If you’re an ultra runner, you’ve been there. You’ve needed to take an emergency bathroom break during a race, and of course, when you need it, there’s no bathroom in sight.
Even if there were, it is the most uncomfortable feeling to need to use the bathroom during a race. The stomach cramps, the chills, the sweating; worrying yourself constantly until you find just the right spot; it’s the pits.
You don’t want to have to worry about that; you just want to run, to enjoy your race.
As we often discuss, there are countless uncontrollable factors during ultras, and needing to go to the bathroom is at the top of the list. Let’s see if we can lower the possibilities with the following tips and tricks.
In this article, we are going to look at the following to avoid tummy trouble:
- Eating safely and planning pre-race meals
- Sticking to your practiced nutrition and hydration race strategy
- Keeping your stomach under control during a race
- Reducing pre-race stress and anxiety
Ready to take care of that gut and have a good run?
Let’s jump in!
Constant problem solving is a part of ultrarunning as we spend hours and hours on the trails or roads where anything can happen. Taking control of some factors can lower the chances of getting that uncomfortable urge “to go” during a race.
Here are my tips for a healthy gut during a race.
#1 Eat Safe: Pre-Race Nutrition
In the days previous to the race, be sure to stick to foods you are familiar with and that you eat on a regular basis.
In the months coming up to the race, you can keep a food journal, so you know what worked and what didn’t during your training. That way, you’ll have your specific list of foods you know you can eat and what you should avoid.
Everyone is different, but some common foods that can provoke bowel movements are anything high in fiber, beans, legumes, spicy foods, and dairy products. Try and avoid these right before a race.
#2 Don’t Eat Out
At all costs, avoid eating out the days before a race. When you eat out, you have no control over how the food has been prepared and have less to choose from. You may not find something on the menu that suits your pre-race needs.
This can be tricky when travelling for a race, as you’ll need to make other arrangements and fight against peer pressure. Your friends and family will most definitely try and convince you to go grab something to eat with them, especially if they themselves are not racing.
But, stand your ground and don’t take a chance.
#3 Prepare Your Food In Advance
If your race is just a drive away, bring along a cooler filled with ice and your prepared pre-race meals. Choose whatever works for you and what you have been eating before your long runs throughout your training.
If you are travelling to a race where bringing food along is not an option, hit a supermarket in the area and put something together you know will be safe. I make a simple sandwich with white bread and a little protein when I do this. It could even be a PB&J.
They may not be the most delicious meals you’ve ever eaten, but on race day, you’ll be glad you took the proper precautions. Then, post-race, you can chow down on whatever your heart desires!
#4 Eat 3 Hours in Advance Pre-Race
It may sound a bit excessive but try and eat 3 hours before your race start. This will give you a chance to get things moving and take a pre-race bathroom run.
If you are used to drinking a cup of coffee to help your movements, be sure and drink that hours before as well. You don’t want to drink it too close to the race time, as the effects could overlap into your run.
#5 Stick To Your Practiced Race Hydration and Nutrition
Bring along the same gels, gummies, bars, hydration powders, pills, absolutely everything you have been using during your long runs. Separate it out into different zip locks and leave them with your crew or drop bags along the way. As you cruise on through, leave the empties and grab the new bags and bottles.
#6 Be Consistent
As you race, eat and drink small, consistent amounts throughout.
Sip, don’t gulp down your fluid all at once as it may cause gastronomical distress. Not only will this help avoid the urge to go to the bathroom, but it will maintain consistent caloric intake and energy levels to help you feel great throughout your run.
#7 Avoid Aid Station Nutrition
If you have a tendency to have stomach problems during ultras, don’t take anything from the aid stations if you can help it.
Of course, being fueled is more critical, so better safe than sorry if you’ve run out of your specific nutrition. To avoid this, always pack more than you’ve calculated to be sure and have enough.
#8 Follow The Golden Rule
Summing this section up, always follow the golden rule: don’t try anything new on race day.
Everything, and I mean everything, must be things you are familiar with, from gear to fuel and everything in between. Keep it safe, and you’ll keep yourself out of the porta-potties.
#9 Reduce Stress
Each person stresses for different reasons. Let’s look at a few of the most common causes and how to avoid that stress while racing.
If you need to travel for your race, plan to arrive at least a day or two ahead. Air travel can be delayed, and traffic can be horrendous. If you are unfamiliar with the area, timing can be an issue.
Leave enough time to arrive comfortably and not have to worry about rushing around at the last minute.
I can’t tell you the nightmares I’ve had about missing the start of a race. Too many. It seems silly, but it’s a legitimate reason to stress.
Organize a Crew
Especially if this is your first ultra, you may be nervous about the logistics of a race. Ask some friends or family to help you by meeting you at designated crew checkpoints during the race. They can have your fuel ready, motivate you, and solve unexpected problems.
Having a support system will take a load of stress off.
Study the Course
To lift some of that stress off of your shoulders, study your race beforehand!
Terrain, vertical gain, number of aid stations, average times, weather, the list of information goes on and on. You can be prepared if you know what to prepare for. Feeling prepared and will make you feel less anxious before and during the race.
After studying the race and knowing what you are getting yourself into, train appropriately for it. Put in the time and train the specific race conditions. This will give you a big confidence boost for race day.
If you have slacked off during your training, you will indeed feel nervous instead of being able to enjoy your day. This is something that can upset that tummy.
Gets a Good Night’s Sleep
Organize your time so you get a good night’s sleep the nights leading up to your race. We often worry when we aren’t well-rested, which can cause unnecessary anxiety.
Start Line Checklist
Use our start line checklist to ensure you have everything you need for the big day. Something you can add to the list is a pre-race trip to the restroom. Leave enough time before the start to use the bathroom.
When you research your race beforehand, know where the porta-potties are located, so if you feel the urge to go, you’ll be prepared. Then, you won’t have to be guessing how far away you are and add more stress to your run.
#10 Plan your pre-race bathroom trip
If your body is accustomed to a pre-run bathroom trip, you’ll want to do everything the same as your day-to-day to follow the same schedule. Eating an early dinner the night before and your pre-race breakfast three hours out can provoke a bathroom run the morning of. This is the ideal situation, so you are worry-free for your race.
We can do our best to avoid these pit stops during the race; however, be prepared.
Pack wet wipes just in case. It will also ease your mind to know you have them there, and you probably won’t even need them!
want to get it right?
Make sure you nail race day and avoid these 6 pre-race mistakes: