Runners’ Trots – dealing with overexcitable bowel when exercising

TRIGGER WARNING: if you are uncomfortable discussing bowel function, including some fairly graphic descriptions, stop reading this now, curl into a fetal ball and rock back and forth on the floor.
I’ve been meaning to respond to the discussion regarding overactive bowels during running which was “stimulated” by my post regarding fueling for long-distance racing.
As Corey pointed out, I am actually an expert on this issue in more ways than one. I tend to be “regular” and even more “regular” when I run. In fact, part of the reason I avoid running in the mornings is that I inevitably have to stop in the woods somewhere, or circle home, or pretend I’m a guest at a downtown hotel as I stride purposefully towards their lobby bathroom. This is not new for me. I’m built that way. I was known for that when I first started running as a lanky awkward teenager back in the mid-80’s (now I’m a lanky awkward old guy).
In fact, I am honored/totally embarrassed to say that the act of stopping mid-workout or mid-race, particularly in an inappropriate place (often outdoors, and far too public) to relieve oneself has actually been named “doing a Bighead”. As in “I was heading for a PB but I had to stop and do a Bighead in someone’s hedge”
But in my own defense, this is actually a very common complaint/issue. Common enough that it has a nickname: “runners’ trots”.
I could regale you all with many stories of the places I’ve had to stop, the races that have been sabotaged by my colon (it’s the reason I don’t have a set of swordfish swords from Louisbourg), the times I’ve missed the starting gun siting in a port-a-john, and the many times I’ve embarrassed myself. But I’ll skip that and just go on to the science.
I glossed over a lot of the details of how the GI system reacts to exercise in my post about fueling. It is true that the stomach shuts down. A phenomenon called “gastric motility” (the coordinated squeezing movements of the stomach and esophagus that move stuff through and down to the small bowel) greatly decrease, which is why people get heartburn and nausea when they try to eat while exercising (especially running, which is probably worse because of jostling and increased pressure inside the abdomen). But the upper GI system is just half of the story.
The lower bowel’s (initial) reaction to exercise is to try to empty out. In fact, for many of us, even the expectation of running will cause a “colonic reaction” where your colon contracts and peristalses (those coordinated movements again) to try to empty.
This is probably an evolutionary adaptation. Gorilla troops, when agitated and getting ready to travel, will generally all go and move their bowels before they leave. Makes sense. Trying to hoof it for a few hours with a big load of dump in one’s bowel is pretty inefficient, and probably slows you down.
There are definitely a few pointers I would share for dealing with this issue, refined after 30-plus years of practice:
1) when racing, especially an “A-race”, think about what you eat the night before. A really spicy curry veggie dish with tons of fibre, perhaps not the best option.
2) Avoid eating any solids for about 3 hours before, and any liquids for about an hour. There is something called the “gastro-colic reflex” where putting things in the stomach stimulates the lower bowel to empty.
3) Make sure to BM before leaving for a run! Even if you don’t really “have to”.
4) If you habitually have to go during runs, pick routes that have bathrooms (or at least woods), and carry toilet paper. I know every patch of woods and every public bathroom within a 10 mile radius of my place. Plus my friends and relatives know what’s up when I frantically beat on their door, all sweaty and dressed in my running gear.
5) Experiment with running at different time of day (if you have that luxury). I know a few people besides myself who just can’t get the hang of running in the morning without having morning runs. Listen to your body. Later day is often better.
6) Experiment with different foods before key workouts and races. Find what works for you. Oddly, if your fibre intake is too low, more fibre can actually “bulk” your stool and make it less watery, which can actually help avoid the runners’ trots.
Embrace it!  The bowel regularity that comes with physical activity may be part of the reason that active folks are less prone to bowel cancer.  And talk to any chronically constipated person.  They would trade places with you anytime.

Fueling for the long haul

Hey Athletes

I get a lot of questions about eating during races. Hopefully there is some useful info here for you. If you haven’t practiced your eating, get at’er!!

This was originally written specifically for 1/2 IM distance, but it can apply in general to any activity long enough to require intake of calories.  For most of us, that is 1.5-2 hours and more.  If you feel you need to eat earlier than that, it’s not a physiologic need but a psychological one.  (Unless you started the workout or race tired and bonky)

Half IM race day eating

Half IM for most of us normal humans is a 5-hours-or-more project. Most people will burn through 3500 or more calories (depends on your size of course, and the conditions).

The first thing to remember is you don’t need to eat 3500 calories. Through your extensive endurance training (right!?) your body has become a fat-burning machine. There are about 3500 calories in one pound of fat. Even if you’re very lean (under 10% fat), that still means you have enough fat to keep you going through a number of half ironman races.

The reason you need to eat at all is that at higher speeds, fat only supplies part of the energy you burn. Your body is like a hybrid car. A hybrid has electric power and gas power. At low speed it can run on electric only, but at higher power it has to turn on the gas motor as well. Your body has 2 main energy systems to supply the muscles. At low speeds you burn mainly fat.  As you speed up, you burn carbohydrate and the faster you go, the higher the proportion of carbohydrate to fat that you burn as you fuel mix..

Carbohydrate you burn during a race is mainly stored in your liver and muscles in the form of glycogen, but can also come directly from your bloodstream by what you ate recently and are digesting, or what you eat during the race. Running out of carbohydrate can result in that “bonk” feeling, that slows you down to a walk (at that slow pace the fat-burning system has no problem supplying your energy needs).

As an interesting aside, there is also another significant reason that consuming sugars (carbs) helps during a race. Your body largely slows down because your brain tells it to (probably an evolutionary protective mechanism). When you eat sugars, your brain tells the muscles to give’r, probably sensing that there are enough calories on the way to keep you going. (In some studies swishing gatorade around in your mouth and spitting it out helped as much as actually drinking it)

Just how much carb “fuel” you’ll need during a race depends on a lot of things. Your weight (bigger people need more). Your pace (in general, faster people will burn more carbs as a percent of fuel). Your genetics (some people can do fine with hardly any intake, others bonk easily). Your endurance training level (better training = better fat burning). Your stomach training (see below).

You can train your stomach. The normal physiologic response to exercise is that your body dilates blood vessels in your muscles, and shrinks the blood vessels to your stomach and bowel and “shuts them down”. That’s why you feel so gross if you eat a big meal just before Tuesday Track. But you can train your stomach and gut to turn back on somewhat during exercise by eating regularly during training. In general, most people find it easier to eat on the bike than during the run, something about the jostling and the upright position, and probably the higher heart rate that most people have when running.

So my recommendation is to experiment lots in training. See what you can handle on the bike. See what you can handle on the run. Purposely try some training on a full stomach. Get a sense of what’ll work for you and what won’t.

The only time I eat disgusting artificial things like gels and gatorade is during a race. In training I prefer nuts, raisins, fruit (dried and fresh) and good-for-you things like that. But the pre-packaged products are awfully handy while racing.

The last issue I’ll mention is salt. While many companies try to sell their product by talking about potassium, calcium, and other elements, the really important thing during racing is sodium. Too much water is actually a much more common problem than dehydration. Too much water and too little salt dilutes your blood sodium, resulting in cramps, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and even confusion or passing out. Drink to thirst, don’t force it down, and make sure to drink fluids that contain salt, or eat foods that contain salt. Again, everyone is different in how much salt they lose through sweating, so you’ll need to experiment. If the day is really hot, and you are a salty sweater, it’s actually hard to keep up on sodium by gatorade and gels alone, and you may need to think about salt tablets or foods like pretzels or crackers.

I could go on a lot more, but this is a start. I’m happy to answer any questions or talk to you individually about this sometime.

Be careful about listening to people with one-size-fits-all advice about X-number-of-gels-per-hour, or a prescribed fluid intake per hour. It’s just not that simple, and trying to follow a nutrition plan that works for someone else can lead to serious trouble for you as an individual. The right nutrition plan is the one that works for you – don’t slavishly try to follow a generically prescribed plan.

5th Annual Long John Jaunt Feb 20, 2016

(thanks for the great photos from Ian (Jr.) Doyle.  And thanks to Ian Sr. for working the CBRR desk so wife Anne could run!)

LJJ (2 of 10)

The Long John Jaunt got started a number of years ago.  At that time, a lot of local runners were heading to Halifax and other destinations to do a winter half marathon.  After a busload of us went to Halifax for the Hypothermic Half (and paid a lot of money, and were sorely disappointed by the poor route, support on route, timekeeping, and prizes) the idea of the LJJ was born!

LJJ (1 of 10)

Kelly Unsworth leads Patricia Swan, Anne Doyle, and Trish Walsh

Although not drawing as many participants as the first few years, this year’s event had over 60 registrants, and 54 made it to the start (and finish) line on race day.

James Forsey was the original race director.  He passed the reins to Paul MacKenzie, and this year Cyril MacDonald stepped up to take over.  Thanks to Cyril for doing a fantastic job and wrangling some great prizes.  Thanks as well to Bernadette MacLellan and all the other volunteers who made the race possible.  Remember folks – you wouldn’t be out there without them.

LJJ (6 of 10)

We were blessed by fantastic weather this year.  Clear roads, sunny skies, light winds, and temps above zero made great conditions for a personal best, or for finishing a first race.  Congratulations to everyone who did just that.

Corey Deveaux and Justin Lalanne set a fast pace for each other, pulling away from us stragglers by a good margin by the 5K point.  I didn’t get to watch things play out at the end, but Corey tells me he made a couple of semi-successful attempts to pull away from Justin in the last few Km.  But Justin hung tough, and put a final push on to put a small gap on Corey and win by 5 seconds.  Exciting stuff!  Back a couple of minutes, Allan MacKenzie and Andreas “The Swiss Streak” Burger duked it out for 3rd, with Allan pulling out a 4 second gap at the finish line.

LJJ (8 of 10)

I am way too old to stay with these guys!

For the women, Steph Myles has been training hard for Boston, and ran in “no-man’s land” with nobody near her in front or behind.  She paced herself to a great 1:32, the second-best women’s time ever at the LJJ.  That bodes well for Boston!  Coming a few minutes back in second place was Kim Scattolon.  3rd place was very interesting this year.  4 women finished within 90 seconds of each other – Jenn Shiner, Renee MacDonald, Lee Ann Astephen,  and Stephanie MacLean.  Jenn lead this group to the line in 1:40:26, which is a massive PB for her.  She has made steady progress over the last few years and is in impressive shape this year!  Well done Jenn.

LJJ (9 of 10)

She’s having too much fun to be racing!!

We have some impressive age group runners in Cape Breton, and some of the battles and performances further back in the pack are worth mentioning.

  • In the 70+ male category, Peter Hanna has been freakishly unbeatable, but this year he had some competition.  Rex Dunn has been getting some miles in and made Peter work for it this time.  Peter beat Rex by 55 seconds, posting a time of 1:54:42.  Well done gents!  And they should probably note that Ray Oake (now 69yrs old) ran 1:49!!  So next year will be even tougher in that category.  Remember folks – CBRR membership is free over age 70 – a great reason to keep running.
  • Kim Scattolon is running impressive times, with 1:35 at age 48.  That certainly makes her one of the better age-group runners in the maritimes at this distance.
  • Martin Guest is 65 years old and put in a 1:37, which would almost win the 50-59 category.  Again, this is a very top age-group time.  (not surprising that Martin was first of 37 in his age group at Bluenose half last year, in 1:35)
  • Denis Lanoe, Todd Crowdis, and Ron Walsh – top 3 50-59 males – were all under 1:40
  • Anne Doyle has moved up to the 60-69 category this year, but continues to get faster anyway.  She set an unnecessary PB and beat her former category rivals, who also had great runs.

Again, congrats to everyone who ran, but especially the Newbies who finished their first race at that distance, and everyone who set a PB.  See you in 2 weeks at the Louisbourg Slush Run!

Remember you can get these results at (thanks to the Abbass family for making things work on the weekend!)

LJJ (10 of 10)

Shelley Rhynold set a new PB at 1:57



Jonah Hudec’s Canada Games Experience 2015

Jonah Hudec and older sister Mariah are accomplished athletes who most of you who run or tri will already know.  And if you don’t know him, now you will know who the young guy is who’s kicking your butt in the next race.  Jonah is an accomplished X-country skier, and this year made it to the Canada Games in Prince George BC.  Thanks to Jonah for this report, and sorry to be so late posting it.  We are proud of you!!

Canada Winter Games

Going to the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, BC was a great experience. The level of competition was high. Top U23 racers from all over the country were present. After the flight to the opposite end of the country I was quite tired. My first race was a 10km classic interval start. It was fun but I could feel the jet lag holding me back. I then competed in a sprint and a mass start skate race later that week. The 4x 5km team relay was my last race on a great course. It went well. Nova Scotia earned bragging rights over our rivals from New Brunswick. We finished in 9th place.

My experiences outside of competition were positive as well. I attended other sporting events including Curling, Judo, Squash, Trampoline and Figure Skating. Nova Scotian athletes were very supportive of each other. It was nice to see. I met new people and strengthened already existing friendships. The organizers and volunteers of the Canada Winter Games did an excellent job. Athletes felt welcome and events went off without a hitch. It was a pleasure to represent team Nova Scotia.

He looks even faster on skis than when he's running!

He looks even faster on skis than when he’s running!

The Vasaloppet – report from Dan Murray

Thanks so much to Dan Murray for this awesome report – a great read!!  Sorry I have taken so long to get it posted.

A Cape Breton Invasion of the 2015 Vasaloppet

“I never knew that an empty drink cup could be so hazardous,” commented my friend, Kris. We were all tired, sitting in a crowded meal hall that was full of tired ski racers. It was mid afternoon in Mora, Sweden. Kris’s comment about rogue cups was one of many stories being shared that afternoon after we had completed the legendary Vasaloppet, an epic 90 km cross country ski race that attracts almost 16000 participants every year.

Rogue drinking cups reflect the immensity of the Vasaloppet. Imagine the scene at a feed station at the biggest ski race in the world, where a few thousand skiers have passed through, all casting their cups aside… many that a dozen or so volunteers with rakes can barely stay ahead of the litter. This would seem harmless, until you consider that most skiers have the stickiest substance known to humanity, klister, on the bottom of their skis. The endless sea of empty cups inevitably found the occasional ski, resulting in comedic crashes and/or awkward manoeuvering as skiers clumsily tried to remove an adhered cup.

It’s all downhill from here…..right?  1 km of flat + 2 km of climbing (approx. 200m vertical) brings one to the top of the course.  After that, the elevation gradually goes down.  Here are Ian, Kris & I during some trail inspection near the start.

It’s all downhill from here…..right? 1 km of flat + 2 km of climbing (approx. 200m vertical) brings one to the top of the course. After that, the elevation gradually goes down. Here are Ian, Kris & I during some trail inspection near the start.

The Vasaloppet remains to one of the most popular and prestigious ski races in the world. It roughly traces the route of a nobleman (eventually king), Gustav Vasa, who skied 90 km between Salen and Mora to start a revolution that eventually led to Swedish independence from Denmark during the 16th century. Vasa’s legacy is celebrated alongside Sweden’s national sport, cross country skiing, as thousands of participants line up every year for the grueling trek through the Swedish taiga.

The madness commences.  90Km to go...

The madness commences. 90Km to go…

This year, word amongst the veterans was that this was one of the toughest Vasaloppets in history, due to More

Patricia Swan – a new marathoner in 2014

Well, this is totally embarrassing.  In 2014, Patricia Swan completed her first marathon.  Most of you will know Patricia from running, swimming, and triathlon.  She started just a few years ago but now I would consider her a veteran, and is looking great either on the running track or in the pool.

I had asked Patricia to write me a report to post regarding her first marathon, and I had half-done the post then lost it in the “drafts” section.  So file this one under “better late than never”.  I think it’s still as inspiring and relevant as it was in 2014.  For anyone thinking about running their first marathon but needing some inspiration, read this, and maybe talk to Patricia in person.  Thanks Patricia, and sorry about my error…

Well I did it and it is in the history books.  What did I do, you ask?  I ran my first marathon at the tender age of 57.  Although lots of support for this endeavor was received through my running community and family, there were many naysayers.  I heard comments like are you crazy; what are you doing that for; at your age?   And yes there were times, I asked myself the same questions, but I always had someone to turn to, who gave me support and said yes you can.  So I did…during this past winter when it would have been easier to stay in bed, my friend Lorena and I got up at 5:30, to face the elements and run.  When the weather was really bad, we would run around and around and yes, around again, the top level of the Emera Centre.  As race day became closer More

100 Days Active Challenge 2015

A few years ago my crazy friend Devashish Paul, an Ottawa triathlete/Ironman who does a lot of writing for tweaked me to the 100 runs 100 days challenge.  Run every day, minimum 1/2 hour, for 100 days.  I’ve been doing it for a few years as a way of staying motivated through the dead of winter in CB.  I drew a few other people into it and it grew a bit.  But thi year, Debbie Howie took over the reins.  Computer genius Matt Hunter developed a FB-linked database.  Debbie expanded the challenge to include activities other than running, and the 100 Days Active Challenge was born.  Thanks to Debbie for this report, and for making this happen.  Sorry to be so late posting it!  And congratulations to everyone who committed, and made it through to the end.  I think we’ll see this again in 2016!

The 100 Days Active Challenge was a huge success. The purpose of the challenge was to encourage people to be active on a day-to-day basis. It provided a framework for people to venture outside their comfort zone and seek new cross training activities.

Participants were from all over Canada and as far away as the USA, Brazil and Russia. Many completed the full 100 days of activities and others completed a certain percentage but vow to increase next year. One over achiever, who I won’t name, but initials CM –did over 200 activities in 100 days.

Results of feedback received is that there will be an increase in snowshoe activity next year—glad the weather cooperated.

Meet one of our inspiring participants Audrey Murphy –Age 68. Currently living in Ottawa, formally from Sydney. Audrey says that this winter has been her most active to date. She attributes this to the commitment of the 100 Days Challenge. Her activities include: Nordic Walking, skating, downhill Skiing, Swimming, Yoga, Barre Fitness Classes.

Tanya Brann-Barrett, Herbie Sakalauskas, and Kathy Sparling looking happy after a run!

Tanya Brann-Barrett, Herbie Sakalauskas, and Kathy Sparling looking happy after a run!

Shelley Porter is the editor for the VeloCB newsletter, and the ringleader of the B-52's, the 52-wk-bike challenge

Shelley Porter is the editor for the VeloCB newsletter, and the ringleader of the B-52’s, the 52-wk-bike challenge


Fiddler’s 5 and 10K fun runs 2015

The Fiddler’s Fun Runs are one of the 3 big events of the year along with the Emma Run and the fall Fiddler’s Run.  They are a time for all the Learn-to-Run participants to “strut their stuff” and finish their first race.

Linda Miles looks pretty stoked as she finishes her first (? of many) races

Linda Miles looks pretty stoked as she finishes her first (? of many) races

This year, the weather cleared from rainy skies Saturday to a cool, low-humidity, sunny morning Sunday.  Perfect conditions for running!

In the 5K, 12-yr-old phenom Gareth MacKinnon held off veteran Dave Bown for a 3-second win.  Gareth won despite a problem with the turnaround resulting in running 5.4Km!  Julie Curwin suffered the same fate at the turnaround but took the W for the women, finishing 3rd overall not far behind Gareth and Dave.

The men were in for some heavy competition in the 10K.  Will Allan, graduating this June from the Coast Guard College, had family in town.  This family included brother Charlie, who has run low-15 for 5K as More

Ben Buffett 5K 2015

Thanks so much to Nick Burke for putting on both this race, and the James Delorey Memorial Race, every year.  Good on ya Nick!!

I’ll also be adding a backlog of posts that should have been up a while ago, but better late than never right?

Thanks to Nick for this report…

5th Annual Ben Buffett Memorial Road Race

The 5th Annual Ben Buffett Memorial 5k Road Race saw 86 runners brave the rainy conditions on Saturday, June 13th in New Waterford. A donation has been made to the Breton Education Centre scholarship fund in memory of Buffett. Kelly MacDonald was the first female to cross the finish line in a time of 19:43, followed by twelve year old Baddeck native, Caden MacLeod in a time of 22:28; the third female to cross the finish line was Laura Doucette in a time of 22:35.

One of the younger finishers crosses the line, still looking great

One of the younger finishers crosses the line, still looking great

Top male was Justine Lalanne in 17:09; breaking his top time last year by ten seconds. Dean Abbass was the second male to cross the finish line in a time of 19:18, followed close behind by Max Jennings in a time of 20:01.

Local legend, Peter Hanna finished in a time of 25:45; Peter’s first marathon was the Ben Buffett Marathon in 1982.

This year’s event saw a presentation by the family of the late Carol Anne McIntyre, who was a member of the New Waterford Learn to Run program and volunteer with the race. The recipient of the 2015 Carol Anne McIntyre Memorial Inspirational Community Person was Sandra MacDonald, a local running coach and event volunteer who finished the race in a time of 27:47.

The 6th Annual Ben Buffett Road race is scheduled for June 4th, 2016; Race Director, Nick Burke is looking to add a 10k route to next year’s event and see over 100 participants. The Scholarship recipient will be announced on BEC’s graduation exercise on June 28th.

Remember you can always find race results at under “results”, or if it was timed by Jeris Abbass, at as well.

Some of the top finishers pose with RD Nick Burke

Some of the top finishers pose with RD Nick Burke

Jonathan Skeete Fun Run 2014

Jonathan Skeete did a lot for his community in a short lifetime.  Thanks to those who have kept this run going to keep his memory alive.  And thanks to Charlie Sheppard for the photos and the brief report.


Hi Chris,
The Jonathan Skeete Memorial Fun Run was a success with over 85 runners and walkers.  Here are some photos. Again, thanks to the runners and walkers who showed up and made this a fun event. Special thanks to Bernadette and Stephen who took care of the times for all who participated and thanks to Kathy Sparling for pitching in.

DSC02440 DSC02444

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