It’s all too common but never very pleasant. It can come without warning; an abrupt shift in your stomach and your mindset quickly follows in shifting to a state of emergency. Your running form goes out the door as you stiffen up, and anyone who has been there before could take one look at you and know exactly the status quo.
Runner’s trots – or runner’s belly – as it is known, is a condition affecting distance runners in which a sudden or urgent need for a bowel movement takes place mid-run. It has many proposed causes including decreased blood-flow to the gut as a result of the high muscle blood-flow, mechanical trauma from the jiggling and jolting of running, as well as dietary alterations such as caffeine intake or increased fructose load from pre-exercise meals. The answer to the cause is totally dependent on the individual experiencing the unease, and is also a conversation for elsewhere. Here, I’m going to offer a few helpful tips for handling the situation as best you can, if it does arise!
- Prevention is best! The point of this article is not to list methods for preventing runner’s trots. We have an article about that in the pipeline. It is true, however, that your greatest weapon is to prevent even arriving at this unpleasant state of affairs in the first place. The foods you eat on a regular basis and immediately before running are hugely important, as are hydration strategies and even running technique.
- Don’t panic, it’s not necessarily going to happen. Remain calm and continue to breathe. When you panic, you increase production of the stress hormone, cortisol, which potentially makes things worse by drawing your body’s attention and resources (i.e. blood-flow and nerve supply) away from the gut. That might not be what we want!
- Take your mind off it. Easier said than done, right? The key is to have other specific cues to think about. Try thinking about your running technique, or an aspect of it such as heel strike or posture. Focus on your breathing or think about your detailed race plan for next week’s 10k. I’ve found on a number of occasions that simply focussing on other things has been enough to settle my system and at least get me home safely!
- Make a change. This could be anything. Alter your technique, in particular your pelvic tilt and core muscle activation. Slow down or adjust your cadence. I’ve also found that stopping for a moment to stand still or to walk a few yards has been enough for the feeling to subside.
- Gracefully give in. If all else fails and you truly are amidst a crisis, you will inevitably have to proceed. While still applying rule #2, calmly scope out your surroundings for a secluded area. Obviously there’s a hierarchy here, with public toilets topping the list. Do the best with what you’ve got and make sure to learn from the situation… Most importantly, go home and apply the first rule!
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