I woke up on Nov. 22, 2015 ready for the annual Slattery’s Turkey Trot 5-miler in Fitchburg, Mass. It’s my hometown race and I look forward to it every year. However, on this morning my stomach was not behaving – at ALL – and I spent the better part of the morning pre-race in the bathroom.
So what had happened?
Well, the night before the race I went to a charity event and ate from a buffet – a buffet of catered food that had been sitting out for more than an hour and one that many people had likely used their hands to grab food from. And, worse yet, I ate some Chinese egg rolls and some kind of cucumber slices with a creamed crab dressing. I never eat this kind of food but my mind was thinking that the next day’s race was just a 5-miler, it was in the afternoon, and I was in great shape. I even drank a beer!
What did I do to recover?
To manage diarrhea as a runner on race day, you have two main needs once the initial waves have passed: rehydration and getting some food or fuel into you to hopefully relieve the depleted feeling in your legs and the rest of your body after losing so much in the bathroom. (That said, if you have a fever or are vomiting, you should probably cancel your race plans and just try to recover.)
Rehydration is the key. Water and diluted Gatorade or any other sports drink is best. It gets much needed fluid back into your system and some electrolytes. Avoid taking anti-diarrheal medicine as that could make you bloat and feel crampy.
Next, try to get some basic food into your system that will be gentle. Plain rice and mashed bananas work well. White bread with a little peanut butter worked for me. I also took some spirulina algae tablets from Energybits, which is part of my normal pre-race fueling and because they are usually very easy on my stomach. Avoid high acid or heavy foods as well as diuretics like coffee.
The key with eating before a race when you have diarrhea is to do it in small sessions. Have half a piece of plain toast and some water and diluted Gatorade. Did it settle OK? Have half a piece of toast with peanut butter and more water. Did that settle? Eat half a banana. Did that settle? Try some kefir or yogurt next.
I made it to the start line that day and felt OK until mile 3. At that point my legs felt heavy and I honestly was wondering if I would be dashing to the best bush in sight. I eased back on my pace – something you can do on mile 3.5 to 4.5 on this course – and was able to prepare for the final half mile and that big hill. I ended up PR’ing the race by 20 seconds, running the 5 miles in 33:30.
How to prevent diarrhea before race
- Stick with food you have made and/or prepared to eat the day and night before the race. Don’t try new foods.
- Food sanitation is not something you should trust to others. And hand washing is another thing that you should not trust as well. Bring hand sanitizer wherever you go and be conscious about placing your hands anywhere near your face.
- Got kids? Do your friends have kids? Treat them as germ-laden bombs the day before your race.
Written by Rob Haneisen.