What if you have to go to the bathroom during a race?

Are we talking about a topic that is little talked about, despite being more common than we think? Let’s start talking about it from the data (data don’t lie, some people say): a not recent but significant study asked 109 endurance athletes about their “emergencies” in competition. Are you understanding a little bit more what we are talking about? That’s right: we’re talking about the very human urge for a bathroom, just as you’re running, perhaps in a race, indeed: especially in a race. But we will also come to explain why it happens at that juncture.

Of these 109 athletes surveyed back in 1992, as many as 62 percent said they had stopped for a restroom stop during training, while 43 percent recounted having to run to the bathroom for what is known as “nervous diarrhea” before the start. 51% happened after the finish and 12% … um, it happened right during a race.

A common phenomenon

If this has happened to you too, just know that it is more common than you think. A much more recent study (from 2017) is based on interviews with just over a hundred athletes, both men and women. The result was that at least 90 percent of these had suffered some form of intestinal disorder during a race. “Some form of intestinal disorder” refers not only to the nefarious outcome (how many periphrases will we have to come up with in this article?) but also abdominal pain and various gastric distress.

Another finding of the research is that the disorders do not appear to be related to either age, diet or particular food intolerances.

The causes

Having come to this point, curiosity is highest: why do these phenomena intensify during training or, worse, competition?

The reason seems to be the redistribution of blood flow to the muscles involved in the activity. Not bad and understandable, you might think. Sure, except that by doing so, the blood is distracted from the digestive system, which is “neglected,” losing a portion of the control it has.

The containment of the abdomen and the processes that occur there relies on muscles that tend to work less effectively when they are less well irrigated. Surgeon Michael Dobson explains it this way, “You can’t control muscles when you use muscles,” meaning that one muscular system is always activated at the expense of other muscular systems, and so when strained the one in the legs, the abdominal one that handles bowel movements and their containment responds less effectively.

In short, when there is food in transit in the intestines and at the same time the contribution of the abdominal muscles is less, along with the nervous reaction to the race, what we all fear can happen. And that involved even a champion such as Paula Radcliffe, who during the 2005 London Marathon had to leave the race course for a pit stop. And with this metaphor ends the rounds of words and also the article :)

(via IFL Science)


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