Approximately 60 percent of runners suffer stomach troubles during any given run, but just a few of these sufferers have full blown IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome.
IBS is chronic and frustrating. You may experience any number of symptoms that include, but aren't limited to, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, clear mucus in your stool and an uncontrollable urge to go. The reason why you have such symptoms isn't fully understood, but it likely results from a disturbance in the way your nervous system and brain interact with your gut.
Running with IBS poses particular problems. You may never know when the need to go will strike, or if facilities will be nearby. Uncomfortable bloating can make even the most devout athlete feel like curling up on the couch rather than hitting the trail.
You can't completely control the disorder, but you can plan ahead and do your best to manage symptoms, so it doesn't interrupt training too much.
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Know Your Triggers
Avoid foods that exacerbate your IBS symptoms as much as possible, especially in the day and hours prior to any run. Not everyone knows what their triggers are, but in many cases they include high-fat foods, dairy, chocolate, red meat, carbonated and/or caffeinated beverages, garlic, onions, beans and cruciferous vegetables.
Common race foods may also cause symptoms to erupt. Artificial sweeteners — common in gels, chews and sports drinks — as well as wheat, are known triggers. Skip the pasta meal the night before the race, and stick to foods you know sit well in your stomach. During the run, hydrate with water and natural calories, such as bananas, or whatever you find works for you in training.
Stress often brings on the symptoms of IBS with a vengeance. A casual run with friends may be relaxing for you, but race day is often anything but. Feeling jittery, excited and a little desperate is normal, especially if you hope to do well or are tackling a new distance.
Train to the best of your ability before the race so you feel confident and ready to cover the miles. Get to the start line early and visit the bathroom multiple times before the gun goes off. Bring an extra roll of toilet paper to the start, and pack a little wad into a side pocket or running belt in case you do need to stop.
Consider possible calming techniques to use before your race. It differs for every athlete, but meditation or repeating a mantra can help. It's OK to be excited, but control that excitement, so your brain doesn't wreak havoc on your gut.
If you know you're having a flare-up, plan your run on a route where you're sure you can find facilities. Tracks or urban routes often have restrooms at the ready. Sometimes, a treadmill may be the best bet as you can always stop and call it a day without being too far away from home.
Carry wipes with you always. If you're having a day in which you just don't feel like running, then don't. When your digestive tract needs you to rest, do so. You can come back strong the next day.
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