Tummy trouble

Toilet sign

When you are tired and several miles from home there is nothing more likely to make you pick up the pace than a cramp and gurgle in your tummy. I suffer from IBS and there have been times when I’ve been out training, and that familiar, sharp pain in my stomach has struck, when even Usain Bolt would have said ‘damn she can move’.

Now, I know, this isn’t a pleasant subject but I’d bet my favourite sports bra that there isn’t a walker or runner out there who hasn’t experienced tummy trouble at least once while training. Long sessions in particular can leave you prone to problems due to a mixture of dehydration, higher body temperature and the constant up and down movement. Also, when you exercise blood is diverted away from the stomach meaning that your digestive system won’t function as well as normal.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do to prevent tummy trouble spoiling your training or big race.

Top tips on how to avoid tummy trouble:

  • Avoid foods high in fibre, fat and sugar for a few days before a race or long walk.
  • Don’t have a heavy meal before you walk. Try to leave at least a couple of hours before a big meal and your training.
  • Try having a light snack, such as a banana or rice cakes and peanut butter, up to 30 minutes before you go out.
  • Race day is not the time for experimentation. Try to only use sports drinks and gels that you have tried and tested several times before.
  • Avoid dehydration. Hydrate before you exercise and try to take regular sips of fluid rather than gulping it down. At water stations I normally take a bottle or cup and carry it with me for 5-10 mins, sipping as I go.
  • Don’t over-use sugary drinks or gels. Yes, they are great for providing energy but they can also lead to stomach distress.
  • If possible avoid NSAIDs such as ibuprofen as these can irritate the stomach.
  • Try walking at different times of the day. I find I am prone to tummy trouble when I walk early in the morning, even on only short walks.
  • Keep a food diary for a couple of weeks. Try and identify which foods might be triggers and avoid them before walking.

Top tips for when you just can’t wait any longer:

  • Carry a small pack of toilet tissues or wet wipes with you. You can find mini travel packs in most supermarkets or chemists.
  • Plan your route. If like me you know that tummy troubles are likely, stick to a route where there are plenty of toilets available.
  • Think outside the cubicle when it comes to finding a toilet. Bus and train stations, museums, hotels, all are likely to have toilets.
  • Be polite – I’ve had a few close calls, but some nice words and a desperate look are normally enough for any shop, restaurant  or bar to let you use their loo.
  • Events have got better and most now have an adequate provision of toilets, both at the start and during the race. Check the course route before the race to find out where the toilets are.

Most importantly, don’t let any of this put you off. I’ve had IBS for over twenty years and I’ve been power walking for more than five years. With a little experimentation, you should be able to work out what does and doesn’t work for you. However, if your tummy troubles persist, please consult your doctor.

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