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Running and Bowel Problems

By Jackie Carmichael

A common runner's complaint is having bowel problems during a run or running distance competitions. Having to stop for a bowel movement can be embarrassing and worrisome, not to mention it can put you in jeopardy of falling behind your competition or even quitting a race. There are ways that you can help prevent this annoying and uncomfortable problem, but if it persists or gets worse, talk to your doctor.


In 2005, Paula Radcliffe won the London Marathon -- despite having to have a bowel movement during the race. Radcliffe had the urge to go as she thought her stomach was probably reacting to a meal that she ate before the race. She eventually had to squat by the side of the road. Despite Radcliffe's unfortunate pit stop, she was able to stay focused, gain control and win the race.


According to, approximately 60 percent of distance runners have intestinal problems during exercise. Having frequent bowel urges or diarrhea during running may occur because there is reduced blood flow to your intestines, changes in hormone levels, altered absorption or dehydration. Other causes may be a combination of your intestines being shaken as you run and feeling anxious about a competition. Keep in mind that while you are exercising more strenuously than normal, the time between a meal and a bowel movement is reduced. When your body adjusts to exercise, standard bowel habits may resume.


To help possible bowel problems while running, try exercising lightly before you run so you can empty your bowels ahead of time. Try to run at different times to see if bowel problems are worse at certain times of the day. Reduce your intake of high-fiber foods before you run; limit caffeine, which can be a stimulant for the gastrointestinal tract; limit sorbital intake, which can cause diarrhea; stay hydrated; and eat lightly before your runs. Keeping a food diary may help you identify triggers.

Quick Relief

If you are running a marathon or other long-distance race, portable toilets should be available along the path. You can take comfort in the fact that intestinal emergencies are very common and you will not be alone. If you are running in your neighborhood, adequate planning before you run may be helpful. If your urge becomes unbearable, you may need to cut your run short and go home.

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