There are a lot of unknowns in running. Everyone's body is different and when you get out there on race day and see some clear areas to improve upon it is hard to find the right answer.
We have heard several questions asked more than any others when it comes to running and racing so we have a series of articles addressing them by our favorite knowledgable running coaches.
The third topic in our series breaks down what can go wrong with stomachs during races or long runs and how to reduce the chance of having issues.
Yassine Diboun, Danielle Snyder and Andrew Miller lay out their answers below.
How do you navigate through GI issues during racing and long adventures?
Stomachs are tricky business in the running world! I don’t know many runners who haven’t struggled with some type of indigestion, diarrhea or vomiting while racing.
My number 1 tip: DON’T PANIC!
Yes, this is hard to do but anxiety or worrying can make matters worse. You are capable of handling what is thrown at you, so breathe and make a plan!1. Assess the situation: Are you under or over hydrating, what is going with your electrolytes? Have you had enough fuel (yes, this can also impact your stomach if you are underfeeding), are you overheating?
2. Take a break. Oftentimes, if we sit down (out of the sun and/or weather elements), try to eat something slowly, we can allow our stomachs to get back on track.
3. Always pack for disaster (bring tums/imodium or other stomach aids— such as ginger).
4. The biggest key is prevention. Practice drinking and eating during training runs, find out what works for you. The sooner you start fueling on these big days, the better your stomach will do.
Oftentimes when I am struggling with GI issues while racing I will give myself a little time to sit or lay down. This will give my stomach and digestive system a break from all the jostling caused by running. Even taking some extended hike breaks with focused deep breathing into the diaphragm can help.
Also, sometimes laying down, getting horizontal, will move things around and allow gas bubbles to dissipate. Eating ginger or drinking ginger ale can help too. The best thing to do is to figure out how to preemptively avoid GI distress while racing!
I've found that limiting greasy and acidic foods at aid stations, and using gels such as Spring Energy Nutrition (bananas, rice, applesauce, etc.) are easier on my GI tract and thus don't allow me to get too aggravated during endurance events. Carrying ginger chews, Tums, even digestive enzymes, or probiotics can help if you feel that distress coming on.
Gastrointestinal issues can be one of the most debilitating problems in ultrarunning. Most often this problem is caused when your stomach osmolality is too high. Osmolality is the number or particles in a volume. In our case, this is the number of sugar molecules or electrolytes in your stomach. When your stomach osmolality is too high, your body cannot process the contents of your stomach.
Your body will either need to pull water from elsewhere in your body, either your bloodstream or your cells, or expel the food in your stomach without processing it. When the latter happens, you will either be puking or heading to the bushes. If you have GI issues, stop eating for 30-60 minutes. Keep drinking plain water to get your stomach osmolality back to a normal level.
This will allow your body to process what is inside and stop your GI issues. Slowing down during this period will also help. A slower pace puts less stress on the body and will allow the body to divert more water to the stomach.
Danielle Snyder is an avid ultrarunner who is constantly reminded of the importance of mental training in addition to physical training. She has run countless 100-mile races, set the FKT on the Oregon section of the PCT, and holds the FKT on the Rogue River Trail.
Danielle has worked with countless professional athletes and Olympians and specializes in helping athletes avoid the pitfalls of negative self-talk, so that they can achieve more balance in all parts of their lives. Using multiple different techniques, Danielle guides her clients along their paths to physical and mental well-being, helping athletes reach their potential. Danielle is a Certified Running Coach and a licensed clinical social worker with extensive additional training. Learn more at Inner Drive Wellness.
Yassine Diboun is a co-owner of Wy'east Wolfpack where he remains highly active coaching athletes of all abilities, including kids, office workers, folks in or seeking recovery from substance addiction. He still likes to get after it on the ultramarathon racing circuit and has enjoyed a long sustainable career. You can learn more about him and the wolfpack at: Wy'east Wolfpack and follow @WyeastWolfpack and @YassineDiboun on Instagram
Career Highlights: *4-time Western States 100 finisher (once in the top 10) *3-time HURT 100 finisher (once in the top 3) *Top 100 finisher of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) *Top 25 finisher at Hardrock 100 *Top 5 finishes at Bighorn 100, Cascade Crest 100, Pinhoti 100, & San Diego 100
Andrew Miller lives in Oregon where enjoys running and volunteering on the local trails. Andrew has won 16 ultramarathons, including the 2016 Western States 100, and works as a running coach at Andrew Miller Coaching. *Represented Team USA at the IAU World Trail Running Championships in Annecy, France (silver medal)