I knew it was going to happen. There was going to be a "pit stop" - one of those destined to leave me far behind the group - before I reached the first mile. And there wasn't a thing I could do about it, except for run at race pace to the Quick-Mart on the corner and hope for (zen-like) emptiness in the "coaches' ready room."
The Quick-Mart came and went, and I felt a sense of calm. Perhaps it was only a little abdominal tension, released by the early exertions of the morning's "sorta-long run." But no sooner had I passed the convenience store and approached our parked vehicles that the rumbling began deep down below.
Really, there's no nice way to talk about the, er, increased gastric motility which comes to every runner at one time or another. Some of us more often than others. And there are the very unfortunate few who suffer from what is commonly known as "runner's trots." While there are fitness professional types who say this is caused by a decreased blood flow to the gut - because the blood is going more regularly and more often to the lower extremities as we run - that's more likely to cause digestion to slow down rather than increase.
Dr. Timothy Noakes, in "Lore of Running," writes that the physical activity more likely stimulates the gastrointestinal system to secrete chemicals which encourage gastric motility. There's also a function of the bouncing and the increase in core body temperature that can stimulate what you took in the night before to, well, head farther south a little faster than the 12-to-19 hours it often takes for digestion to occur.
So, is there anything you can do to keep from having to make those uncomfortable, and sometimes undesired "side trips?"
First of all, keep in mind that GI distressing symptoms, like "runners trots," can be a sure sign that you might be overtraining, and need to back off. In this coach's case, I can go ahead and scratch that right off the list.
Food items like dairy, legumes, grains, high fiber the night before...or even the morning of...can be a potential cause of bloating, GI discomfort and so forth. Alcohol in excess the night before a long run can also leave you with more food in the gut than desired. Hey, that liver has to make a choice on which to metabolize first, and it usually chooses the item which is more-poisonous.
A little extra time to T.C.B. in the morning - time with a slice of toast, peanut butter, banana, oatmeal, a cup of hot coffee...an extended visit to the "reading room" - can also work wonders. I had my tummy pretty-well trained for the past 16 weeks or so, and then when the weather took a turn for the warmer I moved the Sunday morning run twenty minutes earlier. So, perhaps my mind had well-adjusted to the fact I had 20-minutes less prep time, but that was time my GI system used to make certain I was well-prepped.
Sometimes the adjustment process includes the need to plan ones' running routes around the availability of toilet facilities. One of my favorite Sunday morning routes - a loop around our airport - begins at an exercise facility which has two reasonably-stocked bathroom facilities. We also have a city parks and recreation facility, and our house, along the loop.
If changing your diet, your preparation and your route doesn't solve or at least quiet the complaints from the colon, Noakes suggests a small dose of loperamide (Imodium) be taken before the run.
While there's nothing delicate which can be said about the gastrointestinal distress and misadventures which can happen to a runner, take comfort in knowing there are two types of runners in this world: those who have had to imitate a bear in the woods...