Up to now we took a look at why running makes us poop and how to keep from having to poop while you run. While exercise in general is great for inducing healthy bowel movements, some people just aren’t so lucky. Their poo turtles: it seems like it’s coming, then it simply retreats back inside, like a bully playing a cruel joke. Being constipated has got to sit in the top 5 on a list of the most uncomfortable feelings out there (within reason).
Despite having a healthy diet, some people just cannot go. One of my friends lamented for years about the infrequency of her bowel movements. In fact, the longest she went without being able to poop is 10 days. Yep, you read that right. A week and a half. I myself have come close to this, when sharing a bathroom with other students in college – unfortunately – scared the crap out of me, but the other way around.
How many bowel movements are healthy? Well, that differs from person to person, but at least 3 times a week is necessary for appropriate gut health, with 1-2 times a day being the gold standard.
Three times a week? For many years of my life, I would have killed for this schedule. It didn’t happen for years so I simply made peace with my body’s inconsistent waste removal program. That was until I took a serious look at my diet. Where my friend and I live, cheese, milk, and eggs are a big part of culture, much like they are in many parts of the western world. So, when my friend switched to a completely plant-based diet, I figured it wouldn’t last too long before she fell off the wagon. Lo and behold, things got moving quickly. Her constipation problem went away almost immediately. I was impressed and inspired but it took over a year before I followed suit and I haven’t looked back.
Eating more plants is definitely one of the best things you can do for your digestion, but more than anything it’s all about planning ahead. Two of the most important aspects of this are eating and exercising on a regular schedule. Aim to consume about 20-25 g of fiber and drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your race. Then, it simply comes down to trial and error. Because our bodies all operate differently, find the best approach for yourself. For example, I can’t drink a cup of a coffee, head to the race start, stop at the Porta Potty and evacuate my bowels just in time for the gun to go off. It took me years to figure out what works for me and the single most useful approach is getting up earlier. Giving myself only enough time to get up, get dressed and head out the door is a sure-fire way to scare my poo away. Knowing I have enough time to sit and relax has yielded the very best results. Before I finally discovered what worked for me, I found myself more times than I can count in a tough spot on race morning: feeling stuffed from dinner the night before and a complete traffic jam in my bowels.
Keeping to a schedule will certainly help keep you regular but races often start very early in the morning, earlier than most people typically run during training. That being said, there’s a good chance your schedule will be thrown off in one way or another, or your nerves get to you, or maybe you just eat too much of your pre-race dinner. Sometimes your ritual just doesn’t work, but there are things you can try.
Sitting down and relaxing, especially while sipping a warm drink or downing lukewarm water can help get things moving. Otherwise, try a handful of prunes. Of course, like anything, it’s a good idea to get your body used to eating prunes regularly to promote healthy bowel movements; especially since it may not instantly work its magic on your body. If these options don’t work for you, try stretching and moving.
We cannot stress enough the significance of finding a natural way to keep you regular. While this should work for almost everyone most of the time, there’s no reason to hide that we’ve all been in a clinch. Before eating a ton more plants, I often woke up race morning feeling bloated and uncomfortable. I would be lying if I said I never reached for something more vigorous and instant to get things moving. So, while we encourage you to go through your own trial and error process, let’s take a look at the final two options you have: laxatives and enemas.
Laxatives come in the form of fiber supplements, stimulants, osmotic (e.g. milk of magnesia or an epsom salt solution) that move fluids into your colon, lubricants (e.g. mineral oil), or stool softeners. Not surprisingly, the side effects of taking any of these laxatives is bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramping, nausea, increased constipation if you don’t drink enough water and finally, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance if you take them too often or for too long. As an athlete, this last point is worthy of your consideration. These options may be useful on rare occasions but periodic use should be avoided. Of course, people with certain health concerns should completely avoid the use of laxatives altogether.
Finally, the enema. Yep, many runners swear by this. Google the word and you’ll have a number of hits, from the typical saline enema sold at your local pharmacy to bowel cleanses and mineral oil enemas, and finally to a host of alternatives made from a number of items you might have in your fridge right now. The saline enema meant to flush out your colon is known as a “fleet” enema. It’s intended to be used infrequently in cases of constipation. Like most things you might want to employ on race day, it’s highly recommended to try an at-home enema during training. Depending on your body’s response or your nerves just before a race, it’s possible that the enema just won’t do anything for you. The risk is that you’ll end up feeling even more bloated and uncomfortable than you were before. Trust me when I say that the last thing you want to do is stand at the start of a marathon, unsuccessful enema behind you, with the nagging knowledge that your body can be full of surprises on a race day, especially when you’re trotting around for 4 hours. You’d certainly be cursing yourself for that rookie move.
We wouldn’t want to let you go without tying up loose ends (see what we did there). We’ve discussed why running makes you poop and how to avoid pooping while you run, but even if you’ve solved the big puzzle of life – that being how to make yourself poop – you’d still have to admit that sometimes your body does crazy things and sometimes you just have to go while you’re out on a run. We scoured the internet for some ideas on how runners deal with pooping on the go. What are some things people wipe their butts with when nature calls out in nature?
- A shirt or some other piece of fabric you might have on you
- Paper money (not recommended)
- Snow clumped into a firm, but nor hard, shape
- A handful of grass formed into a clump
- S smooth stick
- A large, soft leaf – but proceed with caution and first familiarize yourself with the local flora
- (my personal favorite). A smooth rock (because I’m not sure I would have thought about this as an option)
Axe, Josh. 2015. Poop: What’s Normal and What’s Not. https://draxe.com/poop/
Booe, Martin. 2016. How to Drink Epsom Salt for Constipation. Livestrong: http://www.livestrong.com/
Diseases and Conditions: Constipation Treatment and Drugs. 2013. Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/
Diseases and Conditions: Over-the-counter laxatives for constipation. 2014. Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/
Hatfield, Heather. The Scoop on Poop. WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/women/
Thrive Outdoors. 2012. 10 Things to Wipe your Butt with in the Woods. https://thrive-outdoors.com/
Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips. 2012. Liberate yourself from Toilet Paper. http://
Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).