Thursday, July 18, 2013

TMI about GI issues and runners

Okay, time to talk about -- oh, how to put it -- a shitty problem for runners we don't talk about, but we all have our war stories. Not pretty, and believe me it's a runner's obsession.

Yes, I said it. Using the euphemism No. 1 and No. 2, or the runners' catch-all phrase "GI issues," is to mask the real issue. We run, we run long, and for runners, constipation sometimes ain't a real problem. You're on a 10 mile run, 4 miles away from home, when all of the sudden, you have to take a shit. You have to take a piss. And you're freaking out, in a near panic.

I posted a Daily Mile update referring to 'GI Issues' (gastrointestinal) to which James said "Everyone has a GI story to tell (or not)" and Chris said "I could write a book about early morning run GI emergencies. On race day I wake up at 4am and have coffee. Every other day - baby wipes in ziploc just in case."

And in the history of this blog, I haven't written about it. Is it taboo? Screw that, lets let loose.

GI Issues are why on race morning, I have one obsession and it has nothing to do with hitting my paces or getting to the race site on time or even setting a PB. It's all about the washroom and avoiding a mid race....

Well, how to put it..

This ->

No. 1 and 2. Or a geyser. Flickr/StephenAyoung



Fair warning, this post is squarely in the TMI zone, so exit if you're in denial.

Many near misses happen to runners, saved by a questionable park washroom, a forgiving business that will accommodate a running bursting past the cashier into the toilet or by a runner who has successfully held it in, barely waddling back home.

But we aren't so lucky to find conveniently located washrooms. For the uninitiated, worse case scenarios:

  • You've held it in, steps away from your front door, seconds away from your bathroom when all the clenching of the past 20 minutes fails you. You admit defeat. Washing machine is turned on the hot cycle.
  • You're a in the middle of a run. No washroom within reach. You're frantically searching for anything to squat behind -- a tree, a dumpster, bushes, a tucked away corner. You go now or face a mid-run explosion and a very bad run home. (James sent in this story about a runner who was arrested for making this a practice not the exception)
  • You've found a safe place where you can go unnoticed for about 30 seconds. Preferably with sightlines down a path or road. You go, but have no TP (yes, that's toilet paper). Sigh. If you're lucky you have leaves nearby.
  • You're running a marathon, the first few miles in, 24 to go, and you REALLY HAVE TO GO. Usually you have to pee because you've overhydrated. You dash out to the side and do your business. Both guys and gals. Believe me, in every big city marathon I've run -- New York, Boston, Chicago, MCM -- this ain't a folk tale, it happens. In fact, when I run a big city marathon, I make mental note of where there are parks and routes with fewer fans (harder in New York, easy in early Boston, easy in first 5 miles of MCM.)
  • And if any of the above frightens you, you bless yourself that you haven't had to pull a Paula Radcliffe.


Yes, you can click, there isn't much detail. And it's only been viewed 1.7 million times.



In my eight years of marathon training, I haven't avoided this. It's one of those things us runners don't tell the newbies. They have to figure that for themselves.

Preventative measures (or tips avoid this madness)


  1. If you're running a marathon, figure out your body's digesting rate, especially with your carboloading food as opposed to your daily dinners that may have more fibre. Wake up early on marathon morning and do your business. Several times. If you go early, you're body will start to expel, for the lack of a better word.
  2. Fibre-rich foods, dairy could give you issues hours down the road. Great to get the veggies in but.. yeah.. 
  3. Some people find coffee in the morning can get things going. Find your food/drink that does the same.
  4. Eat an early dinner if you're doing a big early morning run. Morning runners are susceptible to having to take a dump, especially if you eat late the night before and haven't gone since the evening. You've been sleeping so the first kilometre can often lead your body into jolting into action.
  5. If you run outside and you're not sure if your stomach isn't going to give you issues, do a one mile loop back to your house, see how your stomach reacts. Do not attempt a long out and back route unless you know you have a dependable (and open) washroom midroute.
  6. Pack TP or wet wipes if you're unsure.
  7. Wake up well in advance to your morning run. On Sunday mornings, I'll get up at least an hour and a half before the run to ensure the stomach's clear. I will not leave home unless I'm clear it's okay. Yes, i'm that -- er -- anal. (That was a bad pun - apologies.)
  8. Eat an early breakfast 2/3 hours before a long run, even a banana or bagel. It'll help your body start to process.
  9. If you go once in the morning, do give yourself 5/10 minutes to make sure you're not done
  10. When it happens, it isn't a shame. You've merely joined the ranks and for the first time, you wil know that it wasn't just you, it's all of us. 

Since we're in a sharing mood, fess up runners.

6 comments:

chris biscoe said...

Back when I lived in T.O. I ran my long runs along the Lakeshore and the waterfront trail. One July morning I parked my car at the lot at the base of Woodbine, and ran west.

On the return leg, about a 3/4 mile from my car, my GI tract started to bark. With each step my situation worsened. I knew there was a washroom at the beach by the volleyball courts and I was bee lining for it.

By the time it was in my sights I was panicking. I ran to the washroom like a duck, barged into an empty stall, and pretty much did a Ewan McGregor from trainspotting. Much like him I knew something was dreadfully wrong when my business was done.

I listen to music while I run, and my headphones were going. I could hear singing that wasn't coming from them. I scanned my mind, and realized I hadn't seen a urinal on my way in. I turned off my tunes and listen to some woman singing "sweet dreams" by the Eurythmics. I was in the women's washroom.

I did all I could do. I steeled myself, opened the stall door and very sheepishly apologized and kind of half waved at her in the mirror. She screamed loud of course. I ran a pretty mean sub-seven minute mile after that, and returned to my car a little later.

Should have just gone in the bush.

yumke said...

Chris, that is a cringe-worthy hilarious story!

Emma said...

I refuse to share any stories, but let's just say being female with a GI tract that is VERY sensitive to hormone shifts can create some... interesting... situations.

I will say, though, that the more I consistently I run early in the morning, the more the GI thing has largely sorted itself out favourably. Schedules adjust themselves over time!

Robin said...

Chris that story is a good one! I have some stories as well, and most of them I won't share! However I don't run marathons anymore without dosing up on immodium. My adventure in the Scotiabank Marathon a couple of years took care of that for me!

Sam said...

Have you ever seen the movie Kenny? (Haha) It's fitting for this post. I've had my own share of photo finishes but nothing quite like your friend Chris! LOL

Anonymous said...

OMG! I'm "peeing" myself laughing. I have a story, but it's about my hubs, not me. He had one of those very issues that Chris described but there was no bathroom to be had. So he went in a bush and found, miraculously, some tissue on the floor. Only, when he turned it over there was a used condom in it. He found the closest Tim's after that and spent half an hour cleaning his private parts! For the sake of his identity, I've posted this as anonymous :)