Out There: Everyone Poops

Any runner who claims they’ve never had a case of Runner’s Trots is either lying or full of it — literally. 

The questions I’ve gotten from readers this week mainly fall into two categories:

1)   Time management (as in, “How do I find the time to run in my busy schedule?”)


2)   Poop.

Given that I am writing this column forty minutes before the deadline, I think it’s safe to say I’m not qualified to answer anything about time management. But poop? That I can do. Here’s a question from reader Jon:

I always have to GO in the first two miles of my runs, and not in the “go fast” way. No matter what I do and what I eat (or don’t eat), I have a strong urge to void my bowels when I run. Why, and how do I stop it? – Jon

Dear Jon,

First, I’d like to thank you for putting it so eloquently: “a strong urge to void my bowels” is a lot classier than another reader e-mail I got on this topic, in which someone wrote (using all caps to accentuate the urgency), “I FEEL LIKE I’M GONNA DROP A BROWN BOMB MY PANTS!”

We’ve all been there. Any runner who claims they’ve never had a case of Runner’s Trots is either lying or full of it — literally. As unpleasant as it is, at some point every runner will feel the familiar rumble-rumble-rumble followed by the hustle-hustle-hustle to the nearest porto. Most people make it to a toilet in time, but some are forced to do their business behind a tree. If you’ve ever wondered why your neighbor was missing a sock when she came home from a run, well…chances are she didn’t make it into a McDonald’s in time to do the only thing McDonald’s is useful for — use their restroom.

So who invited this unwelcome visitor? Your running. Yup, your runs are causing your runs (you knew that pun was coming, didn’t you?). Whether it’s a training run or a race, the jostling, adrenaline, and stress tells your intestines it’s closing time. Like Last Call at a dive bar, your intestine doesn’t care where its occupants go, but it can’t stay there.

Does that mean you should give up running? Not quite. There’s ways to work around this. Specifically, learn to outwit your intestine.

The easiest way to do this is by figuring out what foods cause the most intestinal drama. For some, this is a high-fiber diet. If that’s the case, then skip the bran muffins and raw veggies, especially in the days leading up to a big race. For others, it’s sugar replacements – more specifically, sorbitol – so cut out the diet soda. If your issues seem to come from dairy or bread, you may have an intolerance or allergy. As always, consult with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

There’s also the old standby of making sure your body doesn’t have anything to eliminate. As you put it, Jon, GO before you go. If you’ve heard runners talking about drinking coffee before they head out for their run, it’s likely it’s not because they want the caffeine jolt — though that’s a nice bonus — but because coffee is a warm fluid, and warm fluids encourage bowel movements. If you’re able to run later in the day, that may help as well, especially if you’ve been moving around a lot in the hours beforehand.

If these tricks don’t work, stick close to home at the beginning of your training sessions. Warm up with a few laps around the block, go back inside to do your doo, and then head out for the rest of your happy miles. If it’s race day, survey the course ahead of time so you know where the portos will be – saying “I’ll be fine until the next one” almost guarantees there won’t be another porto stop until it’s too late. You know, Murphy’s Law and all.

If all else fails, well…that’s okay, too. It’s perfectly acceptable to plot a run course specifically for its high frequency of gas stations and McDonald’s bathrooms, and it’s just fine to run into said bathroom mid-run, sweaty and screaming about brown bombs. There’s no shame in that. To quote a great classical novel:

Everyone Poops.

See you Out There!




About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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