Saturday, 15 October 2011

Running and IBS

As I awoke this morning with my ever-present sore tummy I thought it was about time to pen my piece on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), how it affects running and how to combat it.

At the outset though it should be pointed out that there are no less than 7 types of recognised IBS and as such, the sufferer is encouraged to experiment and find what works for them; very much like a training programme I’m afraid.

When it was suggested to me that I had IBS I immediately set about trying to gather as much information as I could in a bid to find an answer which would help me overcome it. One of the questions I asked myself was, “how do the Chinese deal with this?” After all, they’ve been developing natural remedies to ailments for thousands of years. The best website I found was

Without going into the symptoms I’m used to, IBS is a problem for me because;
1.    It affects my emotions and therefore my motivation.
2.    The intestinal (not stomach) pain I sometimes experience during hard maximal runs is overbearing and usually results in me having to abort the pace I’m trying to maintain.

Although, I have to admit that I believe the two items listed are also linked. For example, some time ago I recall when I was really hyped up i.e. motivated, for my weekly hard session and despite the acute pain in my intestine I did not allow myself to drop off the pace.

Whereas more recently when I wasn’t as motivated for the run I recall my brain telling me no less than 5 times to reduce the pace before the pain became so overbearing that I gave in and simply jogged home!

Having gave this example it is worth stating that the intestinal pain does not happen very often. It is all the other symptoms which continually play on me that I wish to resolve.

However, the above brings me nicely to explain why I believe you have to deal with your emotions first as a priority with regards overcoming IBS. Yes I know, easier said than done!

As people we all have beliefs, wants and desires, some of us with more ‘drive’ than others. Unfortunately throughout our lives we must become accustomed to stress. Some would say it’s part of the ‘growing-up’ process and can be a good thing if it better prepares us for future situations. Why else would we train to do something and/or take exams? However, when stress gets out of hand and your control of it is reduced, motivation for all other things usually takes a nosedive.

So this is critical area to focus on. I have, so far, not found a way to handle this as well as I’d like to, although there is one thing worth looking into; meditation. I have got hold of a de-stressing CD and also a Paul McKenna CD which emphasises the power of positive thinking. I have listened to both of these on separate occasions at night time just before I go to sleep and have found that my sleep thereafter is usually of good quality. I also wake the following day feeling a bit more energised than usual. I’d like to look into meditation more and will do when I’ve got the about a paradox!

This is only part of the solution though. Clearly our diet needs to be considered. I have tried various things and reduced my consumption of others. Ultimately I feel I have only made small steps within this massive topic.

One thing that surprised me when I looked into this was the differences between soluble and insoluble fibre. I don’t want to spend too long on this as I have previously pointed out it is very much about finding what works for you. A few common sense things though, AVOID;
·         Overeating
·         Eating late at night
·         Binge drinking (alcohol)
·         Lots of sweet food
·         Caffeine
·         Dairy products
·         Yeast

Personally, I don’t drink a lot of alcohol. I probably drink, on average, one night a month and that is by moderation. On the rare occasion I do drink a lot, I usually suffer for days afterwards – with my tummy.

Obviously the ‘sweet food’ is a bit of catch 22 situation for ultra runners. It certainly affects me so my way round it is to alternate sweet food with savouries e.g. perhaps a gel followed later with a bite of a sausage roll or some crisps etc. I wonder what others do.

There are some products which may help;
·         Aloe Vera juice
·         Peppermint capsules
·         Ginger
·         Lactose free milk
·         Psyllium husk
·         Ortisan fruit and fibre cubes
·         Linwoods milled seeds – a variety of products
·         Probiotics – though you may have to put up with more uncomfortable symptoms for a while.
·         Neovite – a very interesting product!
·         The website mentioned earlier also offers suggested herbal remedies.

So to conclude, I think overcoming IBS can be a long drawn out process and should be attempted by a combination of dealing with stress and eating (and drinking) the right things.

It would be helpful if other blogging runners who suffer from IBS were to write posts on how they deal with their symptoms.


  1. I don't suffer from IBS and thankfully can eat pretty much anything, although I do find that I naturally tend to avoid foods that I find hard to deal with. For example, I don't eat frys or crisps as I get reflux (stomach acid)and I find the pure sugars required for running would be impossible if I wasn't running (i.e. I'd never eat a chocolate bar).
    I have found that my diet has become very repetitive but I think a happy gut is one that is accustomed to the same thing day in, day out.
    I think your observations on stress are well made and the line between 'dealing' with stress and having the stress 'engulf' you is a fine line (one we sometimes don't realise we've crossed until it's too late)

  2. cheers for the comment, Richard.

    Just so you know for some reason I am unable to leave any comment on your blog.

    The email I get to notify me of your next post actually spells out the entire post. Whereas another blog I follow through wordpress simply gives me an intro and then a link to the persons blog - where I am able to leave a comment if I wish.

    Just thought I'd let you know. Keep up the entertaining writing ;-)

  3. I have IBS but silly me, I never thought it was related to the debilitating cramps I sometimes get 2-3 km into a run. It really is demoralizing, too, but it is also sporadic. You make a good point: we all have to keep track of what triggers that for us. I've tried eating, not eating before a run; limiting liquids, and super-hydrating. Haven't found the sure thing yet.

  4. I have, what the doctors class as severe IBS , so i find it challenging and painful around ,3-4 times a week. The Doctors can't figure out is why I get so much pain in my left side. I am constantly trying to beat this but I am finding it difficult. I'd like to set myself a challenge and start running. I am not sure how to go about this with the pain I get. If anybody has suggestions or may have an idea why I get this pain I would really like to hear from you