Running with IBS: Navigating the Urgent Quest for a Bathroom

Running with IBS: Navigating the Urgent Quest for a Bathroom

Published on Monday, October 09, 2023 by Kari Tallent

When Urgency Strikes: Running and IBS Don’t Always Mix

Where is the closest bathroom?... and am I going to make it? 

Those are two questions that I always dread having to ask myself when I am in the middle of a run. Unfortunately, this has happened to me recently. Seriously, when IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) strikes, all joking stops, and the hunt for a safe space begins. However, I do find humor in the aftermath because life is too short, and IBS can be unpredictable. 

A Desperate Dash: My IBS Tale

It was a typical Thursday afternoon, and I planned to head out on my tempo run like usual. I completed all my pre-run routines and was ready to go. I had not eaten anything unusual that day, and the only difference was I had to wear my flip belt because I was on call and needed to carry my pager. I was just finishing my 10-minute warm-up when I felt discomfort due to my flip belt. I decided to push through, thinking, “This too shall pass,” and get rolling into my first interval. 

About halfway through, I realized I had made a terrible decision. I felt the familiar cramp and bubble and immediately knew I had to find a bathroom fast! The problem was I was about 2 miles from the closest one, but I decided to try to get back to the gym. Now, if you are a runner, you already know how to spot good emergency bathroom locations. Large trees or bushes on the side of a trail, a grocery store that allows public bathroom use, and maybe a close friend’s house are all great options, none of which I had.

Just when I thought, this is it, and I will not make it, I looked to the left. There, just off the trail, was a port-a-potty. This was a miracle. I have run down this trail many times, and there has NEVER been a port-a-potty. Well, let me tell you, this turned into an “ask for forgiveness” situation immediately. Of course, I prepared myself for whatever carnage I saw when I opened that door. This toilet shined like a gift from God; it was a pristinely clean and fully stocked portable bathroom. 

You may be asking me, is there anything to prevent this from happening? My answer to that is complicated. Could I have not run that day? Sure, but I am stubborn, and that was not an option I would take. Did I do everything right to prepare for the run? Probably not.

The Art of Preparation: Can You Avoid Urgent Pit Stops?

Looking back, I did some things that did not help my situation. For starters, having the Grande cold brew after lunch as a pick-me-up loaded with caffeine did NOT help. I had added stress from being on-call and carrying a pager with a belt that put pressure on my lower abdomen. My lunch was full of yummy veggies that are also gas-causing. These are all things I know not to do, but I still did them.

Another thing to consider, especially to all my female athlete friends out there, was that I was in the mid/late luteal phase of my cycle, where my stomach could always get a little wonky. I had red flags of warning that I chose to ignore. I also did not bring baby wipes or adjust my course from the start to stay close to the bathroom. I did adjust after the port-a-potty stop; I went back to the gym and finished my workout on the treadmill.  

Knowing how to prepare for these unpredictable events can keep you from being the butt of the joke, whether you have IBS or Runners Colitis. Preventing flares is the best, but unfortunately, it is not always an option.

  • Remember your dietary triggers. Avoid consuming them in the hours leading up to your workout. In addition, just because you get away with one cheat day does not mean you can keep doing it. 
  • Stay prepared. Adjust your route to spaces that offer access to restrooms along the way, easily loop back to your starting location, or just take it to the treadmill. If you run outdoors, carry supplies such as baby wipes or toilet paper if you need to make an emergency stop.
  • Pay attention to your body and the signs it is screaming at you. Take time to warm up before your run, and give yourself adequate time to digest from the last time you ate before working out. Dehydration can also exacerbate symptoms. 


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