There is a moment when the zebra realizes there is a cheetah flying across the plain, ready to attack. At that moment the zebra’s adrenalin shoots way the heck up, causing a cascade of effects within it’s body to make the zebra more able to run away as fast as it can. One of those effects is a sudden evacuating of the bladder and the lower portion of the digestive system, which lightens the load the zebra has to carry while running away, increasing the chances that the cheetah will go hungry or at least find something to eat other than that zebra. We are not so different from zebras. When we gather into a herd of other runners and begin to think about how to run faster and better than the runners around us our adrenalin shoots way the heck up and with similar results.
Sometimes we’re lucky and we’re struck by nothing worse than a sudden and urgent sensation of having to pee. Usually that fades a few minutes into the race. What doesn’t always fade, and can grow much worse with lots of bouncing, is the need to empty the lower portion of the digestive system. I’m trying to be a little polite here but I know that any of you reading this who have spent time participating in endurance sports know what I’m talking about. Sometimes (and here’s where I’m glad I run trail and not road) the urge is overwhelming and you’ve got to go and squat behind a tree. At best it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing. Oh, and on a side note, if you do this, please, please kick some dirt over it when you’re done!
For some runners the problem doesn’t result in emergencies so much as stomach cramps and a miserable rest of the day. It should also be noted that it is much less common to have trouble with this at shorter distances and much more common at distances of more than ten miles and also at higher speeds. Hiking is not likely to cause much trouble at all.
Happily, there is a solution and it is available over the counter as the drug, loperamide. Loperamide is the generic for Imodium, it comes in little caplets and it treats diarrhea. For any race that is 15K or longer (10 miles) I take two of these caplets a couple hours before the start. A friend of mine takes one or two with the same timing in order to prevent painful stomach cramping in the hours following long races. For both of us, running seems to be enough of a stimulus to counteract the drug by the next morning. More clearly put, there is no lingering back up or slowing of the digestive system from taking loperamide the morning of a race. Unfortunately for those of you reading this, I haven’t raced longer than 50K yet so I don’t know what sort of wear off there will be if I run more than six hours in a row. I should know by the end of this year and will most likely share those results with all of you.