Dr. Wong Bun Lap - Specialist in Cardiology, Hong Kong Doctors' Union Council Member, Hong Kong Medical Association Council Members
Many long distance runners have experienced in the midst of a race sudden diarrhea, i.e. IBS - Irritable bowel syndrome. Using the toilet during the race, will not only affect the runner’s pace and finishing time but may force runners to quit and thus wasting the training effort endured over the past few months. To prevent this from happening, runners should firstly understand the two major causes of mid-race diarrhea.
Since our digestive system is controlled by autonomic nerves, the muscles of our stomach will become tense once the feeling of nervousness is felt which triggers the feeling of having diarrhea. If runners can adjust their mood and mentality in a race to keep calm, the chances of having diarrhea will be greatly lowered. Try to enjoy the scenery along the race course or even run with friends to reduce the psychological stress. These tips can effectively help prevent having IBS.
Runners who have a sensitive stomach should reduce the amount of fiber-rich foods in their diet before the race. Fibers stimulate peristalsis of the intestines and accelerate defecation, causing the occurrence of diarrhea. Thus runners should be extra careful when selecting their food before the race. Avoid irritating food; for example food which is too cold, too hot, over-seasoned or even drinking coffee and tea which contains caffeine that stimulates bowel movements.
How to Deal with IBS during a Race:
If you suddenly feel like having a stomachache in the middle of the race, first of all, relax and try to maintain a good mood. Divert your attention from the pain of having diarrhea, do not worry, most runners can still continue the race after going to the toilet. However, if you have to stop at each mobile toilet along the course you should consider giving up the race. Since having diarrhea and keeping up consistently high amounts of exercise at the same time could lead to dehydration. If diarrhea persists, you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Subsequently IBS can be controlled through medication nowadays. Runners are advised to conduct a pre-race self-assessment. If you often have syndromes of stomachache or diarrhea due to nervousness, you should consult a doctor before the race.