Nothing like setting off a second blog post like talking about shit.
Like really talking about shit. Not the expression. Just in case someone says that I didn't warn them, I am giving you a disclaimer now. This entire post will be dedicated to talking about the beloved Gingerbread Man that's not in your favorite stories. Unfortunately, the beloved fictional character is a serious villain in the runner's community.
The Gingerbread Man is another name for Runner's Trots or Runner's Diarrhea. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Runner's diarrhea is characterized by frequent, loose bowel movements during or immediately after a run. Runner's diarrhea is most common in long-distance runners." Unfortunately, from what I read from numerous sites and talking to a few folks within the running community who isn't creeped out about talking about poo claim that they are not really sure of the cause.
I am not ashamed to admit that this grown woman has encountered many close calls with that Gingerbread Man fellow. Before each run, I pray to the skies and my stomach to please not let this be the day that I become an Internet meme. I'm sure some of you saw a meme of a white gentleman running across the finish line with a stream of diarrhea smeared all over his clothing. Yes, this is not a joke, especially to my long distance running enthusiasts out there.
The first time that the Gingerbread Man almost caught me was in Summer 2014. I felt pretty hyped up knowing that I finished a few runs with New York Road Runners and at this point, I might have earned medal number 4. On average, I was running at least 30 - 35 miles weekly. My favorite place to run was Boys and Girls High School track but it wasn't consistently open during the scheduled hours at that time. Fortunately, on this day, they opened a few minutes before 6, which was exceptionally surprising to me. I performed my normal check: Checked my laces, warmed up my muscles and reminded myself that I needed to place one foot in front of the other. My Nike+ Running app alerted me that I was scheduled for a six mile run. This was very typical for me. The first few laps were typical. Slow stride, slowly increasing speed and at that time, I was doing morning posts via Facebook. I would post a video of my progress or shoot a picture on Instagram. While some may have looked at it as vain, I still use these platforms as an unofficial accountability buddy. Someone is ALWAYS watching, whether it is a supporter or the dreaded "haters".
Nevertheless, I started picking up the speed and managed to get down to an 11 minute mile. To some of you, it's nothing. For me, it was life to get there at that time. Around mile 3, I had this bubbling feeling but I didn't think anything of it. I turned for a second loop and my stomach starts to feel a bit hostile. At that moment, my imagination caught the best of me and I swore that there was a repo man inside of my stomach trying to rip my lining because the rent was due. For some reason, I thought the solution to this problem was to run faster and just maybe the "gas" would go away. I hit mile 4 and the pain is getting worse. It starts to travel up my back and unfortunately, with all of my ailments relating to my spine, that's a no go for me but I decided to keep moving. I managed to make it to 5 miles and figured that instead of finishing everything at the track, I'll run the last mile home. Ha, Mr. Gingerbread Man didn't respond well to that.
I walked three steps off of the track and my booty thought it was appropriate to put on it's best impression of being Miles Davis. The inner juvenile in me looked around to see if anyone heard or smelled it, sped up and started giggling. Judge or don't judge: I have a twisted sense of humor. The giggles immediately shifted to concern as it became frequent. Another two farts escaped and unfortunately squat day didn't prepare me for this. I started to speed walk to my house.
You know what I really despise? The closer you get to your house, the more you feel like you need to use the bathroom. Oh, I just hate that feeling. I finally make it to my doorstep and my frantic jazz hands couldn't grab the right key. A few seconds felt like two hours. I couldn't bolt up the stairs because I was clenching too hard and if I didn't make it to the toilet in time, It would have been the most humiliating day of my life. I will spare you the graphic nature but it was nothing short of disgusting. My stomach felt horrible for two hours.
Knowing nothing about runner's diarrhea, I thought it was just a bad day or maybe because I'm lactose intolerant. Nope, the Gingerbread Man harassed me for a month long. It didn't matter what I did, he assaulted me in the middle of my long runs or five minutes before a run. Then I was devastated when I actually encountered a full blown accident and nauseated by the thought that he caught me. After that day, I knew something was wrong.
I am rarely embarrassed about asking or experiencing things. Maybe this is why I am so comfortable typing out a full blog on runner's diarrhea to my audience. I asked some folks that I befriended in the community and one of the girls giggled. "Oh, it's the Gingerbread Man love..." she said nonchalantly. She suggested me to research Runner's Diarrhea and I felt a sigh of relief and anger. Why the hell am I experiencing this?
Well, here's the deal: Long distance runners and people who do strength training are at a higher risk of encountering this issue. As a person who loves to lift weights, do a fair share of calisthenics, was cross training with a hybrid/mountain bike for 30 miles a day, 3x a week, I just increased my chances by who knows what exorbitant percent. According to Active.com, 60 percent of all runners experience runner's diarrhea (or even what's referred to as runner's colitis). It is very much a temporary issue and can be worked around if you take your time to figure out your triggers.
In my case, I had to hydrate a lot more than what I was doing. 8 cups of water a day for a distance runner is almost comical. On average, I find myself drinking 12 - 14 (and no I will not drown). Please consider that our bodies can use the hydration. I'm not sure of where I received this type of advice but I was advised for every 30 minutes of exercise, I should strive to get 1 -2 cups of water. Aside from hydration, I avoided highly fattening foods hours before a run. Some places suggest that people shouldn't eat 1 -2 hours before a run. Unfortunately, this does not work for me because I get light headed fairly quickly if I didn't carb/protein load a decent amount hours before. Without it, I should carry an energy gel or bar to balance me out. My sodium intake was exceptionally low and as much as I'm not the biggest fan of Gatorade, it has helped out tremendously with my electrolytes, keeping my booty terrorists inside until it's time to use the bathroom.
Here's some other factors to consider: Runner's Trots can be attributed from a weak pelvic floor, a previous or current health condition, medications or maybe a different condition altogether. Certain foods are natural diuretics and can be a nuisance if you're looking to get in a long run. Try keeping a training and food log. This can be a great aid to figure out what works for you. I switched around certain foods and I'm careful about eating things like celery, certain greens and beets when I kick into heavy gear of my marathon training season. Another culprit was my Vitamin C and coffee/tea intake. If you are experiencing this, you might want to back up just a little bit from it on race day. In the meantime, nothing wrong with talking to a doctor and/or nutritionist/sports medicine doctor in trying to figure out what you can do. Plus, think about your route and mapping out bathrooms along the way. Take into consideration that some businesses will not let you use their bathroom if you do not buy anything.
On a better note, I figured things out and it did get better. With my knucklehead formula of trial and error, I figured out what works for me. I still get nervous about race day so much that my body knows to use the bathroom before every run but it doesn't deter me from enjoying the sport. For all of our sakes, I hope that you never catch the Gingerbread Man.