eat easy carbs and easy to digest foods (namely fruit). This will help with the recovery and keep your stomach calm.
Avoid rich fatty foods immediately after your race because it could possibly not sit well with the bowels. Eat simple and it will save your life. Or at least a trip to the post-race Honey Bucket.
Race Day Evening
I always like to enjoy a good meal after my races. I try to stay within reason, but at the same time if I am craving something I don’t feel bad knowing that I’ve burnt 5,000-8,000 calories throughout the day.
Just know that your eyes will be larger than your stomach … but … probably not by that much. Enjoy it knowing that you earned it.
These are just a few tips I have learned about avoiding the poops during my races. I hate having to use the Honey Bucket during the race. I try to avoid it. Sometimes you just can’t avoid it. But, more often than not you can.
Do what works for you, but know that if you’re having problems with your bowels you are not alone. And, above anything else this should be your motivation …