You've trained for weeks, you're well rested and the weather is perfect. A PR is in sight...until stomach cramps send you sprinting to the nearest Porta Potty rather than the finish line.
Unfortunately, bathroom issues are common amongst runners. The jostling of your insides can create an urgent situation on its own and, as your muscles work harder, your body sends less blood flow to the intestines, making them less efficient and speeding up waste transit time.
Add in pre-race nerves, and you could end up spending more time in the bathroom than on the course. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to avoid the dreaded mid-race bathroom stop.
Preventing stomach issues begins well before the starting line. In the days leading up to the race, it's important to cut out culprits like too much fiber and spicy or fatty meals. These foods can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, making it much more likely that you'll have stomach woes on race day.
There are also some sneakier sources of stomach pains, such as sugar alcohols like sorbitol. Sorbitol is added to a variety of food products, namely sugar-free gum and candies, but sometimes it's also hidden in bottled juices/teas and protein bars. Consuming too much can cause painful cramps and even diarrhea, so check labels carefully and steer clear of sugar alcohols the week of the race.
Once you've cleaned up your diet, the next order of business is to, well, take care of business. Emptying your bowels ahead of time helps ensure you won't have to make a stop halfway through the race. A tried and true method for many runners is sipping a warm beverage the morning of the race (coffee, tea or hot water with lemon). Just make sure you do this with plenty of time left before the race begins. The last thing you want is for the urge to hit as the national anthem is sung. If after a cup of coffee or tea, you still don't feel the need to go, try a light warm-up. Running an easy mile or some yoga poses might help move things along.
During the Race
Hopefully by the time you toe the line, you've visited the bathroom and are feeling light and fast. Now the goal is to stay that way!
Since dehydration can cause stomach cramps, make sure you drink enough during the race to stay hydrated. This amount will depend on the weather, race distance and your individual needs. But be careful of drinking too much; you don't want to have liquid sloshing around in your stomach. Practice hydration needs before race day to figure out how much fluid you need to feel your best.
If you're running a longer race, you'll need to take sports drinks and gels into account. If the race provides an electrolyte replacement drink (e.g. Powerade, Gatorade, etc.) practice with that brand during your training runs. If it's something you know you don't like or that doesn't sit well, stick to plain water and gels or carry a bottle of your own sports drink.
Another important thing to consider is the type of gels or chews you're consuming. Many gels and chews contain caffeine (one serving has about the same amount as a cup of coffee) and the stimulant can leave you searching for the nearest bathroom. If you're sensitive to it, seek out on-the-run foods without added caffeine.
Starting out slow and aiming for negative splits is always a good race strategy, but easing into the run also makes sense when it comes to your stomach. Start out too fast and you may be plagued with side stitches and stomach cramps; adopt a smart pacing strategy and you'll sidestep those issues.
Follow this advice and on race day, you'll be able to focus on your goal, not your stomach.
- 5 Ways to Deal with Bathroom Issues on the Run
- The Pre-Race Meal
- 5 Common Pre-Race Nutrition Blunders
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