Here’s Why You Always Have to Poop When You Run

As Mikael Ekvall reached the halfway point of the 2008 Göteborg half-marathon, his legs weren’t the only things that started to give way—his bowels were too.

Yes, we’re talking about that infamous incident in which the Swedish runner caught a case of runner’s trots and unleashed an eruption of liquid poop mid-race. Powering through the embarrassment (and the stench), Mikael managed a respectable 21st place finish, crossing the line with liquified feces trickling down his legs.

“Did you ever consider stopping to clean off?” a reporter asked.

“No, I’d lose time,” he said. “If you quit once, it’s easy to do it again and again and again. It becomes a habit.”

The story became an instant viral sensation, with Ekvall earning the nickname “bajsmannen” (Swedish for “poop man”). Even to this day, the cringe-worthy image is still meme-worthy. But before you poop shame Mikael, you should know that no athletes are immune from runner’s trots.

But what exactly are runner’s trots (also known as runner's diarrhea)? And more importantly, how can you complete your run without needing to discharge your lunch into your shorts?

Keep reading, DUDE.

What Are Runner’s Trots?

You won’t find the term “runner’s trots” in any medical textbooks, but there’s no mistaking it: mid-run tummy trouble including nausea, cramps, and sudden onset diarrhea. Runner’s trots are especially troublesome for long-distance runners.

In a survey of 272 ultra-marathoners who (people who somehow run 100-miles at a time), researchers found that 96% of finishers suffered from “gastrointestinal distress,” AKA runner’s trots: cramping, farts, sudden bowel movements, diarrhea, and even bloody poop (yikes.) What’s worse, some of those runners even had to drop out of the race because their intestines got the best of them.

 And if you thought it was just pros and hardcore racers that get the urge to “go” on the run, think again. In a study of 279 leisure runners, half of them disclosed that they had “altered bowel habits:” loose poop and frequent defecation.

So, if you’re a runner who has been ashamed of a poopy past, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone.  

What Causes Runner’s Trots?

Experts haven’t nailed down exactly why so many runners are plagued with uncontrollable bowels. In all likelihood, a combination of factors can contribute to runner’s trots, such as:

  1. The motion of running. You know how a can of soda explodes after you shake it up? Same thing goes for your gut. That constant jostling jumbles your insides, giving you the urge to go.
  2. Blood flow problems. Running is intense exercise, especially for extended periods of time. When your body pumps blood to your legs and heart to keep you moving, it’s diverted away from your intestines, causing malfunctions associated with runner’s trots.
  3. Diet. Certain foods, especially high-fiber foods like fruits and veggies or whole grains, loosen your poop—this creates the perfect storm for the mid-run runs. Drinking coffee can also give you the rumbles, so don’t chug a cup of joe before a jog. Artificial sweeteners and dairy products can cause trouble as well.

How to Prevent Runner’s Trots

We want you to cross the finish line with clean undies, and so does everyone watching. We haven’t found a cure for runner’s trots, but these quick tips might spare you from a stink attack.

  1. Start short and slow. Easy there, Speed Racer. Increase your distance and intensity gradually so you don’t send you body into poop shock when you pound the pavement.
  2. Take a pre-run poop. If you clean the pipes ahead of time, there won’t be much left to leak.
  3. Cut back on pre-run fiber. Fiber is like rocket fuel for your poop. Enjoy your fruits and veggies with caution.
  4. Stay hydrated. Your gut needs water to keep the inner plumbing in check. As a rule of thumb, try to get your pee as clear as possible.

If all else fails, you’ll have to pop a squat out of public sight or make a detour to a porta potty (just make sure you have some clean-up material handy.) Chances are you’re not going for a world record, so take your time.

Otherwise, you’ll have to pull a Mikael Ekvall and unload.