While this has (yet) to happen to me, it's not an uncommon phenomenon for runners to be overcome with an urge to poop while they're on the move. For example, Rachel Radcliffe, an incredible professional long-distance runner, actually had to stop during a race once to relieve her bowels in front of thousands of fans (then she went on to win the damn race). So, if something like this has ever happened to you, consider it a true workout badge of honor. I can say I've definitely experienced the habitual need to poop when I'm mid-run. It's kind of bizarre really, and again, it's pretty common. You get your sneakers on, hit the pavement, and all of a sudden your bowels are all “Remember me, buddy?” Yes, bowels, I definitely remember you, but why does running make you poop?
Well, part of this has to do with the effects of running on something called your gut motility and your colonic motility. So, gut motility is basically the contractions and stretches of the muscles in your GI tract. The muscular movements in your GI tract are what allow food to move through it while also making sure nutrients are being absorbed, because the body is an intelligent freakin' miracle.
Your colonic motility has to do with the softness of your stools and the frequency with which you have to go number two. When you have cramps, can't poop, or have diarrhea, it means your colonic motility is malfunctioning in one way or another.
So what does that have to do with an urge to poop on your run?
Well, all that movement indeed affects the muscles that regulate all those colonic processes, because of an increased surge of hormones to the stomach lining. It tends to speed up the whole process of digestion.
Additionally, while blood flow is increased in other parts of the body, running can actually decrease blood flow to the bowels, which can intensify muscle contractions and cramping.
There have also been some studies that connect exercise and digestive problems. Some evidence supports the idea that the risks for GI issues increases with certain types of exercise.
Gastroenterologist James Lee, M.D., of St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange, California, told Shape Magazine,
In some studies, up to 80 percent of runners experienced GI disturbance, including abdominal pain and bowel dysfunction.
And, go figure, that research also shows that female athletes are more likely to experience these issues.
That includes not only mid-run poops, but also gas, aches, and bloat. Thanks, nature.
So what can be done to prevent the need to search desperately for a Dunkin' Donuts bathroom in the middle of your 5k?
Before you throw in the towel on running forever, consider what makes you poop -- since all poopers are unique -- and try to act accordingly. Recognize which foods seem to go through your system quickly, and stay away from those before you plan your workout. Try your best to avoid high-fiber and high-fat foods at least two hours before you go for your run. Some people also recommend activating your bowels with a little bit of caffeine about an hour before you hit the road, so be sure to test that method for yourself and see if it works for you.
Oh yeah, and just to be safe, take the time to scout out your usual running route to see if there's a Porta Potty along the way, or perhaps a gas station, if an emergency situation happens to strike at a bad time, and you desperately need to go.
You can never be too careful, right?