Experiencing ass issues (assues) while running? You’re not alone. Go on any group run and inevitably the conversation will turn to poop. That’s because, when it comes to running, not many things give runners more anxiety than poop.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever arrived at the turn-around of your favorite out-and-back route, the one with no bathrooms along the way, only to suddenly realize you HAD TO GO, suffering as you fought off the urge all the way home. And then there’s poop and racing. The thought of having a race interrupted by the need to hit a porta-potty or worse, not making it to one in time, is the stuff of our nightmares. Maybe this is why, next to caffeine, Imodium is many runner’s favorite drug!
But is Imodium safe for runners to use? We decided to investigate!
Why Does Running Give Us the Trots?
Assues, or the sudden-onset of needing to poop, is common among runners, particularly for those of us who run long. Exactly why isn’t totally clear, but several things seem to be contributing factors. Running can speed up your metabolism, which moves food through your digestive system more quickly. Meanwhile your internal organs jostle around from the movement, which just adds to the effect. Additionally, blood flow decreases to your intestines as your muscles require more. On race morning, your pre-race anxiety can lead to your stress hormones increasing which also has a stool-loosening effect.
What is Imodium?
Imodium (loperamide) is an over-the-counter remedy for diarrhea. It works by slowing the digestive tract. It’s considered an essential drug like Tylenol or ibuprofen, so is cheap and widely available. It is meant to be taken in reaction to diarrhea, not as a preventative. But, as you’ll see, that’s not how most runners use it.
How Runners Use it
In my informal survey, runners generally used Imodium preventatively, dosing right before the start of long runs or long races, regardless of the current looseness of their stool. Some also began with a pill upon waking and many also carried another dose to swallow mid-run. Although this is off-label use, it appears quite common even for doctors to recommend it as a prophylactic measure.
While the side effects are fairly short-lived, it’s worth taking a closer look:
- dry mouth
- constipation (uh … duh?)
Many runners take Imodium before races and do not experience any of these side effects, but keep in mind you might. Definitely practice a trial dose on a training run to make sure you can run through any possible side effects. Also consider consulting with your doctor before taking it preventatively, especially if you are taking other medications or have any underlying medical issues.
Keep in mind that diarrhea happens for a reason. Sure, sometimes it may be an unfortunate reaction to nerves or to the bouncing of running but occasionally it’s a necessary function, expelling the bad stuff if you have food poisoning or allergies, for example. And of course if diarrhea is a common occurrence for you then it’s time to have an honest chat with your doctor to consider if you have an underlying medical condition causing your assues.
In addition, many runners (myself included) have noted that Imodium does not prevent running-related assues, Imodium warns it can take up to 48-hours to have an effect and, for some, it may even make their poop problems worse!
If you want to avoid drugs, period, try these non-medication tips if you fear an assues flare-up:
- Track and reduce possible triggers: dairy, gluten; dehydration; artificial sweeteners; stress; caffeine; or other medications.
- Practice what foods work for you before racing and then stick to them. The day before or morning of a race is not a good time to experiment with new foods.
- Avoid high-fiber foods before a race and eat no closer than two-hours before your race.
Sometimes shit happens no matter how careful you are. To handle having to go mid-run or race here are some tips to make it less of a horrifying experience:
- Wear dark-colored shorts. Skirts help hide any accidents as well.
- Generously apply anti-chafe product such as Aquaphor.
- Carry TP or, even better, wet wipes in a baggie.
- Don’t stress about time lost if you do have to make a pit-stop during a race. It may seem long, but it’s possible to get out of a potty in just a minute or two and it is always much better than finishing the race with the shit happening down your leg.
Have you experienced assues? What’s your remedy? Is it really better to be sleepy than to have to hide poop in your shorts?